Regulating technology companies
Taming the beasts
European governments are not alone in wondering how to deal with digital giants
May 28th 2016 | BRUSSELS AND PARIS | From the print edition

TALK to Axelle Lemaire, a French secretary of state in charge of all things digital, and one topic quickly comes up: online platforms of the kind operated by tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Uber. “France is very open to them,” she insists, “but consumers have to be protected.”

Ms Lemaire’s words will soon be put into action. The French parliament is about to pass a law, sponsored by her, which will create the principle of loyaute des plateformes, best translated as platform fairness. Once it takes effect, operators of online marketplaces will, among other things, be required to signal when an offer is given prominence because the operator has struck a deal with the firm in question, as opposed to it being the best available.

In Brussels, too, the regulation of platforms is on the agenda. On May 25th the European Commission announced plans for how it intends to deal with such services. Its proposals cover everything from what tech firms should do to rid their digital properties of objectionable content, such as hate speech, to whether users can move data they have accumulated on one platform to another.

Here we go again, many will say. As usual, Europe is putting regulation above innovation, and being protectionist to boot, since most platforms are either American or Asian (see chart). European firms earned only about 5% of the profits of the 50 biggest listed platforms, which reached a total of $1.6 trillion in the past four years; more than 80% ended up in America. The commission has been going after American tech firms for a while, say critics—it will soon decide how to punish Google for abusing its dominance in internet search, for example. This week’s plan fits a pattern.

But it is not only Europe that is suffering from growing platform anxiety. Although worries vary, politicians and regulators around the world are waking up to the power of these online matchmakers, whose role is to bring together different groups—advertisers and consumers in the case of Facebook and Google, merchants and buyers in the case of Amazon, drivers and passengers in the case of Uber. Platforms exhibit what is known as “network effects”: the bigger the number of one kind of customer, the more attractive these services are for the other sort, and vice versa.

Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, symbolises the rise of global platforms. It now boasts over 1.65 billion active users a month worldwide—more than the population of China. On average, they spend about 50 minutes per day on the site and the other two big services Facebook owns, Instagram and WhatsApp. For many of its users, the social network is not only useful for connecting with friends and relatives but also an important news source.

Platforms have also started to emerge in other sectors. Industrial machines and their products are packed with sensors and connected to the internet, digitising the real world and creating opportunities for matchmakers to connect manufacturers with suppliers. (This is where the EU sees a chance to close the gap with America.)

If Europe, predictably, is reacting to the rise of platforms through the rule book, America’s response also fits a stereotype. Regulators have largely given the country’s platforms free rein—which may not be unconnected to the fact that they are now fervent lobbyists. In 2013, for instance, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which had been scrutinising Google, decided to take no action. But private actors are flexing their muscles.

The platlash
Platform operators have faced a barrage of class-action suits from private litigants. Last month Uber, a taxi-hailing service, settled one brought by drivers, promising no longer to kick them off its app without warning or recourse. After pressure from consumer groups, Google announced on May 11th that it would ban adverts for payday lenders, which are widely viewed as exploiting their customers.

The debate about the power of platforms has grown more heated thanks to reports this month that Facebook employees have kept news topics on issues close to conservatives’ hearts away from prominent display. Many, on both right and left, have called for Facebook, which denies the allegations, to be reined in. When a group of conservatives recently met Mark Zuckerberg, the firm’s boss, some demanded that it should have a more politically diverse workforce and take into consideration the impact on businesses when it changes the algorithm that decides if their Facebook page is shown in people’s newsfeeds.

Now the regulatory winds may be shifting. The FTC seems to be having second thoughts: it is not only looking again into Google’s search business, but is investigating whether the firm abuses its dominance in mobile operating systems. Whoever is elected president in November is unlikely to ignore the question of platforms. “If I become president, oh do they have problems,” Donald Trump has said of Amazon, accusing it of evading taxes.

The mood is changing in Asia too, albeit more slowly. In recent years the size of Naver, a web portal in South Korea, has prompted debate about whether it should be regulated. After an investigation by the country’s watchdogs, the firm has agreed, among other things, to help smaller online firms sell their wares.

The Chinese government is making life harder for platforms—and not just big Western ones, many of which are banned in the country or kept out by its Great Firewall. Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and other big Chinese internet firms already know what is expected of them when it comes to keeping their services free of politically sensitive content. But other concerns are also increasingly to the fore: earlier this year Baidu got into hot water after the death of a student who said he had received misleading information on a cancer treatment from the company’s search engine. The government may seek even greater control over online-video platforms by insisting on taking minority equity stakes.

The European Commission’s plans don’t go that far but some proposals could end up being very interventionist (the details are still being worked out). For instance, the commission intends to create a “level playing field” for conventional telecoms carriers and firms that offer communication services over the internet, such as messaging apps. The question is whether levelling the field would involve lightening the regulatory burden on incumbents, such as the requirement to offer universal service, or applying such rules to newcomers. If the commission’s intentions for on-demand video services, such as Netflix, are any guide, the newcomers are likely to face new responsibilities: it wants to ensure that 20% of content is European.

In most other respects, however, the plans are a far cry from the fiery rhetoric in late 2014, when the European Parliament passed a resolution for Google to be broken up. In fact, they are notable as much for what they do not say as what they do. They do not, for instance, seek to make platforms responsible for illegal activities on their properties. Such “platform liability” would hurt small (mostly European) ones more than big (mostly American) ones, because there are economies of scale in policing this sort of thing. Instead, the commission is betting mainly on self-regulation to keep platforms clean (although it says it might take “additional measures” should such voluntary efforts fall short).

Another notable absence is a plan to apply new competition rules across all types of platform. Last year France and Germany, in particular, had demanded such “horizontal legislation” to strengthen the rights of smaller businesses that have come to rely on platforms—for instance, to keep platforms from imposing unfair terms and conditions or changing them unilaterally. But given the diversity of platforms, the commission has opted to stick with existing competition law and look at problems on a case-by-case basis. (In a nod to more interventionist member states, however, it plans to revisit the question next year).

The most interesting questions concern how platforms collect data from users and connected devices. These help firms improve services and target ads. But they can also be a source of market power—something antitrust experts have only now started looking into. “Exclusive access to multiple sources of user data may confer an unmatchable advantage,” warns an influential report by a committee in Britain’s House of Lords. Germany’s competition authority is investigating whether Facebook has abused its dominance to impose weak privacy rules on users.

