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It's a small, small world

Jue, 01/10/2015 - 20:48

STEPHEN BREYER took his seat at the Supreme Court in 1994. The Bill Clinton appointee usually leans left, but in the term that finished at the end of June he found himself in the majority more often than did any of his colleagues. He is also one of America's most prolific justices. In “The Court and the World”, the third book he has written during his two decades on the bench, Mr Breyer explains how globalisation has changed the way the Supreme Court does business. With “new challenges imposed by an ever more interdependent world”, he writes, “judicial awareness can no longer stop at the border.”

The challenges come in several forms. The weightiest, which Mr Breyer outlines in a sweeping historical review, is how to “protect basic liberties in the face of security threats”. The court was once highly deferential to presidents during wartime. The justices looked the other way when, during the first world war, the Wilson administration locked up socialists and prosecuted leafleteers opposed to...Continue reading

How a 1965 law changed the faces of America

Mié, 30/09/2015 - 06:00

DONALD Trump would be well advised to take a short break in his busy schedule and read a new report on immigration published by the Pew Research Centre. It shows that with his six-page immigration policy-proposal, which includes building a wall on the Mexican border (somehow making the Mexicans pay for it) and deporting all America's approximately 11m undocumented immigrants, Mr Trump is not only intent on causing misery for millions of people, but is also barking up the wrong tree. The report finds that over the last five years net unauthorised immigration has been zero because the number of illegal arrivals was offset by the number of undocumented immigrants leaving the country. And the number of undocumented Mexicans dropped 300,000 a year between 2007 and 2009 and 150,000 a year ever since.

Mr Trump says he doesn’t read statistics, so it’s unlikely that he will let facts trouble the misguided dogma he is touting. But his obstructionism is a shame because the findings of the report show how much America was changed (and improved, in the...Continue reading

Donald Trump's tax plan is a fantasy

Lun, 28/09/2015 - 20:53

IT takes a certain chutzpah to propose bigger tax cuts than your rival, claim your plan is cheaper and then suggest your sums add up due to “common sense”. This is what Donald Trump, the iconoclastic frontrunner for the Republican nomination, did on the morning of September 28th, when he became the second leading Republican candidate to publish a tax plan, following Jeb Bush’s effort earlier this month. Critics of Mr Bush’s plan said it was a giveaway for high-earners, funded by optimistic assumptions about its effect on growth. On both counts, Mr Trump, who has never suffered from a lack of gall, makes Mr Bush look positively pussyfooted.

The plan burnishes Mr Trump’s Republican credentials by giving high earners whacking tax cuts. Individuals earning more than $150,000 will see their marginal tax rate fall from close to 40% now to 25%, three percentage points lower than under Mr Bush’s plan. Whereas the former Governor of Florida wants merely to double the standard deduction, the amount that can be earned before paying tax, to $11,300, Mr...Continue reading

Bye, Boehner

Sáb, 26/09/2015 - 01:09

“This morning, I woke up, I said my prayers and decided today’s the day I’m going to do this,” John Boehner told a press conference on September 25th, shortly after startling both foes and allies by announcing his resignation as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Told that he looked relieved to be stepping down, the most powerful Republican in America grinned and sang a burst of “Zip-a-dee-Doo-Dah.”

Reasonable observers had to feel a twinge of sympathy for Mr Boehner. His nearly five years as Speaker have been marked by endless revolts from the hard-right, and demands to launch futile assaults on laws dear to President Barack Obama—assaults which were doomed because Republicans lack the 60-vote super-majority in the Senate needed to ram their wishes through against the wishes of the Democratic minority (and are even further away from the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a presidential veto).

Those numbers never daunted the most fervent 40 or so members of the House Republican caucus, who accuse Mr Boehner and other leaders of “surrender” each time they are unwilling to use every tool in the constitution...Continue reading

The pontiff on the Hill

Jue, 24/09/2015 - 23:41

IF THE faces of Joe Biden and John Boehner represented their respective Democratic and Republican parties, as Pope Francis gave the first papal address to Congress on September 30th, there is no doubt which was the happier. The vice-president, flanking the pope on the left, beamed as he delivered, in careful English, a veiled corroboration of recent Democratic positions, including on geopolitics, immigration, social justice and environmental stewardship; the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, seated to the pope’s right, looked for long periods as if he might regret inviting the mercurial pontiff.

To be fair, Mr Boehner is a more stony-faced individual than the jocular Mr Biden. The pope also took pains to muffle the partisan effect of his words, including by speaking, where possible, in general terms.

