Economist 2/22/16

  1. ON FEBRUARY 26th, Ireland will go to the polls to elect 158 representatives for the Dáil Éireann, the lower chamber of parliament. The government in place since the last set of elections in 2011 has been formed of a coalition between Fine Gael, a centre-right grouping led by Enda Kenny, the current Taoiseach (prime minister), and the Irish Labour party.The country was hit hard by the financial crisis of 2007-9, and was forced to accept a bail-out programme worth €67.5 billion ($75 billion) from the EU and the IMF in order to avoid the collapse of its banking system. As a result, in 2012, its GDP dropped 14% from peak to trough and unemployment rose to more than 15% as public spending was cut and taxes rose. But it has since bounced back from its economic troubles better than almost any other country in Europe, exiting its bail-out programme in December 2013 and enjoying growth of more than 5% a year.
  2. The tussle showed that Europe’s war over austerity economics is back. Portugal’s prime minister, António Costa, was elected on a pledge to “turn the page on austerity”, and his government is backed by big-spending far-left parties. Meanwhile Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, has been challenging Brussels budget hawks at every opportunity. In Spain, where coalition talks have been deadlocked since elections in December, the Socialists are considering a Portuguese-style alliance with the populists of Podemos.In Greece the radical Syriza party remains in power, though its anti-austerity fire has dimmed.Under its previous centre-right government, Portugal was the prize pupil of the EU’s austerians. During the euro crisis, in exchange for a €78 billion ($87 billion) bail-out, the government slashed public-sector wages and benefits, raised taxes and liberalised the labour market. A sharp recession was followed by a modest recovery for the past two years.
  3. THE recovery in the 19-strong euro area is continuing but it is nothing to write home about. Growth had picked up to 0.5% in the first quarter of 2015 (compared with the final quarter of 2014), the strongest performance since the upswing started in the spring of 2013.Indeed, euro-zone GDP in the final quarter of 2015 was still below its pre-crisis peak of early 2008 whereas America’s was almost 10% above its peak of late 2007.The sluggish pace of the recovery has been especially disappointing given the fact that the euro area has benefited from a double fillip. First, the fall in energy prices caused by the collapse in the oil price acted in much the same way as a tax cut, boosting consumer spending—the main engine of the recovery. Second, the European Central Bank has carried out quantitative easing—creating money to buy financial assets—since March 2015.
  4. . On March 26th the last print edition of the Independent will roll off the presses, its circulation down to a loyal rump of 55,000. Its Sunday sister’s last run will be on March 20th. More than half the titles’ roughly 200 journalists will lose their jobs as theIndependent becomes a digital-only publication.The most profitable bit of the company, the i, a millennial-oriented cheapsheet spun off from the Independent in 2010, is to be sold to the Johnston Press, a regional publisher, for £24m ($35m).he total circulation of British newspapers has fallen by 36% since 2009, and their share of the national advertising market has dropped even more sharply, from 25% in 2009 to less than 10% last year.The online editions of the Daily Mail and the Guardian are among the world’s most popular English-language news sites. But digital ad revenues have yet to make up the steep declines in print-ad sales.The Times is trying another tactic. It maintains one of the strictest online paywalls in journalism, and has managed to stabilise its daily paid circulation at more than 400,000.general-interest news sites struggle to extract money from their readers, who can easily find free news elsewhere, notably from the licence-fee funded BBC.
  5. Every two years, however, American cities make a huge effort to take note of their homeless populations as part of the federally mandated “point-in-time” survey. Volunteers and shelter workers search pavements, parks, and tunnels to count how many of their city’s residents are living without shelter on a given night. The data is combined with a tally of shelter beds to gauge the success of the previous year’s service efforts and to estimate how many people will need shelter in the coming year. In 2014 , 1.49 million people used homeless shelters and 578,424 were recorded as being without shelter: sleeping on the streets, in tents, in cars, and other exposed places.Counting on one night of the year, every two years, is likely to have its limits. For example, the count is made in January, when icy weather makes an accurate tally of the homeless especially difficult. Many people seek temporary shelter with friends or family, or take refuge in hidden locations that volunteers don’t find.
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