Sensibly, given how little is known about the mechanics of data markets, the commission intends to take only limited steps. For instance, it wants online firms to give users the option to log in using government-issued IDs rather than credentials provided by big platforms. This could make it harder for these to track users as they move around the internet, limiting their ability to scoop up data from sites belonging to others. Another proposal is to make it easier, for both consumers and businesses, to transfer data if they want to switch platforms.

Regulators still have much to learn about how to deal with platforms. But they have no choice but to get more expert. As Martin Bailey, who heads the commission’s efforts to create a single digital market, told the Lords committee: “There is hardly an area of economic and, arguably, social interaction these days that is left untouched by platforms in some way.” That is true far beyond the borders of Europe.

North Korea’s nuclear programme
A nuclear nightmare
It is past time for the world to get serious about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions
May 28th 2016 | From the print edition

BARACK OBAMA began his presidency with an impassioned plea for a world without nuclear weapons. This week, in his last year in office (and as we went to press), he was to become the first American president to visit Hiroshima, site of one of only two nuclear attacks. Mr Obama has made progress on nuclear-arms reduction and non-proliferation. He signed a strategic-arms-control treaty (New START) with Russia in 2010. A series of nuclear-security summits helped stop fissile material getting into the wrong hands. Most important, he secured a deal in July to curtail and then constrain Iran’s nuclear programme for at least the next 10-15 years.

But in one area, his failure is glaring. On Mr Obama’s watch the nuclear-weapons and missile programme of North Korea has become steadily more alarming. Its nuclear missiles already threaten South Korea and Japan. Sometime during the second term of Mr Obama’s successor, they are likely also to be able to strike New York. Mr Obama put North Korea on the back burner. Whoever becomes America’s next president will not have that luxury.

The other Manhattan project
The taboo against nuclear weapons rests on three pillars: policies to prevent proliferation, norms against the first use of nukes (especially against non-nuclear powers) and deterrence. North Korea has taken a sledgehammer to all of them.

No country in history has spent such a large share of its wealth on nuclear weapons. North Korea is thought to have a stockpile of around 20 devices. Every six weeks or so it adds another. This year the pace of ballistic missile testing has been unprecedented (see article). An underground nuclear detonation in January, claimed by the regime to be an H-bomb (but more likely a souped-up A-bomb), has been followed by tests of the technologies behind nuclear-armed missiles. Although three tests of a 4,000-kilometre (2,500-mile) missile failed in April, North Korean engineers learn from their mistakes. Few would bet against them succeeding in the end.

North Korea is not bound by any global rules. Its hereditary dictator, Kim Jong Un, imposes forced labour on hundreds of thousands of his people in the gulag, including whole families, without trial or hope of release. Mr Kim frequently threatens to drench Seoul, the South’s capital, in “a sea of fire”. Nuclear weapons are central to his regime’s identity and survival.

Deterrence is based on the belief that states act rationally. But Mr Kim is so opaque and so little is known about how decisions come about in the capital, Pyongyang, that deterring North Korea is fraught with difficulty. Were his regime on the point of collapse, who is to say whether Mr Kim would pull down the temple by unleashing a nuclear attack?

The mix of unpredictability, ruthlessness and fragility frustrates policymaking towards Mr Kim. Many outsiders want to force him to behave better. In March, following the recent weapons test, the UN Security Council strengthened sanctions. China is infuriated by Mr Kim’s taunts and provocations (it did not even know about the nuclear test until after it had happened). It agreed to tougher measures, including limiting financial transactions and searching vessels for contraband.

But China does not want to overthrow Mr Kim. It worries that the collapse of a regime on its north-eastern border would create a flood of refugees and eliminate the buffer protecting it from American troops stationed in South Korea. About 90% of North Korea’s trade, worth about $6 billion a year, is with China. It will continue to import North Korean coal and iron ore (and send back fuel oil, food and consumer goods) as long as the money is not spent on military activities—an unenforceable condition.

Protected by China, Mr Kim can pursue his nuclear programme with impunity. The sanctions are unlikely to stop him. If anything, they may spur him to strengthen and upgrade his arsenal before China adopts harsher ones.

Understandably, therefore, Mr Obama has preferred to devote his efforts to Iran. Because the mullahs depend on sales of oil and gas to the outside world, embargoes on Iran’s energy exports and exclusion from the international payments system changed their strategic calculus. But this logic will not work with North Korea.

Can anything stop Mr Kim? Perhaps he will decide to shelve his “nukes first” policy in favour of Chinese-style economic reform and rapprochement with South Korea. It is a nice idea, and Mr Kim has shown some interest in economic development. But nothing suggests he would barter his nuclear weapons to give his people a better life.

Perhaps dissent over Mr Kim’s rule among the North Korean elite will lead to a palace coup. A successor might be ready for an Iran-type deal to boost his standing both at home and abroad. That is a possibility, but Mr Kim has so far shown himself able to crush any challengers to his dominance.

The last hope is that tougher sanctions will contribute to the collapse of the regime—which, in turn, could lead to reunification with the South and denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. That would be the best outcome, but it is also the one that carries the most danger. Moreover, it is precisely the situation China seeks to avoid.

Fat boy
Without any good options, what should America’s next president do? A priority is to strengthen missile defence. New THAAD anti-missile systems should be sent to South Korea and Japan, while America soothes objections that their radar could be used against China’s nuclear weapons. China should also be cajoled into accepting that sanctions can be harsher, without provoking an implosion. Were that to lead initially only to a freeze on testing, it would be worth having. Because a sudden, unforeseen collapse of Mr Kim’s regime is possible at any time, America needs worked-out plans to seize or destroy North Korea’s nuclear missiles before they can be used. For this China’s co-operation, or at least acquiescence, is vital. So clear and present is the danger that even rivals who clash elsewhere in Asia must urgently find new ways to work together.

Hillary Clinton’s e-mails
Already indicted
The Democratic front-runner is mired in a scandal of her own nurturing
May 28th 2016 | WASHINGTON, DC | From the print edition

COULD Hillary Clinton’s bid for the presidency be undone by her unusual e-mail arrangements as secretary of state? A report by an internal watchdog of the State Department, the inspector-general, into her use of a private e-mail account for official business, suggests it could be. The report, which was released on May 25th, does not allege Mrs Clinton broke any law: that would have stoked fears of a campaign-ending indictment by the FBI, which is also investigating the matter. Yet it raises concerns about her conduct and uncandid response to the scandal—upon which Donald Trump, her unconscionable Republican rival, will now feast.

Ever since Mrs Clinton’s e-mail server became a matter of public debate last year, she has said she broke no rules. To the contrary, the State Department report says she was under an “obligation” to seek clearance for her e-mail system, did not, and it would have been denied if she had done, due to “security risks”.

Her e-mail rig was not a secret, exactly. The report notes “some awareness” of it among senior diplomats. It points instead to the impunity with which Mrs Clinton’s affairs were handled. When two IT whizzes expressed fears that her e-mails might not be preserved, their boss “instructed the staff never to speak of the secretary’s personal e-mail system again.”

In Mrs Clinton’s defence, the report notes that the department has “longstanding, systemic weaknesses” in its record-keeping. Colin Powell, Mrs Clinton’s predecessor but one, also used a private e-mail account and broke record-keeping rules. Yet the report suggests he had more of an excuse; it was hard to send e-mails outside the State Department’s system in his time. He also sent fewer e-mails than Mrs Clinton, for whom secrecy—not mere “convenience”, as she has claimed—seems to have been a motivating factor. E-mails included in the report show her fear that, if she adopted an official e-mail account as an aide had advised her to, her personal e-mails could be published: “I don’t want any risk of the personal being accessible”.

On the evidence available, that says a lot about the origins of this scandal. Out of a neuralgic concern for confidentiality, Mrs Clinton overrode rules that her advisers considered to be less important than they were. She was no doubt motivated by years of political smears (which Mr Trump, who has already suggested she may be a murderer, is now dredging up); her staff was lulled by the State Department’s history of laxity and supplication to its boss.

Yet if it may be possible to take a tolerant view of how this started, there is no excusing the mess Mrs Clinton has made of it. A more agile politician would immediately have recognised the scandal’s potential to exacerbate the poor trust ratings that are her biggest weakness. She would then have taken urgent measures to confess her carelessness, express remorse and make a fulsome display of handing over whatever materials the investigators required. Instead Mrs Clinton obfuscated, denied and watched the scandal grow. The most significant indictment to arise from it may well concern her skills as a politician. But with the latest polls giving Mr Trump a narrow lead, that is not at all reassuring.

Digital music
Stuck in the middle with Spotify
May 27th 2016, 13:17 BY G.M.

FOR those with insatiable appetites for music, digital streaming seems like a dream come true. Music fans can simply select artists and genres, and then press play. They see what other fans listen to, and consume a seemingly endless supply of tunes. Digital music services are like 24-hour all-you-can-eat (and whatever-you-want) restaurants of sound.

And yet the digital music landscape continues to narrow. Independent providers that once served a broad range of artists and fans have been snapped up by big companies with deep pockets and ties to major labels. Google has owned YouTube—named the number one music-streaming platform since 2006. In February, YouTube spent $8m to acquire BandPage, a San Francisco start-up that helps artists sell merchandise, concert tickets and fan experiences. In 2014, Beats Music, a subscription-based streaming service, bought Topspin Media, another innovative platform that helped artists sell merchandise and albums directly to fans. A year later, Apple bought Beats Music (along with Beats’ electronic-gadget business), and then discontinued the streaming service when it launched Apple Music. MySpace, after its decline as a social network, lingered on as a place for artists and fans to meet; Time, Inc bought its parent company earlier this year.

As long as people keep buying iPhones, Apple will have the cash to experiment, and to buy up rivals, as long as it likes. The same applies to Google and YouTube. So what does the future hold for music services whose parent companies don't make market-leading music hardware or market-leading search and video-streaming services?

Spotify is positioned in the middle, between the mammoths and the remaining few independents. To the small fry, Spotify is huge: earlier this year, the streaming and subscription service—with its 30m subscribers —raised $1 billion in debt financing, on top of the previous $1 billion raised in several rounds of equity investment. Analysts say Spotify is probably planning an acquisition of its own, and aiming to go public. Chandler Coyle, a music industry consultant and online educator for the Berklee College of Music, says, "They took the money, so they have to try. There's no turning back."

SoundCloud, launched in 2007 by two musicians, now has roughly 175m users. It has built a solid reputation for allowing for remixes, mash-ups and commenting features that proved popular for artists as well as fans. In a bid to get more competitive with the likes of Spotify and Pandora, SoundCloud launched a subscription service that features downloads for offline listening, and a bigger music catalogue made possible through label licensing deals that took several years to finalise. But the company has been sued for not paying royalties, leaving critics asking how SoundCloud will move from upstart to a proper contract-bound streaming service without losing the community spirit that attracted users in the first place.

8tracks, with its pleasingly-retro name, is either the biggest of the smalls, or the smallest of the medium-sized. Each month, approximately 5m people—mostly university students—use the crowd-curated radio service, whose biggest competitors are Pandora and iHeartRadio. About two-thirds of its (heavily electronic) music is from independent artists and providers like INgrooves, CD baby and TuneCore. It is also crowdfunding, raising money by selling equity to its loyal users; in surveys they have already pledged $30m, according to its founder, David Porter.

The odds are long. Why does 8tracks keep at it? Pandora has never turned a profit since going public in 2011—last week an investor encouraged the company to sell itself. Mr Porter says 8tracks has music from all over the world being packaged by users who feel those tunes are underrepresented elsewhere. Competitors tend to offer more cursory dives into genres. Music is packaged by themes—like breakup music—or activities like working out, sex, or studying for exams. 8tracks playlists aim to tell a story or encapsulate a moment in time. "The middle class in streaming is largely gone now,” says Mr Porter. "If we can get to profitability, we can control our destiny, to a certain extent.”

What happens next? Those surviving will continue to diversify their offerings to grow as much as possible. Just last week, Spotify began offering video content. In 2014, Spotify also launched in the Philippines, Brazil and Canada, with presence now in 58 markets, and established dozens of partnerships to get its Spotify Connect technology in devices. And yet, its losses are growing faster than its income.

The only hope for Spotify—as well as SoundCloud and 8tracks—is to offer something besides a massive catalogue; they can never outspend Apple or Google. But they can help fans—and super fans—get more connected with artists in myriad ways. There is a lot of potential revenue at stake: in 2013, Nielsen, a research company, found there could be potential incremental revenue of $450m to $2.6 billion if artists, managers and labels offered a better set of products and experiences to fans. “There has to be someone smart enough at Spotify to figure this out," Mr Coyle says. "Beyonce drops ‘Lemonade’ on Spotify, and I listen, but then what? There's no ‘Lemonade’ T-shirts, no information about a small tour, and no real fan connections.”

The world’s refugee crisis: past and present
May 27th 2016, 15:43 BY THE DATA TEAM

THANKS in part to the surge of refugees from Syria, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN’s refugee body, now puts the world’s displaced population at a post-war record of 60m, of whom 20m are stranded outside their own countries (the map and chart show only registered refugees, for whom firm figures are available). Except for a couple of bright spots, such as the possible return of up to 6m internally displaced Colombians after a peace deal between the government and the guerrillas, the problem is getting worse. New conflicts in places like South Sudan are creating fresh refugee problems; older ones, such as Somalia’s, grind on with no solution in sight.

As Peter Sutherland, the UN’s special migration representative, notes, it seems unfair for a country’s proximity to war zones to define its responsibility to refugees. To ward off this danger, the 1951 convention, which makes up the main framework for international protection of people fleeing persecution, calls on signatories to act in a “spirit of international co-operation”, but places no specific obligations on countries. Last year’s crisis in Europe revealed the weaknesses of the global refugee regime. Europe learned that its carefully constructed asylum and border rules were no match for migrants who flouted them en masse. To keep them out, in March the EU signed a deal with Turkey that skates close to the edge of international law by obliging asylum-seekers who reach Greece to return to Turkey, where some may face inadequate protection.

All this shows up a glaring difference in the treatment of refugees between the rich and the poor world. In Europe, asylum-seekers are treated generously by global standards, even if some countries have tightened their rules. In most EU countries they can work before they obtain refugee status (or some lesser protection), and certainly afterwards. They are promised housing, freedom of movement and protection from official harassment. After five years refugees in EU states can usually become permanent residents, and in some cases full citizens. And even those whose bids for asylum fail are often granted some of these privileges, partly because governments find it so hard to send them back.

Barack Obama pays his respects in Hiroshima
Hiroshima welcomes the first serving American president to visit the city since its destruction by atom bomb
May 28th 2016 | Asia

BARACK OBAMA drove through appreciative crowds along the approach to Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park, and on his departure an hour and a half later they surged into the park to where he had offered a wreath before its cenotaph. Mr Obama first visited the museum that serves as a reminder of the appalling human cost of the bomb that the Americans dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. He then met some of the elderly hibakusha, the dwindling number of Japanese who had been in the city on that fateful day but who had survived the blast. As schoolchildren on bicycles, young parents and elderly rushed in to savour the atmosphere, a sombre mood gave way to something approaching good cheer.

Beyond Hiroshima, very many Japanese welcomed Mr Obama’s visit, even though it came with no formal apology for the bombing of civilians in Hiroshima and, three days later, in Nagasaki. The two attacks and the radiation that followed killed over 200,000 people, mainly civilians. The bombings might seem to bear the hallmarks of a crime against humanity. But Americans have long argued that they hastened to a close a long, terrible war in the Pacific in which Japan was the clear aggressor. In Hiroshima, Japanese seemed to accept the absence of an American apology, though one hibakusha, Sumiaki Kadomoto, said that he hoped the president would silently be seeking forgiveness.

Given the moral and emotional complexity, the American president was his sonorous self in his speech at Ground Zero. “Seventy-one years ago on a bright, cloudless morning,” he said, “death fell from the sky and the world was changed.” The speech ranged widely, from the human history of violence to the suffering of all of the second world war’s victims. He said that technology as appalling as nuclear arms demanded a "moral revolution". He called for the destruction of the world’s stockpiles of nuclear weapons (the vast majority of which are still held by Russia and America).

Mr Obama acknowledged historical nuances, too. Thousands of Koreans and a smaller number of Chinese died in the blasts; they had been brought to southern Japan and coerced into working for the all-consuming war effort. And one of the survivors whom the president hugged, Shigeaki Mori, has long campaigned for 12 American prisoners of war who were killed to be commemorated.

By Mr Obama’s side at almost every step was Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Members of his right-wing Liberal Democratic Party used not to like the idea of an American president visiting Hiroshima. They thought it would give succour to peaceniks and other awkward types opposed not only to Japan’s nuclear-power plants but even to its security alliance with America. Many on the left, too, believe that the museum and Hiroshima memorials too narrowly emphasise Japan’s victimhood without properly acknowledging the suffering Japan wrought across Asia. Mr Abe and his like think that Japan has done far too much apologising already. But with China growing assertive in Asia, strong Japanese ties with America count for much, and for Mr Abe, accompanying Mr Obama to Hiroshima is one way to reinforce them. And later this year Mr Abe may pay his respects to those American servicemen killed in Japan’s infamous surprise attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 that brought America into the war.

It will all, says Yoichi Funabashi, a public intellectual in Japan, help the long process of reconciliation between Japanese and Americans. Time also helps. In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the atomic strikes, veterans of the second world war and members of Congress sharply criticised a planned exhibition and events at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, accusing curators of presenting Japan as a victim of American aggression. In the end, the exhibition was limited to the display of a section of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and embodiment of a glorious day for the armed forces and for American know-how and might. Twenty-one years on, there are fewer veterans, while Americans are more ambivalent about the bombings—when they think about them at all.

Yet, for all the lofty calls for a nuclear-free world left echoing around Hiroshima, there was an unwelcome ghost at the edge of the ceremonies: Kim Jong Un, young dictator of the rogue North Korean state, who not 500 miles (800 kilometres) from Hiroshima is urging his generals and engineers to develop a nuclear capability that may be very close to fruition. America is not going to give up its nuclear umbrella anytime soon, and Japan will, while not advertising the fact, be happy to shelter under it.

