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The Economist

The Economist December 21, 2019

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United States
The Economist Newspaper Limited
51 Issues

in this issue

8 min.
the world this year

An attempt to amend Hong Kong’s extradition law triggered the worst crisis in the city since its handover to China in 1997. Amid concerns that the changes could result in dissident Hong Kongers facing trial in mainland China, millions took to the streets in what morphed into an ongoing pro-democracy movement, the biggest challenge to the authority of China’s leaders since the handover. The government in Beijing, which in October staged huge celebrations to mark 70 years of communist rule, has warned the protesters not to push it. I wear the chain I forged in life Protests against autocratic rule also broke out in other countries, leading to the ouster of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan and the resignation of Evo Morales in Bolivia after a contentious election there. Mass demonstrations caused Ecuador’s…

5 min.
pessimism v progress

FASTER, CHEAPER, better—technology is one field many people rely upon to offer a vision of a brighter future. But as the 2020s dawn, optimism is in short supply. The new technologies that dominated the past decade seem to be making things worse. Social media were supposed to bring people together. In the Arab spring of 2011 they were hailed as a liberating force. Today they are better known for invading privacy, spreading propaganda and undermining democracy. E-commerce, ride-hailing and the gig economy may be convenient, but they are charged with underpaying workers, exacerbating inequality and clogging the streets with vehicles. Parents worry that smartphones have turned their children into screen-addicted zombies. The technologies expected to dominate the new decade also seem to cast a dark shadow. Artificial intelligence (AI) may well…

3 min.
maxed out

IN MARCH A Boeing 737 MAX aircraft crashed in Ethiopia, just six months after a similar accident in Indonesia. Nearly 350 people were killed in the two disasters, which revealed a flaw in the MAX’s flight-control system and put into question a vast industrial enterprise. Airlines are relying on the delivery of thousands of MAX planes over the next decade or so. Boeing was expected to make up a large share of its future profits from the MAX. The firm is one of America’s biggest exporters and at least a million people work for it or for its suppliers. Since March Boeing’s response has been an ugly mixture of remorse, evasion and swagger, as it has gambled that it can get the MAX, and its business, rapidly back in the air.…

4 min.
boris johnson’s northern strategy

HAVING WON scores of former Labour strongholds across the north of England in 2019’s general election, Boris Johnson is determined to offer his new voters something in return. “We will repay your trust,” he promised on a triumphant visit to his new turf on December 14th. Northerners have heard this kind of talk before. David Cameron’s government promised a “northern powerhouse” economy—only for the idea to fall by the wayside under Theresa May. After the Brexit referendum of 2016 there was much talk of the need to look after “left-behind” places that had voted Leave—instead the government spent three years focusing on its battles in Westminster. Yet with his newly remade Conservative Party, Mr Johnson relies on the north like no recent Tory leader (see Britain section). If he is…

3 min.
mean streets

“I HAVE SLEPT on the Embankment,” wrote George Orwell in 1933, adding that, despite the noise and the wet and the cold, it was “much better than not sleeping at all”. Under the nearby Charing Cross bridge, Orwell reported that “50 men were waiting, mirrored in the shivering puddles.” Nine decades on and Charing Cross and the Embankment are once again full of rough sleepers, even during the coldest days of December. Across London their numbers have more than tripled since 2010. It is a pattern found in much of the rich world. Almost every European country is seeing a rise in the number of homeless people, including those who live in temporary accommodation, as well as the smaller number who live on the streets. Homelessness across America is in decline,…

3 min.
the improvement prize

OUR ANNUAL “country of the year” award celebrates improvement. Each December, therefore, we give a hostage to fortune. The places that climb furthest are often those that started near the bottom: poor, ill-governed and unstable. Freshly won democracy and peace do not always last, as Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar (The Economist’s country of the year in 2015) ended up reminding the world when she appeared recently at the International Court of Justice in The Hague and glossed over the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas, a Muslim minority, by her country’s soldiers. In 2019 the most striking political trend was a negative one: belligerent nationalism. India has been stripping Muslims of citizenship, China has been locking up Muslims in camps, America has taken a wrecking ball to global…