Economist 7/25/16

  1. THE decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to impose a blanket ban on the Russian Olympic team, as recommended by the World Anti-Doping Agency, was met with disappointment yesterday.Russia is not the only culprit. Thirty-six athletes from 17 nations tested positive for a variety of banned substances including clenbuterol, stanozolol and methylhexaneamine at the 2012 games.Of all the summer Olympics held since 1968 only one has resulted in no drug violations being discovered, Moscow in 1980. Independent analysis since then has suggested that 19 podium placed winners used banned substances.
  2. BACKSTAGE at many of Britain’s summer music festivals, suspicious pills and powders seized from tents are analysed by lab technicians. Usually it is to advise on-site doctors and police on what symptoms to look out for in people who become unwell. But this year, a non-profit organisation called The Loop manned a tent where partygoers could drop off their drugs anonymously, before returning later for the results. As police turned a blind eye, technicians analysed nearly 250 drug samples, mostly of ecstasy, cocaine and ketamine.Or at least, that was what they claimed to be: in reality the bags of “MDMA crystal” being sold for £50 ($66) per gram turned out to be brown sugar; some suspiciously hard, grey pills were made of concrete; and several samples of “cocaine” and “ketamine” were in fact ground-up anti-malaria tablets.But does the testing encourage more drug use? It is too early to say, but there is some evidence that it does the opposite. After getting their results back, only half of those at the Secret Garden Party said they would take the drugs.
  3. Last week an Afghan refugee stabbed and axed four train passengers and another on a platform. Then a depressed German teenager of Iranian descent went on a shooting rampage in Munich, wounding more than 30 and killing nine, then himself.Later, another Syrian refugee, fearing deportation, swore allegiance to Islamic State and blew himself up outside a concert, injuring 15 others. Naturally, there is panic every time. But Germans catch themselves quickly after each disaster. Embodying this stoicism is Marcus da Gloria Martins, Munich’s police spokesman, who has resisted a tsunami of disinformation on social media, calmly sorting fact from fiction.Some of this is terrorism, some of it violence even more senseless; Germany’s sober and measured responses are becoming a model for dealing with all of it.
  4. HOW do you measure the well-being of a country’s citizens? Looking at wealth alone is clearly not enough.Boston Consulting Group (BCG) attempts to answer this question with its “Sustainable Economic Development Assessment” (SEDA). This year’s report, published on July 21st, encompasses 163 countries or territories and looks at each country’s performance across three measures: economics, investment and sustainability.The usual suspects occupy the top spots, with Norway reaching the maximum of 100 in the normalised scoring system, as it has every year since SEDA was launched in 2012. It is followed by northern European states and other developed countries. Petro-states such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, two of the wealthiest countries in the world, come in at 25th and 26th respectively. The United States’ relatively poor standing at 19th reflects its high income inequality as well as its low health and education scores.BCG also compared financial inclusion (the percentage of individuals aged 15 or over with a bank account) against each country’s SEDA score, revealing a clear relationship.The report’s authors found that countries with higher financial inclusion generally had higher well-being than their peers at a similar income level.
  5. As recently as the mid-2000s, Mr Xi was still little-known. His glamorous folk-singing wife was far more famous. The somewhat liberal leanings (by the party’s highly illiberal standards) of Mr Xi’s late father, a party grandee, provided one of the few available clues. It has proved highly misleading. Mr Xi has presided over the toughest crackdown on dissent in years.His wish to purge the party of the egregious corruption that has permeated it at every level seems evident: his campaign against graft has been the most sustained and wide-ranging of any waged by a Chinese leader since the party seized power in 1949.Mr Xi may in the end turn out to be more of a reformer than his frequent hardline rhetoric, his hammering of civil society and his tiptoeing round all-powerful state firms may suggest.A dwindling band of optimists pin their hopes on a crucial party congress late next year, at which Mr Xi will preside over sweeping leadership changes and set out the party’s goals for the remaining five years of his rule (assuming he accepts the norm of a ten-year limit on the general-secretaryship).

Economist 9/18/14

  1. The OECD’s latest “Education at a Glance” report compares how well rich countries are faring in spreading educational opportunity, by ranking countries according to the proportion of 25- to 64-year-olds who are better educated than their parents. A striking feature is a strong correlation of socially mobile countries at the top of the table with excellent test results in secondary schools (as measured by the OECD’s regular PISA tests and others). So South Korea heads the education-mobility league, just ahead of Finland.Moreover France, the Netherlands and Poland fare well in terms of opportunity, though their educational performances differ: Poland and the Netherlands receive strong marks in PISA; France less so.At the bottom end of the table, there is bad news for Germany. It shows a low level of upward mobility—about the same as the Czech Republic’s. But because many Germans match their parents’ level of education.
  2. THE world’s biggest brewer, AB InBev (ABI), maker of Budweiser and Stella Artois, is also the most frugal. There are no company cars for senior executives. Carlos Brito, the boss, flies economy class. That is one reason why, with 18% of global beer sales, ABI has a third of the profits. SAB Miller seems to have been trying to defend itself against a possible takeover by ABI, which was said to be talking to bankers about raising £75 billion ($121 billion) to buy its rival.SAB is a tempting target. Though based in London, its origins are in South Africa; it has breweries and bottling plants in 15 African countries, where people still mainly guzzle moonshine. Nearly 70% of SAB’s sales are in emerging markets, many of which are still developing a taste for beer.
  3. The case Young v United Parcel Service concentrates on whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), a law passed in 1978 that fortified employment protections for pregnant women under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, requires companies to accommodate women like Ms Young. The PDA prohibits employers from discriminating “because of” pregnancy and holds that pregnant women must not be treated differently from other employees who are “similar in their ability, or inability, to work.” UPS defends its accommodation policy as “pregnancy neutral.” It excludes women carrying a fetus just as surely as it excludes employees injured off-site or requesting a new assignment for some other reason.But Ms Young and her defenders find animus in the the omission and argue that the PDA requires more than neutrality. It mandates that employers offer benefits to pregnant women if those benefits are available to employees “similar in their ability or inability to work.
  4. THE Supreme Court of Bangladesh has just rejected appeals by a former prime minister, Khaleda Zia, over the appointment of a judge in a corruption case against her. The ruling clears the way for Mrs Zia to stand trial.The court ruling reinforces the dominance enjoyed by the country’s most powerful woman, Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister. It comes eight months after she won an unprecedented second term in an election boycotted by Mrs Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).Some sympathisers argue that Sheikh Hasina’s rule is justified, if only because of her success in developing the economy. Poverty has fallen rapidly since her return to power in 2009. The economy is now twice as big as when the kleptocratic and incompetent rule of Mrs Zia’s government.After its coup, the army discovered that governing was less enjoyable than it had imagined. It has since taken a back seat. It earns a handy $500m a year from its UN peacekeeping missions, the arms budget has grown nicely.
  5. Xi Jinping, China’s current leader, is now dismantling it. He has become the most powerful Chinese ruler certainly since Deng, and possibly since Mao. Whether this is good or bad for China depends on how Mr Xi uses his power. Mao pushed China to the brink of social and economic collapse, and Deng steered it on the right economic path but squandered a chance to reform it politically. Mr Xi has grabbed it and run with it. He has taken charge of secretive committees responsible for reforming government, overhauling the armed forces, finance and cyber-security. Mr Xi needs to set up an independent body to fight corruption, instead of leaving the job to party investigators and the feuding factions they serve. He should also require officials to declare all sources of income, property and other assets.Mr Xi is making some of the right noises. Reforms are being tinkered with to make local courts less beholden to local governments. But he needs to go further by abolishing the party’s shadowy “political-legal committees”, which decide sensitive cases.