Economist 3/22/16

  1. Hackers masquerading as officials from Bangladesh’s central bank asked the New York branch of the Federal Reserve to transfer nearly $1 billion to private bank accounts in Sri Lanka and the Philippines. By the time authorities cottoned on, $101m had been nicked. On March 15th Atiur Rahman, the governor of Bangladesh’s central bank, took the blame and resigned.The Fed says the instructions it received were legitimate. The Philippine authorities cannot say what happened to the $81m sent to their country. Much of the money disappeared in its opaque casinos, which they say are not covered by rules to prevent money laundering.Even the criminals (of which nothing is known) should kick themselves: were it not for a typo in one of their requests, dozens more payments might have gone through. Staff at the central bank of Sri Lanka, who blocked a $20m onward transfer on the grounds that it was odd for a central bank to be making a big payment to a private account, covered themselves in glory.The attack is hardly an isolated incident. Criminal gangs are adept at hacking into e-mail accounts and sending instructions to bankers asking them to wire large sums.
  2. At the moment, calculating America’s consumer-price index (CPI) involves sending people into shops to note down prices. The basket is based on a survey of consumers which is updated only every three years or so. This looks increasingly cumbersome in a world where every online purchase is logged, somewhere, in a database. In theory online baskets and prices, at least, could be tracked digitally.Adobe, a technology firm, is trying to do just that. The firm collects anonymised sales data from websites that use its software.It is using this ocean of information to compile a “digital price index” (DPI) to rival official measures of inflation.The DPI has several advantages over the conventional approach. It tracks 1.4m goods, compared with the CPI’s 80,000. It is based on actual purchases rather than advertised prices, increasing its accuracy.The new index completely misses changes in offline prices and spending on things like petrol and rent. It will not replace the CPI any time soon.
  3. UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women recently concluded that Japan should let women inherit the Chrysanthemum throne, too.It is not clear what Emperor Akihito, who is 82 (and has a hugely popular wife), thinks about this. But the Japanese prime minister blew his top. Shinzo Abe leapt to the defence of a male-only line, saying it was rooted in Japanese history.Cowed, it withdrew its recommendation that the law of succession be changed.Polls suggest that most Japanese would welcome a female monarch.Mr Abe does not share Mr Koizumi’s iconoclasm. An arch-traditionalist, he wants the male-only system preserved to protect the imperial bloodline. But in other ways he has been an unlikely champion of diversity since he came to power (for the second time) in 2012. He has cajoled Japanese firms into promoting more women and urged them to make it easier for them to come back to work after having children.
  4. Punjab’s(Pakistan) pushy chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif treats the metro as an urgent priority. His office makes a virtue of the fact that the line will be just a biscuit toss away from some of Lahore’s architectural gems: no better way to study them. The project appals conservationists.Today Lahore has a greater profusion of treasures from the Mughal period (the peak of which was in the 17th century) than India’s Delhi or Agra, even if Lahore’s are less photographed.Conservationists claim law on their side. In January the Lahore High Court granted a stay against the government’s plans, ordering it to stop felling trees and otherwise preparing the ground for the metro. It was argued that building beside at least 11 sites would violate antiquities laws, which forbid construction within 200 metres of a protected area. This week the court gave the advocate-general a deadline of March 21st to make his case against the stay.
  5. Indiana’s Republican governor, Michael Pence, has made it clear that refugees from one mostly Muslim country are not welcome in the state. On November 16th, three days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, Mr Pence suspended the resettlement of Syrian refugees “to ensure the safety and security of all Hoosiers”. As many as 30 other Republican governors (and one Democrat)subsequently made similar moves. Mr Pence was the first governor to be taken to court over his refugee order by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on behalf of Exodus, a local non-profit resettlement agency. On February 29th Tanya Walton Pratt, a federal judge, ruled that Mr Pence’s order to cut federal funds for the resettlement of Syrian refugees in his state was unconstitutional and “clearly discriminates against Syrian refugees based on their national origin”.After the initial bombast of his and the other governors’ announcements, Mr Pence had to confess that he cannot prevent Syrian refugees who have been admitted to America—after at least 18 months, and often much longer, of screening by intelligence agencies—from entering Indiana.

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