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The Economist

The Economist November 30, 2019

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United States
The Economist Newspaper Limited
51 Issues

in this issue

8 min.
the world this week

Politics Opposition candidates won a stunning victory in Hong Kong’s local elections, a result that activists claimed as an endorsement of protesters’ demands for full democracy. A record turnout saw 3m voters go to the polls. Carrie Lam, the territory’s beleaguered leader, promised to “seriously reflect” on the outcome. China warned America of “firm countermeasures” in response to Donald Trump’s signing of two bills showing support for democracy in Hong Kong. China has 276 embassies and other diplomatic offices, more than any other country, according to the Lowy Institute, a think-tank. It passed America, which has 273, this year. France, Japan and Russia took the next three spots on the list. The BJP chief minister of Maharashtra, India’s second-most-populous state, resigned after holding office for just three days, when the supreme court said…

6 min.
inequality illusions

EVEN IN A world of polarisation, fake news and social media, some beliefs remain universal, and central to today’s politics. None is more influential than the idea that inequality has risen in the rich world. People read about it in newspapers, hear about it from their politicians and feel it in their daily lives. This belief motivates populists, who say selfish metropolitan elites have pulled the ladder of opportunity away from ordinary people. It has given succour to the left, who propose ever more radical ways to redistribute wealth (see Books & arts section). And it has caused alarm among business people, many of whom now claim to pursue a higher social purpose, lest they be seen to subscribe to a model of capitalism that everyone knows has failed. In many…

4 min.
policing propaganda

THE new york times noted in 1859 that the telegraph was doing a lot to clean up politics. “The telegraph gives the speaker in the furthest East or West an audience as wide as the Union,” it wrote. That made it harder for politicians to promise to relax drinking laws in one city and impose Prohibition in another. A century and a half later the internet, the telegraph’s distant descendant, has once again transformed politics. Social networks have become the platforms of choice for politicians hoping to get their messages out and to give their opponents a kicking. The results can be seen in both the American and British elections. Online advertising, modest a decade ago, now accounts for around half the total. This time there is less happiness about the results.…

3 min.
a clarion call

DISTRICT ELECTIONS in Hong Kong are normally about rat control and bus routes. The polls on November 24th were a vote on Hong Kong’s future as a liberal Chinese enclave. The question, in effect, was whether ordinary people support the government and its backers in Beijing in their illiberal methods. The answer was a resounding no. The turnout, of over 70%, was higher than any recorded in any kind of election in Hong Kong in which the public has a say (see China section). Pro-democracy politicians almost swept the board. For Hong Kong’s leaders and China’s Communist Party, this is a rebuke—compounded three days later when President Donald Trump signed into law a bill that supports Hong Kong’s democracy. Irked by months of protests, but unwilling to use troops to crush…

3 min.
the umpire expires

ONE WAY of thinking about the world’s trading system is as a sports match featuring a sprawling, brawling international cast of players, each with their own tactics and tricks. The game works best when there is a referee, and for nearly 25 years a group of seven judges at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has done the job. But on December 11th this body will cease to function, because America is blocking new appointments to it. The referee’s departure will make cross-border commerce unrulier and, in the long run, invite an anarchy that would make the world poorer. The WTO’s appellate body is one of those institutions that most people have never heard of, but which will be missed when it is gone. Set up in 1995, it hears appeals over…

3 min.
a bid for better batteries

SOLAR AND wind power are the glamorous twins of the clean-electricity revolution. It is thrilling to see a field of glistening panels absorbing the sun’s energy or a vast turbine twirling above the ocean. Stationary power storage does not have quite the same allure—think of a large metal shed stuffed with piles of big batteries. Nonetheless, the ability to stockpile energy on a massive scale will be of supreme importance if the world is to wean itself off filthy fossil-fuel power plants. The technology is gradually getting cheaper and attracting investment (see Business section). But more needs to be done to ensure that it sparks. To see why storage is important, work backwards from the most common strategy to limit climate change. Plans typically reduce emissions from electricity generation by switching…