He did not repeat his straightforward support for the nuclear deal President Barack Obama and others have negotiated with Iran, which most Republicans loathe; he merely noted “the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences”. He did not congratulate Mr Obama on protecting millions of...Continue reading

Apple goes to Washington

Mié, 23/09/2015 - 17:04

SINCE 2007, when Amazon introduced its Kindle, readers have had the option of enjoying their books in bits and bytes rather than in bindings. But behind the scenes, retailers and publishers have struggled with how they should price ebooks. Set the price too high on the ineffable commodity and consumers will balk; mark them too low, and nobody will spring for the hardcover edition. In a forthcoming petition, Apple will ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter by taking up a 2013 ruling, upheld by another court in June, finding that the computing giant broke the law when it entered the ebook market in 2010.

At issue is the Sherman Antitrust Act, a law dating back to 1809 that polices attempts to stifle competition in the marketplace. When Apple was preparing to launch the iPad and iBookstore, its online market for electronic titles, Amazon was selling every ebook for $9.99, including many at a loss, to boost Kindle sales. To avoid having to match that bargain-bottom price and give itself a chance at profitability, Apple struck a deal with five big publishing companies. The publishers would switch to an “agency pricing” model...Continue reading

The strange asymmetry of the presidential race

Mar, 22/09/2015 - 15:59

GEORGE H.W. BUSH was a terrible campaigner and a rather good president. One, possibly apocryphal, story about his awkwardness in front of a crowd involves a campaign stop in a New Hampshire town that had recently seen job losses. On the way in Mr Bush was, supposedly, handed a card by an aide which read, “Message: I care”. The candidate took to the stage and started saying, “Message: I care”, like some pre-programmed robo-Wasp. Hillary Clinton’s appearance on "Face the Nation" at the weekend had a certain H.W. quality. She has been told by aides that she needs to remind Americans that she is a real person. “I am a real person,” she told the host, John Dickerson.

That Mrs Clinton is not great at campaigning ought to come as no surprise to anyone who watched her previous attempt to win the Democratic nomination. As with Mr Bush, this does not necessarily mean she would be a bad president. But it does help to explain Democrats’ enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders, which has reached Trump-like levels in some polls. Mr Sanders is a puzzle for people trying to decide...Continue reading

Scott Walker drops out

Mar, 22/09/2015 - 00:26

GOVERNOR Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who today ended his Republican presidential campaign after a brutal collapse in his polling numbers, liked to present himself as the new Ronald Reagan. He dedicated his departure from the race to his idol, saying that the optimistic party of Reagan was being dragged into a contest of “personal attacks” by the “current frontrunner”, also known as the property tycoon Donald Trump. His direct inspiration came from God, Mr Walker added at a press conference in Madison. “While I was sitting in church yesterday, the pastor's words reminded me that the Bible is full of stories about people who were called to be leaders in unusual ways. 
Today, I believe that I am being called to lead by helping to clear the race so that a positive conservative message can rise to the top of the field,” he said, also mentioning his hope that others would follow his example.

In a typical election season, seeking Reagan’s mantle is shrewd Republican politics. Every four years Republicans dream of winning the White House without having to sacrifice many (or any) of their conservative principles. For this,...Continue reading

The prospect of a shutdown looms

Sáb, 19/09/2015 - 03:48

THE leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination include eight more or less distinguished politicians, such as Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, and two men, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, with no political experience and some odd ideas. Mr Trump wants to deport 11.3m people in two years; Mr Carson thinks being gay is a matter of choice and the Affordable Care Act the “worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery”. Polls suggest these greenhorn screwballs command more than half the Republican vote.

To understand why Americans are so fed up with politicians, it would be reasonable to start with the government shutdown of September 2013, when the failure of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to sign off on a short-term budget proposal led to about 800,000 federal employees being sent home for 12 days and the mothballing of numerous government programmes and services. This was estimated to have cost the economy $24 billion in lost output; it also hurt the Republicans.

At the time, almost half of Americans said the shutdown had cost them and most blamed the GOP—even if the nation's disdain...Continue reading

Poor marks for new college scorecards

Vie, 18/09/2015 - 22:41

THE cost of a college education has emerged as a big theme in the 2016 presidential race. Skyrocketing tuition fees have made the headlines, leaving many wondering whether college is moving out of reach of the middle class. But while costs have indeed risen, such stories tend to exaggerate the magnitude of the increase by citing the published or “sticker” cost of college, rather than the actual cost. Since 1990 the sticker prices of public and private colleges have increased 104% and 67% respectively. But once scholarships and grants are added in, those numbers drop to 72% and 24%.