America and Vietnam
Pull the other one
America’s president plays the Vietnam card
May 28th 2016 | SINGAPORE | From the print edition

BARACK OBAMA fooled no one this week when, having announced that America was lifting its embargo on selling weapons to Vietnam, he denied that the decision was “based on China or any other considerations”. It was a tactful fib, to portray the move as merely part of Mr Obama’s legacy-building mission of reconciliation with historic enemies, to be followed days later by a historic visit to the site of America’s atom-bombing of Hiroshima. But at a time of increased tension in the South China Sea, where Vietnam is among the countries disputing territory with China, America’s policies there are bound to be seen in a different context. The headline in Global Times, a fire-breathing Chinese tabloid, read simply: “Washington uses past foe to counter China”.

The American president made his announcement a few hours into his first state visit to Vietnam, following a meeting with the country’s new president, Tran Dai Quang, in Hanoi. Official enthusiasm was mirrored in the thick crowds lining the streets in the capital and in Ho Chi Minh City to greet Mr Obama, whose visit between May 23rd and 25th was only the third by an American leader since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975. His star power contrasted with the indifference most Vietnamese show for the stiff apparatchiks of the ruling Communist Party. Locals in Hanoi gawped at Mr Obama tucking into bun cha, a cheap meal of grilled pork and rice noodles bought from a street stall.

The end of the arms ban will have little immediate impact. America had already twice loosened it, first in 2007 and again in 2014, allowing the sale of needed patrol vessels. It will take years for the Vietnamese, short on cash and largely reliant on Russian weaponry, to integrate American hardware. Moreover, weapon sales to Vietnam (like to anywhere else) will still need to be approved case by case, and the first purchases are likely to be of relatively inoffensive systems, such as radar. China’s press has warned that America risks turning the region into a “tinderbox of conflicts”, yet its diplomats, not normally slow to accuse America of stoking tensions, played down the decision. A spokeswoman for the foreign ministry welcomed the normalisation of ties between Vietnam and America, and painted the arms ban as a kooky anachronism.

America’s move is partly a sop to conservative factions within Vietnam’s Communist Party in need of reassurance. Behind this week’s smiles they still fret that America harbours hope of overthrowing the party. Bigwigs in government feel bounced into their friendship with America by virulent anti-Chinese sentiment among ordinary Vietnamese, some of whom accuse the cadres of going soft on Vietnam’s overbearing northern neighbour. Trust earned by dropping the embargo might eventually gain advantages for America’s own armed forces, such as a return to Cam Ranh Bay, once an American naval base on the south-eastern coast.

America had previously insisted that lifting the embargo would depend on Vietnam’s progress on human rights, which even Mr Obama admits has been only “modest”. The regime’s thuggishness makes even a largely symbolic concession hard to swallow. The party was seen to have eased up on critics during 2015, when it was negotiating access to the American-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade deal—but it has since reverted to form, and its new leadership, reshuffled in January, contains several former secret policemen. Mr Obama’s arrival in Vietnam coincided with a ludicrous parliamentary “election”, boasting a 96% turnout, and with a crackdown on environmentalists who have been gathering in the cities to protest about polluted canals and seas. The authorities even sabotaged Mr Obama’s efforts to meet critics of the party by briefly detaining several campaigners whom the president had invited to his hotel for a chat.

China plays the Gambia gambit
Boosters say that improving Vietnam’s human-rights record is bound to be a long slog, and that gaining the regime’s trust is a prerequisite. They say that arms sales are far from America’s only bargaining chip: the terms of the TPP, for example, oblige Vietnam to begin tolerating independent unions, a reform that could loosen the Communists’ monopoly on public life. But that deal will have no impact if, as seems all too possible, America’s Congress refuses to ratify it.

So Mr Obama is taking the long-term view that closer partnership with Vietnam is worth sacrificing some principles for. America and its regional friends are alarmed by China’s forcefulness in the South China Sea—notably its building boom, turning disputed rocks and reefs into artificial islands, which may well, despite Chinese denials, become military bases. Both diplomacy and American displays of might have failed to stop this.

America currently has an aircraft-carrier battle group in the South China Sea to remind the world of its military strength. To Chinese protests, it has sent ships and planes close to Chinese-claimed rocks and reefs. Meanwhile, the Philippines has challenged China’s territorial claims at an international tribunal in The Hague, which is expected to rule soon. China has said it will ignore the ruling. The Philippines’ new president, Rodrigo Duterte, has not made clear how he would react to a decision in his country’s favour.

Although nobody expects America and China to go to war over some remote rocks and man-made islands, an accidental clash in or over the South China Sea remains a risk. On May 17th Chinese fighter jets dangerously intercepted an American reconnaissance plane over the sea. China denies its planes did anything provocative.

China does seem to worry about its image, however. Its foreign minister, Wang Yi, recently toured the smallest South-East Asian countries—Brunei, Cambodia and Laos—and announced that China had reached “consensus” with them on handling disputes in the sea. This was news to the countries concerned, and alarmed their fellow members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations, who saw a blatant attempt to divide them. China has also lobbied G7 countries in the hope that the statement their leaders issue on May 27th after their summit in Japan will not scold China over the South China Sea. Already China’s newest diplomatic partner, the Gambia, in distant west Africa has, bizarrely, confirmed China’s “indisputable sovereignty” over the sea. So that’s that, then.

swingby_blog at 21:08コメント(0)トラックバック(0) 

ドナルドトランプの勝利は共和党とアメリカにとって大惨事だ。(3) 救済者というよりも多大な災難だ。 中小企業家はドナルドトランプについて知っておかなければならないこと。

But that should be scant comfort, for even without a victory in November Mr Trump’s coronation as candidate will cause damage. There may be violence at the Republican convention in Cleveland, where Trump supporters and protesters are likely to clash. Voters will spend the next six months hearing over and over again that Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, is a crook and a liar. Much of that will stick even if she wins, leaving those who believe it enraged and Mrs Clinton weakened. America’s allies will watch the polls fearfully: whether at the UN Security Council or at bilateral talks in Beijing, Mr Trump’s spectre will loom over every meeting between America and a foreign power between now and November 8th.

scant comfort:わずかな心地よさ
for even:ほんの〜でも

The Republican Party, always fractious, may actually fracture. Even if he loses, Mr Trump will have shown that there is a path to the nomination that runs via nativism and economic populism. Mountaineers know that the surest route to the summit is the one that has worked before. Some Republicans will say that Mr Trump’s message, shorn of its roughest edges, could deliver victory next time. Others will argue that he lost because he was not a true conservative. Without agreement on what went wrong, it will be hard to forge something new.

shorn of:を奪われる・取り除く
roughest edge:ひどく険悪に見えるもの
forge something new:何か新しいものを築く

And then, of course, there is the possibility that he might just win. Mrs Clinton is not loathed by as many Americans as Mr Trump is, but the share who view her unfavourably is far higher than is usual for presidential nominees. Just as the killings in Paris in December energised Mr Trump’s campaign, a terrorist attack or other event that terrified Americans could tip the vote his way. The balance of probability is against, but none of this is impossible. That is why Mr Trump’s triumph has the makings of a tragedy for Republicans, for America and for the rest of the world.



