Economist 2/19/16

  1. Most Indians do not drink at all, and per person Indians are far more abstemious than others elsewhere. Yet those who do drink show a preference for the strong stuff. By fast-growing volume India is the world’s third-biggest consumer of alcohol, and far and away the biggest consumer of whisky.Governments everywhere tax booze and control its sale, but few do so as heavily or as capriciously as India’s. It is not just that the federal government imposes a tariff of 150% on imported spirits. Local licensing fees and taxes, along with a range of gouging state controls on the alcohol trade, stick consumers with end prices that are often five or six times those at the distillery gate.India’s 29 states and seven union territories have adopted wildly different approaches to alcohol. In the west prim Gujarat has banned it entirely since 1961.Officially tipplers in Mumbai need a licence to consume alcohol.In Delhi the minimum legal age is a silly 25.Like America in the 1920s, many Indian states have tried prohibition before abandoning it. The odd thing is that some keep trying.
  2. London surpasses its rivals is the number of international visitors it receives: more than any other in the world in 2015.The number of hotel rooms has risen from 129,000 in 2013 to 149,000 today, according to PwC, a consultancy, and may reach as many as 180,000 by 2018. Despite competition from room-sharing sites such as Airbnb, there is still no sign of over-capacity. Last year occupancy rates reached their highest in a decade and average daily rates were higher than ever before.Whereas the strong pound has convinced many tourists to divert to cheaper European cities, business travelers cannot avoid London so easily.Only 0.5% of Londoners advertise their properties on Airbnb, compared with 2.4% of Parisians. One reason is that there is a shortage of reasonably priced residential stock near London’s main tourist attractions, which are hemmed in by offices and mansions.
  3. Syria is a nasty complex of wars within a war: an uprising against dictatorship; a sectarian battle between Sunnis and Alawites (and their Shia allies); an internecine struggle among Sunni Arabs; a Kurdish quest for a homeland; a regional proxy war pitting Saudi Arabia and Turkey against Iran; and a geopolitical contest between a timid America and a resurgent Russia.Barack Obama’s policy in Syria—to wish that Mr Assad would go, without willing the means to get him out—has been wretched.Turkey is being sucked deeper into the maelstrom. It has started systematically shelling Syrian Kurds. It bundles them together with the Turkish Kurds, who have rashly resumed their decades-old insurgency inside Turkey.Yet the Kurds have been America’s best allies against the “caliphate” of Islamic State (IS).In support of Turkey, Saudi Arabia has deployed military aircraft. It has announced war games at home involving Sunni partners such as Egypt, Morocco and Pakistan.The West should urge restraint on the Turks and Saudis: the risks of war with Russia and of jihadist blowback are too high. America should try to persuade its Turkish and Kurdish friends to accommodate rather than fight each other. For its wishes to carry weight, though, America must do more in Syria.
  4. DAVID CAMERON’S plan for the European Union summit on February 18th and 19th was simple enough. There would be a short squabble with the east Europeans over benefits for EU migrants to Britain, a quick battle with the French over protections for countries not in the euro and a brief row with Belgium over “ever closer union”.The east Europeans dug in their heels over the length of time that in-work benefits could be denied to EU migrants, and over plans to curb child benefits even for those already drawing them. François Hollande, the French president, tenaciously resisted any suggestion that Britain on its own would be allowed to refer decisions by euro-zone countries to an EU summit if it felt unhappy with them, on the grounds that this looked too much like a veto for the City of London.Nobody seemed impressed by his argument that the issue of Britain’s place in the EU had festered for too long and that this was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to resolve it.Yet in the end EU leaders know they will have to give Mr Cameron enough concessions to allow him to claim to his party and to voters that his renegotiation has been a success if he is to have a chance of winning his referendum.
  5. Dementia has mostly been a rich-world sickness, because it becomes more common as people live longer. China is fast catching up. Life expectancy increased from 45 in 1960 to 77 now, and the population is ageing rapidly: one person in six is over 60 now; by 2025 nearly one in four will be. Factors that increase the (age-adjusted) risk of developing dementia are also on the rise, including obesity, smoking, lack of exercise and diabetes.Already about 9m people in China have some form of dementia. In absolute terms, that is more than twice as many as in America. It is also more than double the number in India, a country with a population similar in size to China’s but a much younger one. Nearly two-thirds of China’s sufferers have the form known as Alzheimer’s, cases of which have tripled since 1990.Despite recent public-information campaigns, many Chinese regard dementia as a natural part of ageing, not as a disease, and do not know that it is fatal.It carries a stigma of mental illness, making sufferers and their relatives reluctant to seek help.
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