Why the discrepancy? Part of the reason is an increased practice of price discrimination, economic jargon for the act of charging some customers more than others for the same product based on their willingness to pay. In most markets, sellers have to guess how much buyers are willing to pay based on of the limited data available to them. Colleges are exceptionally good price discriminators because they have perfect knowledge of their applicants’ finances. Students seeking financial aid must fill out a form disclosing both their family’s income and...Continue reading

Good ideas come with familiar baggage

Jue, 17/09/2015 - 18:42

JEB BUSH’s avowed goal of 4% annual economic growth was derided by many when it was announced. The target seemed wildly optimistic, and Mr Bush’s plan for achieving it was light on details. Not any more. Mr Bush is now the only candidate to have released a fully-fledged tax plan (in the second Republican debate on September 16th, frontrunner Donald Trump promised to deliver his in a couple of weeks). Mr Bush’s plan contains many good ideas for making the tax system more efficient and boosting growth. Unfortunately, it also calls for expensive and unjustifiable giveaways for the highest earners.

Start with the good stuff. Mr Bush wants to cut America’s eye-wateringly high corporation tax rate—the highest in the OECD—from 35% to 20%. His economic cheerleaders, in a paper supporting the plan, rightly complain that a high corporate tax rate deters productivity enhancing investments and makes America less competitive. Mr Bush would stop taxing repatriated foreign earnings, ending the farce of American companies hoarding cash overseas. Encouragingly, he promises to end the bias in the tax system towards...Continue reading

Will Mr Trump trip up?

Mié, 16/09/2015 - 18:39

WHEN the candidates for the Republican nomination gathered for their first debate on August 6th, Donald Trump’s support was already high: 26%, according to an Economist/YouGov poll taken in early August, with Scott Walker (14%) and Jeb Bush (12%) riding in second and third place. But a month ago, Mr Trump was still a novelty candidate. For the second debate, on September 16th, he sits atop the bloated Republican field at nearly 34%, and Mr Bush, the prematurely presumptive nominee, is polling under 9%. The fortunes of Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, are on the rise. He has the support of about 19% of Republican voters at the moment. Everybody else is polling in the single digits.

Mr Trump has insulted immigrants, women and the intelligence of the American electorate, but nothing thus far has put a damper on his ascent. His hip-shooting campaign style has only paid dividends. According to a new New York Times/CBS News poll,...Continue reading

Why the long holiday continues in Seattle

Mar, 15/09/2015 - 16:53

ACROSS America’s schools and universities, children and students are returning to school. But in Seattle’s 97 public schools, the classrooms are empty. On September 8th, the city’s 5,000 public school teachers voted to strike, for the first time in 30 years, delaying the first day of school for 53,000 students.

The strike, now in its fifth day, is the result of stalled contract negotiations between the Seattle Education Association (SEA), a union, and the local school district. Hours and pay are the main sticking points. The school district has offered teachers a 14% pay rise over three years in exchange for 20 additional minutes of daily instruction time (see chart 1). The union is requesting a more generous pay bump over two years.

In making its case, the SEA often cites a six-year freeze on cost-of-living pay raises. But data from the Bureau of Labour...Continue reading

Is Obamacare at war with religion?

Vie, 11/09/2015 - 18:42

UNTIL last week, it had seemed that the latest and most persnickety challenge to Obamacare was going nowhere fast. But on September 3rd, five federal judges predicted that the complaint—which involves the law’s requirements for employers to provide contraception to their employees—would find a receptive audience at the Supreme Court.

Churches and other religious organisations are exempt from the duty. Last year certain types of “closely held” corporations run by people with religious objections to birth control earned a similar bye. But charitable organisations affiliated with religious groups, from food banks to hospitals—most of which are Catholic but equal-opportunity employers—were not released from the requirement. So in response to their complaints the Obama administration revised the rules to permit religious non-profits to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage by filling out a form or writing a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services. A third party would then provide birth-control...Continue reading

The Democratic frontrunner flexes her diplomatic muscles

Mié, 09/09/2015 - 19:47

HILLARY Clinton’s greatest asset as she seeks the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is also her greatest liability: her four years of service as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state. No rival for the presidency, from either party, can match her insider’s knowledge of the world and its leaders. Yet the American public, seeing wobbly allies and defiant foes at every point on the compass, has largely lost faith in Team Obama’s handling of foreign affairs: the last poll to show net approval of the president’s foreign policies was taken in March 2014. All in all, Mrs Clinton’s CV is quite the trap.

