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THERE is often more fakery than truth in a tweet from President Donald Trump. But on one subject he is broadly right. America’s economy is in good shape. Business confidence is high. Jobs are plentiful. Last month non-farm companies added 228,000 workers to their payrolls. The unemployment rate is 4.1%, the lowest figure for more than a decade. The availability of jobs is drawing more of the working-age population into the labour force. Wages are growing in real terms with some of the biggest gains going to low-paid workers.

Mr Trump over-eggs things, of course. He claims each good jobs...

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FINANCIAL markets rarely miss opportunities to make money. That is as true of cryptocurrencies as anything else. Trading in bitcoin futures began on the Cboe Global Markets this week; CME Group will launch its own futures on December 18th (see article). That has given a further boost to the digital currency’s price, which is up by 1,550% this year. Such phenomenal returns are drawing in waves of speculative money. But is there a fundamental case to invest in bitcoin?

The usual tools of finance are no guide. An equity is a claim on the assets and the profits of a firm; a bond entitles the investor to a series of interest payments and repayment on maturity. Bitcoin brings no cashflows to the owner; the only return will come via a rise in price. When there is no obvious way of valuing an asset, it is hard to say that...

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ORIGINALITY is hardly the hallmark of today’s film industry. The biggest film of 2017 at the American box office is a remake of “Beauty and the Beast”; it will be surpassed by “The Last Jedi”, which opens this week and is the squillionth episode of the Star Wars saga. The ten highest-grossing films in Hollywood this year are all sequels or remakes.

As the film industry struggles to reverse a decline in box-office receipts (see article), it will keep returning to the comfort of the familiar. Franchises like Star Wars will steamroller on. Remakes are trickier. Well over 100 are thought to be in the works, from “Private Benjamin” to “Fantastic Voyage”. Some will get a 2018 twist: the mark in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, a 1980s comedy about two con artists, is a tech billionaire. But not all. The following projects are rumoured to be under way in...

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WINTER is coming to America. That simple statement of fact ought not to send shivers down policymakers’ spines. But Rick Perry, the energy secretary, sees it as a call to arms. To defend Americans from blizzards, polar vortices and other treacherous weather which, he says, threatens the country’s electricity grid, he proposes throwing a multi-billion-dollar lifeline to struggling coal-fired and nuclear plants if they can keep emergency fuel on standby for 90 days.

On December 8th the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was given a 30-day grace period to decide whether to support Mr Perry’s plan. It should refuse to do so, or substantially amend it. His scheme is a confection of bad policy, faulty economics and thinly disguised patronage. But it also raises a genuinely difficult question: how to keep grids working smoothly in an era of cheap natural gas, which is hard for baseload power plants to compete with, and renewable energy, which is dependent on the vagaries of the...

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WHEN a rising power challenges an incumbent one, war often follows. That prospect, known as the Thucydides trap after the Greek historian who first described it, looms over relations between China and the West, particularly America. So, increasingly, does a more insidious confrontation. Even if China does not seek to conquer foreign lands, many people fear that it seeks to conquer foreign minds.

Australia was the first to raise a red flag about China’s tactics. On December 5th allegations that China has been interfering in Australian politics, universities and publishing led the government to propose new laws to tackle “unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated” foreign efforts to influence lawmakers (see article). This week an Australian senator resigned over accusations that, as an opposition spokesman, he took money...

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JERUSALEM is both heavenly and earthly, holy and sinful. “Ten measures of beauty God gave to the world, nine to Jerusalem and one to the rest,” says the Talmud. Sometimes, however, it seems as if ten measures of suffering God gave to the world, nine to Jerusalem and one to the rest. The medieval Arab geographer, al-Muqaddasi, called the holy city “a golden bowl full of scorpions”.

In announcing this week that America recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and would start the process of moving the American embassy there from Tel Aviv (see article), President Donald Trump claimed to be honouring Israel’s democracy. He was, he said, simply acknowledging reality; he still sought peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In fact, his move has the nasty sting of a scorpion.

Israel is unusual in having...

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SOME political theorists argue that the law draws legitimacy not just from voting, but also from public debate before legislation is passed. In voting through a tax-reform bill on December 2nd, Republicans in Congress have tested this principle to destruction. The bill, like most, has its strengths and its weaknesses, but Republicans have rushed it through disregarding the value of consistency and evidence. Their success will weigh on the quality of American government.