Scourge, rather than saviour
All latest updates
What small-business owners should know about Donald Trump
As a businessman, his track record is mixed
May 11th 2016 | United States 



“HE ALMOST bankrupted us,” says the retired owner of a construction business on the east coast. Thirty years ago he ran a small business, which was hired by Donald Trump to work on an 11-month project at his Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. It was the biggest contract, by far, that the business had ever had. The builders worked as they had never done before to complete the job on time. As soon as they finished, Mr Trump stopped paying. He owed around $200,000 of the total bill of some $700,000, a huge sum for a small company. 

by far:はるかに・断然

What followed was a nearly year-long battle to extract the money they were owed. Lawyers advised the company that Mr Trump would procrastinate with expensive litigation, as he had done many times before. Other contractors related their experiences with the “Trump discount”, the billionaire’s habit of rarely paying the full sum he owed. As the “Trump discount” made the rounds in the industry, wily contractors quoted a higher price at the outset to avoid suffering any losses. Then, one day in 1988, the phone rang at 9.30am. A sweet-voiced “special assistant” of Mr Trump’s announced she had a cheque for the builders which, she claimed, had been lying on her desk for a year. “We only got paid because of Merv Griffin,” says the retired contractor. In a surprising swoop, Griffin, an entertainment-business tycoon, had bought the company that owned the Taj Mahal. 

make the rounds in:流布する
at the outset:の最初に

Owners of small businesses are among Mr Trump’s most dedicated supporters. They believe his biggest selling point, relentlessly promoted by himself and his entourage, is his business acumen. He is a consummate dealmaker, they say, and has made heaps of money, maybe as much as $10 billion. They also like his proposal to slash the corporate income-tax rate from 35% to 15%. A poll earlier this year by Manta, an online directory for small businesses, found that 60% favoured Mr Trump as the Republican candidate, followed distantly by Ted Cruz, whom 16% rooted for. Among all candidates Mr Trump won 38% of the votes compared with 21% for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner. 

business acumen:商才
heaps of:多額の



swingby_blog at 06:40コメント(0)トラックバック(0) 



The result could be disastrous for the Republican Party and, more important, for America. Even if this is as far as he goes, Mr Trump has already done real damage and will do more in the coming months. Worse, in a two-horse race his chances of winning the presidency are well above zero. 

two-horse race:一騎打ち
well above: 〜を軽く超えて、〜を優に上回って

It is possible that, with the nomination secured, Mr Trump will now change his tone. The crassness of his insults may well be muted as he tries to win over at least some of the voters, particularly women, who now abhor him. His demeanour may become more presidential (though there was little sign of that in this week’s bizarre and baseless pronouncements that the father of Ted Cruz, his erstwhile rival, had been around Lee Harvey Oswald before he shot John F. Kennedy). What he will almost certainly not do is change political course. For it is increasingly clear that Mr Trump has elements of a world view from which he does not waver (see article). These beliefs lack coherence or much attachment to reality. They are woven together by a peculiarly 21st-century mastery of political communication, with a delight in conflict and disregard for facts, which his career in reality television has honed. But they are firm beliefs and long-held.

been around:と関わっていた
attachment to reality:現実への関心
woven together :織り合わせる
delight in conflict:紛争が大好き

Beyond the braggadocio
That world view was born, in part, on his father’s construction sites in New York in the 1960s. Mr Trump likes to explain that he once spent his summers working in such places alongside carpenters, plumbers and men carrying heavy scaffolding poles. That experience, he claims, gave him an understanding of the concerns of the hard-working blue-collar men whom American politics has left behind. It explains his deep-rooted economic nationalism. 


Mr Trump has railed against trade deals for decades. He was arguing against NAFTA in the early 1990s. He now calls it the worst trade deal in the history of the world. Similarly, he has always viewed America’s trade deficit as evidence of foul play or poor negotiating skills. For a man with such convictions, it is plain that more such trade deals would be a disaster and that American companies should move production back home or face tariffs. Mr Trump might be willing to bargain over the penalties they should pay, but the underlying instincts are deeply held. He is a conviction protectionist, not an opportunistic one. And, judging by the results of the Republican primaries, at least 10m voters agree with him. 

rail against: 〈文〉〜に憤慨[抗議]する、〜を罵る、〜を激しく非難する、〜に不満をぶちまける、〜に毒づく
foul play:不正行為・犯罪行為
underlying instinct:内在する強い動機

On foreign policy Mr Trump mixes a frustration at the costs of America’s global role, something that has become common after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a desire to make the country feared and respected. Those outside America who dwell on his geographical and diplomatic ignorance (of which there is plenty) risk missing the simple principle that animates him. Mr Trump wants to make those outside America pay the full cost of the hegemonic protection it gives them. Allies should have to stump up more for American bases on their soil, and for the costs of equipping and paying the soldiers in them. It is not correct to call this isolationism, since Mr Trump has also proposed some foreign adventures, including the occupation of Iraq and seizure of its oilfields. Rather it is a Roman vision of foreign policy, in which the rest of the world’s role is to send tribute to the capital and be grateful for the garrisons. 

become common:普及する・一般的になる
dwell on:こだわる
hegemonic protection:主導権による保護
stump up:金を渋々出す
foreign adventure:外国への火遊び

