The Best of The Economist – July 2013

The Economist Header

Secret Government: America against democracyRevelations in the wake of Edward Snowden’s civil disobedience continue to roll in. The New York Times reports that the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, also known as the FISA court, “has quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court, serving as the ultimate arbiter on surveillance issues and delivering opinions that will most likely shape intelligence practices for years to come…” How is the FISA court like a shadow Supreme Court? Its interpretation of the constitution is treated by the federal government as law.

Civil liberties: RobocopsRadley Balko’s writing has long been read by people who care about civil liberties. First for the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, then for his own blog, “The Agitator”, now part of the Huffington Post, he has written about criminal-justice policy, with a focus on police abuses: not corruption so much as the excesses that have become inherent in ordinary policing.

Russia’s American empire: How the east was lostWhen the tsarist empire reached California. His breath stinking from scurvy, his hair crawling with lice, and starving in his fine clothes, Nikolai Rezanov was as unlikely a suitor as he was an ambassador. His most urgent mission, when he arrived in 1806 at the tiny Spanish fort of San Francisco, was trade: tools and weapons in exchange for grain, for the hungry garrison he had left behind in Russian Alaska.

The origins of war: Old soldiers? The latest research suggests humans are not warriors in their genes, after all. Edward Wilson, the inventor of the field of sociobiology, once wrote that “war is embedded in our very nature”. This is a belief commonly held not just by sociobiologists but also by anthropologists and other students of human behaviour. They base it not only on the propensity of modern man to go to war with his neighbours (and, indeed, with people halfway around the world, given the chance) but also on observations of the way those who still live a pre-agricultural “hunter-gatherer” life behave.

Schumpeter: Crazy diamondsTrue entrepreneurs find worth in the worthless and possibility in the impossible. Entrepreneurship is the modern-day philosopher’s stone: a mysterious something that supposedly holds the secret to boosting growth and creating jobs. The G20 countries hold an annual youth-entrepreneurship summit. More than 130 countries celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week. Business schools offer hugely popular courses on how to become an entrepreneur. Business gurus produce (often contradictory) guides to entrepreneurship: David Gumpert wrote both “How to Really Create a Successful Business Plan” and “Burn Your Business Plan!”.

Cuba’s economy: Money starts to talkAnd eventually, perhaps, in one currency, as the tempo of reform accelerates. At 9.01am one morning earlier this month, Marino Murillo, a member of Cuba’s ruling Politburo, strode on to the stage at the International Press Centre in Havana, gave a concise account of the government’s economic plans, and took questions for 45 minutes. What would have been routine elsewhere was remarkable in communist Cuba, for three reasons. Gone is the interminable waiting around for the late-night rants of Fidel Castro: punctuality is one of the hallmarks of the government led since 2006 by his younger brother, Raúl. And after internecine political battles over liberalising economic reforms, the government is confident enough of its message to have invited a small group of foreign journalists to hear it—the first such initiative in many years.

Homebrewing: Hops and changeFinally, government loves you and wants you to be happy. Most Americans may not realize it, but their country is a little freer, and perhaps slightly tipsier than it was last month. On July 1st it became legal to make beer at home in Mississippi. Alabama lifted the threat of prosecution for home-brewers in May. It is now legal to craft your own suds in all 50 states.

Falling Crime: Where have all the burglars gone? The rich world is seeing less and less crime, even in the face of high unemployment and economic stagnation. The Old Town in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, does not look like a den of thieves. On a summer afternoon, herds of elderly tourists—American, Japanese, British—wander between the gift shops and sip lagers at pavement cafés beneath the gothic town hall. In a park, teenagers chat and smoke cigarettes in the sun.

Digital Dating: Young, single and nearby. The older generation never gets it. Anthony Weiner, a candidate for mayor of New York, admitted this week to having sent yet more lewd snaps of himself to a digital acquaintance. As any youngster could have told him, the way to find love is to send photos of your face.


, ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *