The Economist explains

Explaining the world, daily

  • The Economist explains

    Why Germany’s rent brake has failed

    by M.S.

    WHEN Germany’s then minister of justice, Heiko Maas, introduced a “rent brake” in 2015, many applauded. Impoverished renters in London stared enviously eastwards. The brake was supposed to cap the price of new leases in markets with a tight supply of rental property (as defined by the relevant federal state) at 10% above what local authorities considered reasonable. But three years later, instead of stopping, or at least slowing, the rise in rents, the brake seems to have accelerated the process. Between 2015 and 2017, rents in central Berlin shot up by almost 10%. Before the introduction of the rent brake they had been rising by just 1-2% each year.

  • The Economist explains

    How to turn a footballing wasteland into a World Cup winner

    by J.T.

    FOR the next month football fans all over the world will huddle around televisions, listen craftily while at work and watch endless replays on their phones. Barely a fifth of them actually live in a country whose national team has made it to the World Cup. The rest will tune in enviously—both from countries that usually qualify, including Italy, America and Cameroon, and from those that rarely come close, such as China, India and much of the Middle East. Supporting a team in the tournament could well be a precursor to more heartache, as any Englishman will tell you. Just 6% of the world’s population have lived to see their national team lift the coveted trophy.

  • The Economist explains

    Who owns what in outer space

    by K.W.

    IN 2015 Congress passed a law to legalise mining in outer space—the first of its kind in the world. Firms that some day manage to mine asteroids for resources like water or precious metals would henceforth be allowed to own, process, and sell anything harvested. The nascent space-mining industry was thrilled. The boss of a firm called Planetary Resources compared it to the Homestead Act of 1862—a law that gave up to 160 acres in the American West to any plucky settler willing to venture forth.

  • The Economist explains

    Why the date of Eid is up for debate

    by S.H.

    THE month of Ramadan can be arduous for fasting Muslims, and Eid al-Fitr, the celebration of the month’s culmination, is eagerly anticipated. To mark a return to prandial normality, Muslims will feast and revel with family. But if previous years are anything to go by they will not be united in celebration. Muslims will celebrate on different days (June 15th is most popular this year), with divisions arising not only between countries, but within communities and even families. There are even anecdotal stories of calendrical fistfights breaking out in mosques. It seems bizarre that the simple determination of a religious festival is marred by such intense controversy.

  • The Economist explains

    Why people are working longer

    by C.S.

    THE golden years of retirement, when decades of toil are traded for some downtime, are starting later. In the mid-1980s, 25% of American men aged 65-69 worked; today, nearly 40% do. The situation is the same for younger men. In 1994, 53% of 60- to 64-year-olds worked; now 63% do. American women are working longer too, and similar upticks have been witnessed in Japan and other parts of western Europe. Since unhealthy workers tend to retire earlier, many attribute the ageing workforce of today to improvements in health. Mortality rates for American men in their 60s have declined by 40% since 1980; for women, they have fallen by 30%. Education and occupation are also relevant.

  • The Economist explains

    Why athletes vanish

    by E.W. | SYDNEY

    HALFWAY through the weightlifting competition at the Commonwealth games in Australia in April, the Rwandan coach, Jean Paul Nsengiyumva, excused himself to go to the bathroom. He never came back. Mr Nsengiyumva was one of 250-odd competitors and support staff to have disappeared over the course of the games. Cameroon (the team pictured) lost a third of its delegation in three night-time absconsions. Peter Dutton, the conservative minister in charge of Australia’s crackdown against asylum-seekers, said that he would find those remaining in the country illegally and “lock them in a local watch house”. But organisers did not seem surprised.

  • The Economist explains

    How to do the most good possible

    by W.Z.

    IMAGINE you are walking in a park and come across a boy drowning in a pond. Chances are, you would not hesitate to jump in to save him, even if it meant ruining an expensive pair of shoes. Yet, if you read a news report about thousands of children drowning because of a flood in a distant country, you may not feel compelled to act at all. What could explain this seemingly incongruous gap in empathy? One reason is that you, as a human, are simply hard-wired to care more about those in your immediate vicinity. But another is that you might believe that you have no ability to meaningfully affect the lives of distant strangers.

  • The Economist explains

    Why France’s government has not caved in on the railway strikes

    by S.P. | PARIS

    FOR the past ten weeks French cheminots, or railway workers, have been on strike for two days out of every five. This unusual pattern of rolling industrial action, which gives commuters a three-day respite before the disruption returns, is particularly confusing. Because of their ability to cause chaos, and the popular affection that cheminots enjoy in a country where railways are part of the collective imagination, railway strikes are usually an efficient way to force a capitulation. This time, however, it looks as if the French government is going to get its reform through parliament without ceding much ground. Why?