The Senate’s bill is broadly similar to one that passed in the House of Representatives in November. It would slash the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% (albeit a year later than the House bill). Taxes for unincorporated businesses and individuals would fall substantially. The personal exemption, which reduces a household’s taxable income in accordance with its size, would be replaced with a much higher standard deduction, the flat amount that can be earned tax-free. The child tax credit would also rise. To raise...

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AFTER the Maidan revolution and the start of the Russian war against Ukraine in 2014, Western policy had two aims: to halt and punish Russian aggression and to help Ukraine become a democratic state governed by the rule of law. America imposed sanctions on Russia, ordered the president, Petro Poroshenko, to establish an anti-corruption force and sent Joe Biden, then vice-president, on repeated visits to insist on fighting graft. The EU imposed sanctions on Russia, and made support for civil-society and the rule of law a linchpin of the association agreement it signed with Ukraine in 2014.

In that light, the news out of Ukraine over the past few weeks has been dire. The country’s prosecutor-general has disrupted investigations by its National Anti-corruption Bureau, with the apparent consent of Mr Poroshenko. The interior minister has intervened to protect his son from similar scrutiny. Officers in the security service, the SBU, have tried to arrest Mikheil Saakashvili, the former...

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FOR Roberto Azevêdo, its director-general, the WTO is a “hostage of its own success”. For President Donald Trump it is “a disaster”. Mr Trump would not be alone in balking at Mr Azevêdo’s formulation, meant to manage down expectations for the WTO’s two-yearly ministerial meeting in Argentina later this month (see article). The WTO has not achieved a big breakthrough in its mission of trade liberalisation for more than two decades. Its last big round of trade talks, the Doha Development Agenda, became the Jarndyce v Jarndyce of trade diplomacy; in 2015 it was quietly put out of its misery.

If only a disappointing record were the biggest problem for the WTO. America has had fraught relations with it for years; under Mr Trump, frustration has turned to aggression. America feels that China, the world’s biggest exporter,...

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TWO letters can add up to a lot of money. No area of technology is hotter than AI, or artificial intelligence. Venture-capital investment in AI in the first nine months of 2017 totalled $7.6bn, according to PitchBook, a data provider; that compares with full-year figures of $5.4bn in 2016. In the year to date there have been $21.3bn in AI-related M&A deals, around 26 times more than in 2015. In earnings calls public companies now mention AI far more often than “big data”.

At the heart of the frenzy are some familiar names: the likes of Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. A similar, though less transparent, battle is under way in China among firms like Alibaba and Baidu. Several have put AI at the centre of their strategies. All are enthusiastic acquirers of AI firms, often in order to snap up the people they employ. They see AI as a way to improve their existing services, from cloud computing to logistics, and to push into new areas, from autonomous cars to augmented...

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SOUTH AFRICA’S Constitutional Court may be the world’s most emotionally powerful building. The courtroom is built with the bricks of the Old Fort prison, where both Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were held. A glass strip around the courtroom, allowing passers-by to see in, represents transparency. Above the entrance, the values of the constitution are set in concrete in the handwriting of the first constitutional judges after apartheid—including the childlike script of Albie Sachs, who had to learn to write with his left hand after the white regime’s security services blew off his right arm. In painful contrast with its uplifting setting, a recent conversation between an Economist journalist and an official working in the building was, at the official’s request, conducted outside and, as a further precaution against surveillance by today’s security services, the journalist was asked to leave her phone inside. It is a measure of how far South Africa has fallen...

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IT OUGHT to be a love-in. American companies support tax cuts and deregulation. As The Economist went to press, President Donald Trump was pushing the Senate to pass a sweeping, business-friendly tax reform. Instead, CEOs have reason to feel uneasy. In the first year of his presidency, executives have found themselves embroiled in public disputes with Mr Trump on everything from immigration to climate change. His advisory councils of business leaders have disbanded. The second year of his presidency is unlikely to be much smoother.

Some of these spats between the Oval Office and the corner office reflect Mr Trump’s peculiar style of governing. But they point to something bigger, too (see article). Executives who would rather concentrate on commerce are finding it ever harder to avoid politics, in America and beyond....

