Economist 4/19/16

  1. Argentina’s previous president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, introduced currency controls, which kept the peso artificially strong and made exporting unprofitable. He is on the verge of ending a 14-year confrontation with foreign creditors.The annual inflation rate is approaching 40%, according to independent estimates.It is the highest rate in Latin America outside Venezuela. Meat, a staple, is 44% more expensive than a year ago.Mr Macri inherited high inflation (see chart). During Ms Fernández’s reign the central bank printed money to pay for subsidies, which reached 4% of GDP last year. But the measures the new president has taken to stabilise the economy have made things—temporarily—worse. The floating of the peso, to make exports competitive and reduce a drain on the central bank’s foreign-exchange reserves, pushed up inflation. So did cutbacks to subsidies of electricity, water, gas and transport to control the budget deficit, which reached 5.8% of GDP in 2015.
  2. The economy is likely to shrink by 0.5% this year.Mr Macri warned that there would be pain, but he was not gloomy enough. His government is likely to miss the inflation target of 20-25% it set for 2016.One reason for his optimism is the prospect of Argentina’s return to the international capital markets. On April 13th a court in New York cleared the way for Argentina to repay bondholders who had rejected earlier debt restructurings. The country now plans to issue up to $15 billion in new bonds.But investment may not recover quickly enough to provide the lift that the government is hoping for. Brazil, Argentina’s largest trading partner, is suffering its worst recession since the 1930s.
  3. AMERICA admitted Alaska and Hawaii as its 49th and 50th states in 1959. Ever since, people have speculated on what (or where) could be the 51st, but the country has now gone 57 years without inducting a new one—the longest such pause in America’s history.The most likely bet has always been on Puerto Rico, a self-governing United States territory. The island held its first referendum on statehood in 1967, and has held three more since. The most recent, in 2012, was inconclusive (another is planned, though it is as yet unscheduled).Another contender, though less likely, is the District of Columbia (Washington, DC). As the nation’s capital, its legal status is unusual. Unlike Puerto Ricans, DC residents must pay federal taxes and get to vote for the president—as in any of the 50 states—but they share the Puerto Ricans’ lack of other privileges offered by statehood, such as voting representation in Congress.On April 15th she revealed plans for a (non-binding) statehood referendum in November.
  4. Czech Republic wants to change its name—or rather, the way it is referred to in English—simply for stylistic reasons. On April 14th the country’s foreign minister, Lubomir Zaoralek, gently suggested that English-speakers should begin referring to it as Czechia.Czech leaders insist that the country’s full official name is not changing: they are merely requesting that the United Nations register Czechia as an official shortened name (like “Russia” for “the Russian Federation”).Czechia can be seen as a literal translation of Cesko, which entered into common use after the 1993 break-up of Czechoslovakia, though some historians argue it dates back as far as 1634.But Czechs seem less convinced. A 2013 survey by Mlada Fronta Dnes, the country’s leading daily, found 73% opposed to Czechia. The antipathy may reflect long-standing mixed feelings towards Cesko.Adding to the confusion, the “Cz” spelling used in English comes from Polish, not Czech. It may have been adopted as a result of the influx of Ashkenazi Jews from Poland to the anglophone world in the 19th century. In short, the spelling of Czechia in the places where it will have the most impact is essentially a mistake.
  5. Among countries for which the World Health Organisation (WHO) measures road safety, Thailand is less lethal per head of population only than Libya, whose drivers have to contend, among other things, with rocket-propelled grenades. Each year more than 24,000 people are killed on Thai roads, a mortality rate well above other South-East Asian countries, even much poorer ones with lousier roads. Until recently, misreporting had obscured the scale of the problem.Thai roads are busy, testament both to the country’s relative wealth and its limited public transport. They are also packed with vulnerable motorbikes and scooters, which are involved in nearly three-quarters of fatalities. Only half of their riders wear an obligatory helmet, and even fewer of the passengers riding pillion.Speed limits are too high—up to 80 kilometres (50 miles) an hour in urban areas—and local authorities have limited power to change them. Traffic cameras are proliferating, but fewer than half of Thais pay the measly fines for transgressions.s for drunk drivers, until last year they could legally refuse breathalyser tests.
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