  • The Economist explains

    Why America still has “dry” counties

    by A.V.

    TODAY is National Moonshine Day, when American tipplers lift a mason jar to the illegal liquor that got them through Prohibition. For most drinkers, that world of bootleggers and secret stills is just a part of history. But roughly 18m Americans still live in “dry” counties or municipalities, where the sale of alcohol is banned by law. How have these holdouts survived into modern times, and what are the consequences for people who live there?

    Parts of the United States were dry even before the start of Prohibition. Maine implemented its own anti-booze rules as early as the 1840s. In 1919, the 18th amendment spread these restrictions nationwide.

  • The Economist explains

    What may happen in November’s mid-terms

    by E.H.

    IN NOVEMBER, as they do every two years, Americans will go to the polls to elect a new Congress. The Republicans enjoy majorities in both chambers and a president who is usually sympathetic to their agenda, but the current Congress has been long on drama, with some unexpectedly tight votes. Major legislative initiatives, such as health-care reform, have failed; even a tax-cut measure passed by only a handful of votes. The Democrats, buoyed by energetic opposition to Donald Trump’s presidency, will believe they can win control of one or both chambers. Republicans will hope that a strong economy and a low unemployment rate will help them hold on. What will determine the winner?

  • The Economist explains

    Why India avoids alliances

    by M.R. | DELHI

    AS CHINA grows in economic power and military might, other Asian players are looking to India as a likely counterweight. Their thinking is that with its population set to overtake China’s in the next decade and its economy growing faster, India will be uniquely equipped to stand up to the region’s potential bully. So it is that big powers such as America and Japan, along with smaller ones such as Australia, Singapore and France (which has island territories in the Indian and Pacific Oceans) have with growing urgency courted India as an ally. Yet much as it sympathises with fellow democracies and harbours its own deep concerns about China, India keeps brushing them off.

  • The Economist explains

    Why China has to worry about a trade war with America

    by S.R. | SHANGHAI

    FEW had expected the ceasefire in trade hostilities between America and China to last. But no one predicted such a sudden demise. On May 29th the White House announced plans to slap 25% tariffs on $50bn of imports from China, reversing its position of less than two weeks ago, when it placed tariffs “on hold” as trade talks progressed. The announcement could in theory give America leverage in negotiations, which are set to resume this weekend when Wilbur Ross, America’s commerce secretary, visits Beijing. China reacted with frustration. Xinhua, the state-run news agency, said the Trump administration had gone back on its word and was undermining American credibility.

  • The Economist explains

    Why Northern Ireland has such restrictive abortion laws

    by D.M. | BELFAST

    ABORTION is expected to become legal in Ireland later this year, following the unexpectedly decisive result of a referendum on the topic on May 25th. Irish voters chose by a 66:34 majority to repeal a constitutional amendment restricting abortion. As a result, attention is now turning to the situation in Northern Ireland, where abortion remains illegal unless the risk to the mother’s health is severe. The region has resolutely declined to adopt the more liberal approach to abortion seen in the rest of the United Kingdom.

    The Abortion Act was passed in the United Kingdom in 1967, allowing doctors to perform abortions so long as certain conditions had been met.

  • The Economist explains

    Why Uber’s self-driving car killed a pedestrian

    by T.S.

    THEY are one of the most talked-about topics in technology—but lately they have been for all the wrong reasons. A series of accidents involving self-driving cars has raised questions about the safety of these futuristic new vehicles, which are being tested on public roads in several American states. In March 2018 an experimental Uber vehicle, operating in autonomous mode, struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona—the first fatal accident of its kind. On May 24th America’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued its preliminary report into the crash. What caused the accident, and what does it say about the safety of autonomous vehicles (AVs) more broadly?

  • The Economist explains

    How Armenia’s revolution has been different

    by A.O.

    Almost a month ago, tens of thousands of Armenians filled the middle of the capital, Yerevan. They were listening to Nikol Pashinian, a journalist turned lawmaker. He was leading a protest against the old guard who had more or less controlled the Caucasian republic since it split from the Soviet Union in 1991. Power, he told the crowd, belonged to them and not to the politicians clinging on to their jobs. A few days later, the parliament reluctantly chose Mr Pashinian as prime minister and on May 23rd he formed a new government. What happened in Armenia amounted to a democratic velvet revolution—a rarity these days, particularly in Russia’s backyard.

About The Economist explains

Subjects topical and timeless, profound and peculiar, explained with The Economist's trademark clarity and brevity



Products and events

Take our weekly news quiz to stay on top of the headlines

Visit The Economist e-store and you’ll find a range of carefully selected products for business and pleasure, Economist books and diaries, and much more