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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

Is it bad to have a bunch of old judges?

Vie, 21/08/2015 - 00:29

ON THE third season of “House of Cards”, the Netflix show about Washington Machiavellianism gone haywire, a fictional Supreme Court justice mulls retirement when he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Aside from some overblown criticism of the conservative justices, nobody is speculating that anybody on the real-life Supreme Court is suffering from a degenerative brain disease.

But the show’s plotline calls attention to the fact that, barring death or an impeachable offence, the justices themselves decide when to hang up their robes. And today’s Supremes are no spring chickens. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal lion who has resisted calls to retire during Barack Obama’s presidency, is 82. Antonin Scalia, on the right, and Anthony Kennedy, in the centre, are both 79. Stephen Breyer is 77. Four justices—Clarence Thomas (67), Samuel Alito (66), Sonia Sotomayor (61) and the chief, John Roberts (60)—are sexagenarians. The new kid on the bench, Elena...Continue reading

Chicago feels the Bern

Mar, 18/08/2015 - 20:10

BERNIE SANDERS is on a roll. His political rallies attract bigger crowds than those of any other contender for the presidency. More than 15,000 showed up to hear him speak in Seattle, 27,000 in Los Angeles and 28,000 in Portland. His audience at the Iowa state fair was bigger than The Donald’s. One recent poll put him in the lead in New Hampshire, the site of the first primary contest.

When Mr Sanders turned up, around half an hour late, at a historic theatre in posh Lincoln Park on Chicago’s North Side, he was warmly welcomed by a largely white, mostly young audience of more than 800 who had forked out between $50 and $1,000 to hear him speak. He was introduced by four stalwarts of progressive politics in Chicago: Chuy Garcia, the Cook County commissioner, who had challenged Rahm Emanuel in the mayoral election earlier this year; Susan Sadlowski Garza, an alderwoman and vocal member of the Chicago Teachers Union; Carlos Rosa, who was elected alderman at the tender age of 26, and Robert Peters, an African-American from the...Continue reading

Blame Mexico!

Mar, 18/08/2015 - 18:08

"I'M A huge fan of the Mexican people," Donald Trump said in an interview this weekend with NBC's Chuck Todd. "But they have to pay for the wall."

Mr Trump, a real-estate mogul and the current front-runner in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, is such a fan of Mexicans that, in addition to promising to bully them into paying for a pharaonic American infrastructure project, accusing them of mooching off American taxpayers, and blaming them for low wages, unemployment and violent crime, he also proposes to amend the constitution to do away with birthright citizenship, so that children born inside America's borders will no longer be automatic citizens. He would make it harder for Mexicans to come to America lawfully and relentlessly deport those in the country without papers. In short, a huge fan.

In a new, six-page position paper on immigration reform, Mr Trump contends that "the Mexican...Continue reading

What the Black Lives Matter campaign gets wrong

Lun, 17/08/2015 - 20:01

HECKLING politicians is rarely an effective form of advocacy. In the midterm elections advocates for illegal immigrants heckled Barack Obama—and mostly were shouted down. But at a series of recent political events, protesters standing up to shout that “black lives matter” have been causing ripples in the Democratic presidential-primary race.

“We are in a state of emergency,” declared one protester at Martin O’Malley, a presidential aspirant and former governor of Maryland, at the annual Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix in July. When he responded that “All lives matter,” he was summarily booed. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator and Congress’s lone self-described socialist, initially refused to “out-scream people” and simply pointed to his record on civil rights (he marched with Martin Luther King junior in the 1960s). But this only inflamed protests further. At another event Sanders supporters tried to shout down the heckling with the phrase “We stand together”—a strategy that a writer at Time magazine...Continue reading

Jeb Bush affects joyfulness in Iowa

Sáb, 15/08/2015 - 06:46

IOWA is an easy state to mock. It is full of cornfields and its most famous annual festival, the Iowa State Fair, is an 11-day tribute to agriculture and over-eating best known for deep-fried food on sticks (including battered, deep-fried chunks of butter). The longest queue is the one to file past a life-size butter sculpture of a cow: to avoid melting, the yellow beast is kept chilled behind a large window, making the experience oddly reminiscent of viewing the embalmed Chairman Mao. Your columnist loves it all. More importantly Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, gives every sign of enjoying it, too.

That matters. Mr Bush is running to be the Republicans’ presidential nominee and Iowa is home to the first contest of the presidential season. In truth nobody expects Mr Bush to win Iowa, a state whose Republican voters tend to favour social conservatives. It matters more that a happy Mr Bush finally turned up at the state fair on Friday morning, spending almost three hours eating fried things, sipping beer and patiently engaging with Iowans under a beating sun.

When the former governor was still deciding whether to run he said he...Continue reading

Trumpismo and its limits

Jue, 13/08/2015 - 18:03

DONALD TRUMP'S raucous performance in the first debate between the leading GOP presidential aspirants has not hurt his national poll numbers. Nor has his abhorrent comment about Megyn Kelly, a hard-charging Fox News presenter. Not yet, at least. Mr Trump is holding steady nationally, with the support of nearly a quarter of likely Republican voters, and he has maintained his lead in Iowa—even if some voters there are now expressing some reservations.

Mr Trump's Teflon-coated staying power is maddening to his rivals. In a post-debate public...Continue reading

Obamacare's haters won't stop hating

Mié, 12/08/2015 - 22:30

AT THE end of June, when the Supreme Court saved the Affordable Care Act from a technical challenge in King v Burwell, it seemed the legal battles over Obamacare were finally over. But the “never-ending saga” of anti-Obamacare litigation, as Justice Elena Kagan put it, presses on. On August 7th two federal appellate courts turned back separate challenges to Barack Obama’s signature health-care law. The rulings are more bad news for litigants who have approached the courts to try to undermine the law, but either or both cases could eventually be heard by the Supreme Court.

The first challenge goes after the law’s individual mandate, the provision that requires most Americans to buy a health-insurance policy (subsidised by the feds, for lower-income people, in states that expanded Medicaid)...Continue reading