On September 9th Mrs Clinton used a speech on Iran, and the recent American-led talks to curb that country’s nuclear ambitions, to attempt an escape. Speaking in Washington at the Brookings Institution, a think tank that serves as a high temple for America’s foreign policy priesthood, she presented herself as an advocate of “smart power". Broadly speaking, this involved claiming joint-ownership of Obama policies that still have a decent chance of succeeding, while disavowing any initiatives that have...Continue reading

The vice president woos Atlanta's Jews and talks about a White House run

Vie, 04/09/2015 - 16:34

POLITICS is a clash of competing principles and rival policies. It is also a drama of individual people, with their ambitions, flaws and delusions. These dual elements, which synthesise into history, were starkly combined at a speech given by Joe Biden, the vice president, at a synagogue in Atlanta yesterday evening. Ostensibly an occasion to describe and defend the administration’s foreign policy—in particular, its deal to constrain Iran’s nuclear programme—the most urgent question, for many in the audience, was whether Mr Biden will run for president (again). Eventually, and rather movingly, he addressed it.

Jewish Americans are fond of Mr Biden, and he reciprocates the feeling: at the end of the evening he described how his daughter had married a Jewish man in a Catholic rectory and signed a ketubah (Jewish marriage certificate), showing impressive knowledge of Jewish nomenclature. But some (though by no means all) American Jews are nervous, even angry, over the Iran deal,...Continue reading

The Economist interviews Donald Trump

Jue, 03/09/2015 - 18:00

DONALD TRUMP has become the surprise Republican frontrunner early on in the 2016 US presidential cycle. His popularity – and fame – is reflected in the wide media coverage he has been enjoying. His policies, such as they are, have had less attention

For more from Economist Radio visit

Conscientious rejection

Jue, 03/09/2015 - 12:45

KIM DAVIS, a devout Apostolic Christian employed as a rural county clerk in Kentucky, asked the Supreme Court on August 28th to give her a temporary bye from their landmark ruling expanding marriage laws to same-sex couples. Three days later, the justices curtly declined her request without explanation or dissent. But Ms Davis still refuses to issue marriage licences to gays. She is defying the Supreme Court, she explains, "under God's authority". She now sits in jail.

In her plea to the justices, Ms Davis insisted that she cannot, in good conscience, sign a marriage document for two men or two women. Nor can she let any of her six deputies handle these nuptials, since her name still appears on the documents. To avoid being accused of discriminatory treatment, Ms Davis has refused to issue any marriage licences at all. But four couples (two gay, two straight) who returned from her office empty-handed sued the clerk on July 2nd. A federal judge, David Bunning, instructed Ms Davis to issue marriage licences to the couples and an appeals court upheld that order. There is “little or no likelihood”, the Sixth Circuit explained on August 26th, that Ms Davis will win...Continue reading

Ohio’s controversial abortion bill

Mié, 26/08/2015 - 11:39

JOHN KASICH is trying his very best not to alienate any potential backers of a moderate Republican candidate for the presidency. So far the governor of Ohio has done well: he was the most centrist debater in the first televised debate of ten GOP presidential hopefuls. He is currently polling well in New Hampshire, for what that's worth at this early stage in the contest. On August 25th Trent Lott, the still influential former senator from Mississippi, joined Robert Bentley, the governor of Alabama, John Sununu, another well-known former senator, and a basketball legend, Charles Barkley, in endorsing Mr Kasich for the Republican Party’s nomination.

Yet even though many of Mr Kasich’s policies go down well with moderate Republicans—from the expansion of Medicaid in Ohio to his openness to immigration reform and his backing of Common Core, a set of educational standards—his hard line on abortion is likely to upset some of them. That’s why the usually blunt-spoken governor has not said a word so far on a proposed bill in Ohio that would ban abortions based on a foetal diagnosis of Down syndrome, a genetic disorder causing intellectual...Continue reading

Doubling down

Mar, 25/08/2015 - 11:10

CRASHING commodities scare not only stock markets. They also strike fear into environmentalists keen to see America move towards renewable sources of energy. Barack Obama sought to bolster confidence in green power at the National Clean Energy Summit on August 24th—a day on which oil prices also fell to below $45 a barrel, their lowest for six years. Fossil fuels are both cheap and plentiful. The Dow Jones Total Coal Market index has dropped by more than three quarters in the past five years. That makes it harder for the president to wean America, which accounts for 15% of global carbon-dioxide emissions, off them.

Mr Obama announced a plan at the summit which includes loan guarantees worth $1 billion for new research projects into renewables. Financing to pay for the installation of clean energy technologies in homes—such as sticking solar panels on rooves—is also under consideration. This latter measure will “expand opportunities for consumers,” claims Brian Deese, a senior advisor to Mr Obama. The rules would allow homeowners who adopt green technologies to start saving from them immediately; the costs of installation...Continue reading