Counting the damage
For those, such as this newspaper, who believe in the gains from globalisation and the American-led liberal order, this is a truly terrifying world-view. Fortunately, Mr Trump will probably lose the general election. A candidate whom two-thirds of Americans view unfavourably will find it hard to win 65m votes, which is about what the winning candidate will need. The share of women who disapprove of him is even higher.




swingby_blog at 06:02コメント(0)トラックバック(0) 


今後の債務が破綻する そうでないにしても、本当の問題が中国に起こる時期が問題だ。(2) ドナルドトランプの勝利は共和党とアメリカにとって大惨事だ。


That creates two risks. The first is higher-than-expected losses for the banks. Hungry for profits in a slowing economy, plenty of Chinese banks have mis-categorised risky loans as investments to dodge scrutiny and lessen capital requirements. These shadow loans were worth roughly 16% of standard loans in mid-2015, up from just 4% in 2012. The second risk is liquidity. The banks have become ever more reliant on “wealth management products”, whereby they pay higher rates for what are, in effect, short-term deposits and put them into longer-term assets. For years China restricted bank loans to less than 75% of their deposit base, ensuring that they had plenty of cash in reserve. Now the real level is nearing 100%, a threshold where a sudden shortage in funding—the classic precursor to banking crises—is well within the realm of possibility. Midsized banks have been the most active in expanding; they are the place to look for sudden trouble. 

dodge :するのを避ける
wealth management product:理財商品。中国における高利回りの資産運用商品 

The end to China’s debt build-up would not look exactly like past financial blow-ups. China’s shadow-banking system is big, but it has not spawned any products nearly as complex or international in reach as America’s bundles of subprime mortgages in 2008. Its relatively insulated financial system means that parallels with the 1997-98 Asian crisis, in which countries from Thailand to South Korea borrowed too much from abroad, are thin. Some worry that China will look like Japan in the 1990s, slowly grinding towards stagnation. But its financial system is more chaotic, with more pressure for capital outflows, than was Japan’s; a Chinese crisis is likely to be sharper and more sudden than Japan’s chronic malaise. 

chronic malaise:長期的な低迷

One thing is certain. The longer China delays a reckoning with its problems, the more severe the eventual consequences will be. For a start, it should plan for turmoil. Policy co-ordination was appalling during last year’s stockmarket crash; regulators must work out in advance who monitors what and prepare emergency responses. Rather than deploying both fiscal and monetary stimulus to keep growth above the official target of at least 6.5% this year (which is, in any event, unnecessarily fast), the government should save its firepower for a real calamity. The central bank should also put on ice its plans to internationalise the yuan; a premature opening of the capital account would lead only to big outflows and bigger trouble, when the financial system is already on shaky ground. 

on shaky ground:足元がぐらついて

Most important, China must start to curb the relentless rise of debt. The assumption that the government of Xi Jinping will keep bailing out its banks, borrowers and depositors is pervasive—and not just in China itself. It must tolerate more defaults, close failed companies and let growth sag. This will be tough, but it is too late for China to avoid pain. The task now is to avert something far worse. 



American politics
Trump’s triumph
Donald Trump’s victory is a disaster for Republicans and for America
May 7th 2016 | From the print edition


DURING its 160-year history, the Republican Party has abolished slavery, provided the votes in Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act and helped bring the cold war to a close. The next six months will not be so glorious. After Indiana’s primary, it is now clear that Republicans will be led into the presidential election by a candidate who said he would kill the families of terrorists, has encouraged violence by his supporters, has a weakness for wild conspiracy theories and subscribes to a set of protectionist and economically illiterate policies that are by turns fantastical and self-harming. 

by turns:〔あることをするのに複数の人が〕順(番)に、代わる代わる



swingby_blog at 07:51コメント(0)トラックバック(0) 


中国の金融システム 今後の債務が破綻する そうでないにしても、本当の問題が中国に起こる時期が問題だ。

China’s financial system
The coming debt bust
It is a question of when, not if, real trouble will hit in China
May 7th 2016 | From the print edition

if not: もしそうでないなら 〜とは言わないまでも、〜とまではいかなくても、〜ではないにせよ[しても] 〜でないとしたら一体何なんだ、たぶん〜に違いない 


CHINA was right to turn on the credit taps to prop up growth after the global financial crisis. It was wrong not to turn them off again. The country’s debt has increased just as quickly over the past two years as in the two years after the 2008 crunch. Its debt-to-GDP ratio has soared from 150% to nearly 260% over a decade, the kind of surge that is usually followed by a financial bust or an abrupt slowdown. 

credit tap:与信枠の蛇口

China will not be an exception to that rule. Problem loans have doubled in two years and, officially, are already 5.5% of banks’ total lending. The reality is grimmer. Roughly two-fifths of new debt is swallowed by interest on existing loans; in 2014, 16% of the 1,000 biggest Chinese firms owed more in interest than they earned before tax. China requires more and more credit to generate less and less growth: it now takes nearly four yuan of new borrowing to generate one yuan of additional GDP, up from just over one yuan of credit before the financial crisis. With the government’s connivance, debt levels can probably keep climbing for a while, perhaps even for a few more years. But not for ever. 


When the debt cycle turns, both asset prices and the real economy will be in for a shock. That won’t be fun for anyone. It is true that China has been fastidious in capping its external liabilities (it is a net creditor). Its dangers are home-made. But the damage from a big Chinese credit blow-up would still be immense. China is the world’s second-biggest economy; its banking sector is the biggest, with assets equivalent to 40% of global GDP. Its stockmarkets, even after last year’s crash, are together worth $6 trillion, second only to America’s. And its bond market, at $7.5 trillion, is the world’s third-biggest and growing fast. A mere 2% devaluation of the yuan last summer sent global stockmarkets crashing; a bigger bust would do far worse. A mild economic slowdown caused trouble for commodity exporters around the world; a hard landing would be painful for all those who benefit from Chinese demand. 

credit blow-up:与信枠の膨張による破裂

Brace, brace
Optimists have drawn comfort from two ideas. First, over three-plus decades of reform, China’s officials have consistently shown that once they identified problems, they had the will and skill to fix them. Second, control of the financial system—the state owns the major banks and most of their biggest debtors—gave them time to clean things up. 

draw comfort from: 〜によって慰められる

Both these sources of comfort are fading away. This is a government not so much guiding events as struggling to keep up with them. In the past year alone, China has spent nearly $200 billion to prop up the stockmarket; $65 billion of bank loans have gone bad; financial frauds have cost investors at least $20 billion; and $600 billion of capital has left the country. To help pump up growth, officials have inflated a property bubble. Debt is still expanding twice as fast as the economy. 

