Economist 2/18/15

  1. GREEKS are on the streets protesting against pension reforms. This is hardly unusual: pensions were at the centre of bail-out negotiations six years ago and they were there in the summer when Greece nearly got kicked out of the eurozone. Since 2010 entitlements have been cut at least ten times while the system has been reformed at least four.The fear of harsh bail-out reforms in 2010 sent people rushing to early retirement to take advantage of pre-crisis favourable terms before they expired. As Greece’s workforce along with its gross domestic product (GDP) shrank, the number of pensioners grew. By 2015 there were 3.6 million workers and 2.7m pensioners —25% of those who retired at the time were below the age of 55 while the retirement age was set to 67.In the years between 2000 and 2014 Greece spent €200 billion on state subsidies to prop up social insurance pensions, approximately two thirds of the country’s public debt. Pension spending, which constituted 17.5% of GDP in 2012, is projected to reach 25% of GDP by 2050.
  2. On February 26th FIFA’s member associations will hold a secret ballot—what else?—in Zurich to choose a new president who will replace Sepp Blatter.Mr Blatter bequeathed his successor an organisation in crisis. His fifth term was cut short after the indictment last year of several of the game’s biggest-wigs for alleged money-laundering.The five candidates left to vie for the top job talk warmly of the need for term limits and better disclosure.But a radical reform would start with an idea put forward by Stefan Szymanski, a sports economist, among others—turning FIFA into a public company.
  3. For good measure, the new, cleaner FIFA would be listed in New York.A public listing would have several benefits. The first is that the level of transparency would shoot up.According to its annual report, an organisation with just 474 employees spent an impressive $115m on personnel expenses in 2014. A listing would require FIFA to break out how much its executives get.Opening FIFA to America’s justice system would also have a salutary effect. The reach of the Department of Justice and the FBI is already long: they were behind indictments in 2015 that eventually dethroned Mr Blatter.Becoming a public company would also formalise and sharpen FIFA’s incentives to make as much money as it can through legitimate means. Of the $5.7 billion in revenue that FIFA pulled in between 2011 and 2014, the biggest chunk was from the sale of television rights for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.To protect FIFA’s mission to develop football, a portion of revenues would have to be ring-fenced for distribution to its member associations, perhaps by a separate charitable arm.
  4. IN JANUARY the Royal Opera House announced the new slate of Jette Parker artists. With its five year-long positions, the Jette Parker Young Artist programme is a sought-after destination among emerging opera stars. Of the winners this year, not a single singer from Italy won a spot. Indeed, the home country of opera was not even among the applicants’ five most common home countries. The top spots were instead taken by America, Britain, South Korea, Russia and Australia. At the Operalia Competition last year, another Wimbledon of the opera trade, the finals featured one South Korean and two South Africans along with Americans, Europeans, and singers from New Zealand and Australia. But, again, no Italian.While classical music has for centuries broken down ethnic barriers, opera singing— especially the popular fare like Tosca and La Traviata—used to be the domain of Italians. Luciano Pavarotti was a global celebrity, of course, but names like Renata Tebaldi, Mirella Freni, Renata Scotto and Carlo Bergonzi likewise excited operagoers.The fierce new competition seems to have caught Italians by surprise.With the proliferation of opera simulcasts, opera singers are expected to act well and look good too. Despite his glorious voice, Pavarotti may not have made the cut today.Indeed, today’s Pavarotti is a handsome German tenor named Jonas Kaufmann, while Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais reigns as Puccini heroines.
  5. That is not to say, of course, that there are no Italian stars. Cecilia Bartoli resides firmly at the top, and others such as Barbara Frittoli and Marcello Giordani enjoy thriving international careers. The other Italian singer with instant name recognition, Andrea Bocelli, is primarily a recording artist due to his blindness, as well as the nature of his voice. But with all of Italy’s major opera houses except two posting a deficit, there’s little incentive for an angel-voiced Italian to embark on an operatic singing career.
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