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  • The Economist explains

    Running the economy hot

    by H.C. | WASHINGTON, DC

    WHEN should policymakers stop stimulating an economy? America’s unemployment rate is 4.1%. At such a low level, the Federal Reserve, the central bank, would normally expect inflation to rise. In 2017 the economy grew by 2.5%, spurred by falls in joblessness that cannot go on forever. And inflation—though still below the Fed’s target—has overshot forecasts in recent months. All that might suggest that stimulus has become unnecessary. Yet America is cutting taxes and raising spending. As a result, in 2018 and 2019 it is poised to run an experiment. By stimulating economic activity when times are already good, it will find out what happens when the economy runs hot.

  • The Economist explains

    What’s in Poland’s new memory law

    by A.C. | WARSAW

    FOR years, Polish officials have battled to ensure that the phrase “Polish death camps” is not used as a shorthand for Auschwitz and other extermination camps run by the Nazis on Polish territory. Barack Obama did so in a speech in 2012 and was swiftly rebuked by Poland’s foreign minister. Now the government in Warsaw has gone a step further. A bill approved earlier this month introduces a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment for “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the German Third Reich...

  • The Economist explains

    Why the Second Amendment does not stymie gun control

    by S.M. | OJAI, CALIFORNIA

    AMERICA’S latest school shooting on February 14th has renewed calls for the repeal of the Second Amendment, the constitutional provision protecting the right “to keep and bear arms”. Critics claim the Second Amendment has helped make America the world leader in mass shootings. In the 227 years since the amendment was added to the constitution, as one student said after the massacre at her high school in Parkland, Florida, “guns have developed at a rate that leaves me dizzy”.

  • The Economist explains

    Why Jacob Zuma resigned

    by E.C.S. | JOHANNESBURG

    WHEN Jacob Zuma resigned as South Africa’s president on Valentine’s Day in a late-night televised address, his countrymen could scarcely believe he was going at last. For years the increasingly unpopular Mr Zuma had ignored calls to step down. Mass protests under the “Zuma must fall” banner had failed to move him. Appeals from respected veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle had also had little effect. Mr Zuma, seemingly unperturbed, shook off scandals with his trademark chuckle. He had taken to the airwaves once before in an address some thought would be a resignation.

  • The Economist explains

    The difficulties of exchanging territory in the Balkans

    by T.J.

    TEN years ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. Its Albanians, who make up the majority of the population, have been celebrating. But its Serbs, most of whom live in enclaves, have not. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo, which used to be its southern province, and Kosovo Serbs still consider themselves citizens of Serbia. The situation is typical of the Balkans, where borders are, frankly, a mess. So there are Serbs living in Kosovo and in Bosnia-Hercegovina, where they have their own republic (the Republika Srpska), Albanians and Bosniaks (Muslims) living in Serbia, and Greeks living in Albania.

  • The Economist explains

    How the international community has failed South Sudan

    by T.G. | ADDIS ADABA

    HOW to solve a problem like South Sudan? Regional peacemakers gathering in Addis Ababa over the past fortnight have struggled again to find an answer. Despite a succession of peace agreements and international resolutions (indeed the peacemakers may sign something this week), fighting in the world’s newest country has now entered its fifth year. It erupted in 2013 after President Salva Kiir (a Dinka) sacked his deputy, Riek Machar (a Nuer), pitting the country’s two largest ethnic groups against each other in a deadly struggle for supremacy. Since then fighting has taken place across multiple fronts, as rebel groups have mushroomed across the country.

  • The Economist explains

    “Cow vigilantism” in India

    by A.A.K. | MUMBAI

    MANY stock images of India’s cities show cows lying by the roadside or ruminating in the middle of the street as cars and bikes swerve around them. The animals, sacred to Hindus, have a licence to roam. Earlier this month the state government of Uttar Pradesh proposed making medicines with their urine, which is rumoured to cure cancer, eliminate wrinkles and prevent ageing. Their dung is believed to absorb harmful radioactivity. The animals’ status is now so high that in recent years “cow vigilantes” have taken to attacking and sometimes killing people they suspect of trafficking in cattle intended for slaughter.