At the same time, as our special report this week shows, the government’s grip on finance is slipping. Despite repeated efforts to restrain them, loosely regulated forms of lending are growing quickly: such “shadow assets” have increased by more than 30% annually over the past three years. In theory, shadow banks diversify sources of credit and spread risk away from the regular banks. In practice, the lines between the shadow and formal banking systems are badly blurred. 




swingby_blog at 07:32コメント(0)トラックバック(0) 


縁故資本主義目録 その集団は段階的に縮小する。 世界中で政界にコネのある大物が息詰まってきている。(3)

Encouragingly, India seems to be cleaning up its act. In 2008 crony wealth reached 18% of GDP, putting it on a par with Russia. Today it stands at 3%, a level similar to Australia. A slump in commodity prices has obliterated the balance sheets of its Wild West mining tycoons. The government has got tough on graft, and the central bank has prodded state-owned lenders to stop giving sweetheart deals to moguls. The vast majority of its billionaire wealth is now from open industries such as pharmaceuticals, cars and consumer goods. The pin-ups of Indian capitalism are no longer the pampered scions of its business dynasties, but the hungry founders of Flipkart, an e-commerce firm. 

clean up one's act: 〔人が〕行いを改める[正す]、改めるべき点を改める、改心する、心を入れ替える、まともになる、更正する
put ~ on a par with: 〜を…と同じ水準[レベル]にする
Wild West mining:Meghalaya, a state in India’s northeast, has thick forests above ground and valuable minerals below. Coal occurs in a narrow belt from the lower western end of the state across to the eastern end. Uncontrolled mining in the area has cleared forests, degraded rivers, and led to many accidents and deaths as few health and safety standards exist for mine workers. A ban effected earlier this year halted all mining in the state, but is set to be reconsidered at a hearing scheduled for August. 
pampered scions:甘やかされた末裔

In absolute terms China (including Hong Kong) now has the biggest concentration of crony wealth in the world, at $360 billion. President Xi’s censorious attitude to gambling has hit Macau’s gambling tycoons hard. Li Hejun, an energy mogul, has seen most of his wealth evaporate. But new billionaires in rent-rich industries have risen from obscurity, including Wang Jianlin, of Dalian Wanda, a real-estate firm, who claims he is richer than Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s leading business figure. 

In absolute terms:絶対的には

Still, once its wealth is compared with its GDP, China (including Hong Kong) comes only 11th on our ranking of countries. The Middle Kingdom illustrates the two big flaws in our methodology. We only include people who declare wealth of over a billion dollars. Plenty of poorer cronies exist and in China, the wise crony keeps his head down. And our classification of industries is inevitably crude. Dutch firms that interact with the state are probably clean, whereas in mainland China, billionaires in every industry rely on the party’s blessing. Were all billionaire wealth in China to be classified as rent-seeking, it would take the 5th spot in the ranking. 

party’s blessing:党の恩恵

The last tycoons
A possible explanation for the mild improvement in the index is that cronyism was just a phase that the globalising world economy was going through. In 2000-10 capital sloshed from country to country, pushing up the price of assets, particularly property. China’s construction binge inflated commodity prices. In the midst of a huge boom, political and legal institutions struggled to cope. The result was that well-connected people gained favourable access to telecoms spectrum, cheap loans and land. 

struggle to cope with: 〜を収拾しようと躍起になる

Now the party is over. China’s epic industrialisation was a one-off and global capital flows were partly the result of too-big-to-fail banks that have since been tamed. Optimists can also point out that cronyism has stimulated a counter-reaction from a growing middle class in the emerging world, from Brazilians banging pots and pans in the street to protest against graft to Indians electing Arvind Kejriwal, a maverick anti-corruption campaigner, to run Delhi. These public movements echo America’s backlash a century ago. The Gilded Age of the late 19th century gave way to the Progressive Era at the turn of the 20th century, when antitrust laws were passed. 

one-off :一過性の
Progressive Era:進歩主義時代 a period of widespread social activism and political reform across the United States, from the 1890s to 1920s. The main objective of the Progressive movement was eliminating corruption in government. The movement primarily targeted political machines and their bosses. By taking down these corrupt representatives in office a further means of direct democracy would be established. They also sought regulation of monopolies (Trust Busting) and corporations through antitrust laws. These antitrust laws were seen as a way to promote equal competition for the advantage of legitimate competitors.

Yet there is still good reason to worry about cronyism. Some countries, such as Russia, are going backwards. If global growth ever picks up commodities will recover, too—along with the rents that can be extracted from them. In countries that are cleaning up their systems, or where popular pressure for a clean-up is strong, such as Brazil, Mexico and India, reform is hard. Political parties rely on illicit funding. Courts have huge backlogs that take years to clear and state-run banks are stuck in time-warps. Across the emerging world one response to lower growth is likely to be more privatisations, whether of Saudi Arabia’s oil firm, Saudi Aramco, or India’s banks. In the 1990s botched privatisations were a key source of crony wealth. 

in time-warps:タイムワープしていて

The final reason for vigilance is technology. In our index we assume that the industry is relatively free of government involvement, and thus less susceptible to rent-seeking. But that assumption is being tested. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has become one of the biggest lobbyists in Washington and is in constant negotiations in Europe over anti-trust rules and tax. Uber has regulatory tussles all over the world. Jack Ma, the boss of Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce giant, is protected by the state from foreign competition, and now owes much of his wealth to his stake in Ant Financial, an affiliated payments firm worth $60 billion, whose biggest outside investors are China’s sovereign wealth and social security funds. 


If technology were to be classified as a crony industry, rent-seeking wealth would be higher and rising steadily in the Western world. Whether technology evolves in this direction remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure. Cronies, like capitalism itself, will adapt. 



昨日の昼は皇漢堂の藤原専務と会食。午後はNatures's DreamのWong社長とインタートレードの内藤さんとのミーティング。今日は半日、本を書いて、あとは来週の研修の準備をする予定だ。ではまた明日。

swingby_blog at 06:50コメント(0)トラックバック(0) 
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