  • The Economist explains

    Why New Zealand has so many gang members

    by E.A.D.W. | HAWKES BAY

    FOR a quiet country, New Zealand has a peculiar problem with gangs. It is reckoned to have one of the highest membership rates in the world. In a population of 4.7m, police count over 5,300 mobsters or “prospects” who are angling to join. Cumulatively, that makes the groups larger than the army. Bikers like the Hells Angels and posses from Australia are among its 25 recognised groups, but two Maori crews dominate: Black Power and the Mongrel Mob. They are remarkable for their subcultures as much as for their size. Members signal their allegiance by sewing patches onto leather jackets or branding themselves with dense tattoos.

  • The Economist explains

    Why 5G may be both faster and slower than the previous wireless generation

    by L.S.

    “FASTER, higher, stronger,” goes the Olympic motto. So it is only appropriate that the next generation of wireless technology, “5G” for short, should get its first showcase at the Winter Olympics  under way in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Once fully developed, it is supposed to offer download speeds of at least 20 gigabits per second (4G manages about half that at best) and response times (“latency”) of below 1 millisecond. So the new networks will be able to transfer a high-resolution movie in two seconds and respond to requests in less than a hundredth of the time it takes to blink an eye. But 5G is not just about faster and swifter wireless connections.

  • The Economist explains

    The roots of hyperinflation

    by J.O’S.

    IN a country where the annual inflation rate is in four figures, the previous month can seem like a golden age. Venezuela’s currency, the bolívar, has lost 99.9% of its value in a short time. It is hard to fathom how a government can get its economic policy so wrong when the effects of hyperinflation are so severe. What are its causes?

    Start with a definition. In 1956 Phillip Cagan, an economist working at America’s National Bureau of Economic Research, published a seminal study of hyperinflation, which he defined as a period in which prices rise by more than 50% a month. The phenomenon is rare.

  • The Economist explains

    How Russians will compete at the Winter Olympics

    by M.J.

    RUSSIA topped the medal table after the 2014 Winter Olympics on its home turf in Sochi. It will not do the same at the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which start on February 9th. In December the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the governing body of the Olympics, banned Russia from sending a team to South Korea. This was the first time the IOC has taken such a step on doping grounds, and it followed allegations of widespread, state-sponsored doping violations.

  • The Economist explains

    Why share prices are see-sawing

    by Buttonwood

    TWO recent successive one-day falls in the Dow Jones Industrial Average—one for an ominous-sounding 666 points and the second for a record 1,175 points—have grabbed the headlines. The declines were not as scary in percentage terms. Monday's 4.6% drop did not even make the all-time top ten. But they did follow a long period in which it seemed as if the American market could only go up, a tendency often noted by President Donald Trump. And the sell-off was global, with Europe and emerging markets also affected. What explains the sudden volatility?

    The long run-up in share prices is one explanation for the sudden change of mood.

  • The Economist explains

    Why the current flu crisis is so severe

    by G.F. | SEATTLE

    THE 2017-18 flu season, which lasts, roughly, for the duration of the northern hemisphere’s autumn and winter, may end up being as deadly as the swine-flu pandemic of 2009. Pneumonia and influenza caused nearly 10% of all deaths in the week ending January 13th, which exceeds the definition for an epidemic, as used by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The recent hospitalisation rate for flu or pneumonia, 51 per 100,000 people, is at its highest for this time of year since more accurate tracking began in 2010. More than 50 children have already died in America. Why is this season’s flu so nasty?

    The flu pandemic of 1918-20 invariably looms over such discussions.

  • The Economist explains

    Why America’s emergency-alerts systems need improving

    by B.S.

    SOME of America’s “wireless emergency alert” (WEA) systems are poorly designed. After most smartphone users in Hawaii were instructed on the morning of January 13th to seek shelter from an incoming ballistic missile, it took the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) 38 frantic minutes to correct the error with a follow-up message. Meanwhile people were speeding to find their loved ones or to reach seemingly safer spots, including culverts and road tunnels. At least one man died of a heart attack.

  • The Economist explains

    After 150 years, why does the Meiji restoration matter?

    by D.Z. | TOKYO

    IN January 1868 some young samurai and their merchant sympathisers overthrew Japan’s Tokugawa shogunate and with it seven centuries of feudal rule. The so-called Meiji restoration was the cue for such rapid industrialisation and modernisation that not even China’s more recent reforms have matched it. The effect was to vault Japan into the ranks of the world’s great powers. Today the government of Shinzo Abe is making much of the anniversary. For the prime minister, the proud story of the Meiji restoration is a lesson in how people should embrace modernity and change, while revering tradition. Many Japanese, however, are uncomfortable with this interpretation.

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