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THE permanent revolution rumbles on. Ten years after the financial crisis, Europe’s bankers must wonder whether the regulatory upheaval will ever cease (see article). Next month two European Union directives start to bite. MiFID2 will make trading more transparent and oblige banks to charge clients separately for research; PSD2 will expose banks to more competition from technology companies, and each other, in everything from payment services to budgeting advice. A new accounting rule, IFRS 9, also kicks in, demanding timelier provisions for credit losses. The global capital standards drawn up after the crisis, Basel 3, may at last be on the verge of completion—implying yet another uptick in equity requirements for some European lenders.

Amid this blizzard of letters and digits, the European Commission is pushing ahead on...

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IN ALL countries, a big influx of migrants tends to provoke grumbles among the natives. In China, however, the migrants most frequently grumbled about, and treated with the greatest hostility, are not foreigners but other Chinese: rural folk who move to the cities in search of a better life. This has been on show in the past few days in the capital, Beijing. On November 18th a blaze in a ramshackle warehouse-cum-apartment-block killed 19 people believed to be migrants from elsewhere in China. The authorities are now using “fire safety” as a pretext to drive thousands of other migrants out of the basements, air-raid shelters and shanties where they live (see article)—often by cutting off their electricity and water. It has amounted to a mass expulsion from the capital.

It is clear that officials are not simply aiming to prevent future fires. A...

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NORTHERN IRELAND barely featured in last year’s Brexit referendum campaign, in which Britons were more interested in matters of migration and money. Yet the future of the 500km border that separates the North from the Irish Republic—and which will soon separate the United Kingdom from the European Union—has become one of the trickiest issues of the exit talks.

The winding border has revealed a tangle in the “red lines” laid down by Theresa May. After leaving the EU, Britain wants to do its own trade deals with the rest of the world, which means leaving the EU’s customs union. And, like Ireland, it wants to maintain the open, invisible border that was enhanced by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, ending three decades of violence. This presents a problem: having a different customs regime to the EU means imposing customs controls, which in turn implies that the border cannot be quite so seamless as today. Ireland, backed by the EU, has threatened to block any outcome involving a...

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YEMEN lost the title of Arabia Felix, or “Fortunate Arabia”, long ago. It has suffered civil wars, tribalism, jihadist violence and appalling poverty. But none of this compares with the misery being inflicted on the country today by the war between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis, a Shia militia backed by Iran.

The UN reckons three-quarters of Yemen’s 28m people need some kind of humanitarian aid. Mounting rubbish, failing sewerage and wrecked water supplies have led to the worst cholera outbreak in recent history. The country is on the brink of famine. The economy has crumbled, leaving people with impossible choices. Each day the al-Thawra hospital in Hodeida must decide which of the life-saving equipment to run with what little fuel it has.

Perhaps the worst of it is that much of the world seems unperturbed (see...

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THE glass of booze that chancellors of the exchequer may sip while delivering the budget speech is well deserved. High economics, low politics and bad jokes combine in an hour-long monologue before a baying crowd. Philip Hammond, who presented his budget on November 22nd, had it harder than most. The deficit still yawns, voters are sick of austerity and, amid a Conservative civil war, many of Mr Hammond’s own side want rid of him. Impressively, he stuck to mineral water.

It was a decent speech, focusing on the dire productivity problem that is holding Britain back (see article). It should be enough to save his job, which is just as well, since he is one of the few remaining sensibles in Theresa May’s cabinet. But Mr Hammond’s budget was a bleak reflection of the state Britain is in. Economic-growth forecasts are sharply worse....

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WHY is America’s Department of Justice (DoJ) trying to block a merger between AT&T, a telecoms giant, and Time Warner, a media conglomerate? Simple, say some: President Donald Trump has it in for CNN, which is owned by Time Warner. It matters to the independence of America’s trustbusters whether Mr Trump’s tastes have steered the DoJ. But he happens to be right when he says that the deal is “not good for the country”. The real problem is not the DoJ’s move, but the contradictions in his administration’s competition policies.

A day after the DoJ filed its complaint, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced plans to repeal rules which protect “network neutrality”, the principle that internet-service providers (ISPs) must treat all sorts of digital traffic equally. That would enable AT&T and others to charge more for certain types of content, so long as they are open about it. A set of policies that simultaneously thwarts AT&T from bulking up and gives it much...

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MARRIAGE idealises permanence, and yet it is changing more rapidly than at any time in its history. Almost everywhere it is becoming freer, more equal and more satisfying. As our special report this week explains, wedlock has become so good that it is causing trouble.

The most benign changes are taking place in poor and middle-income countries (where most people live). Child marriage, once rife, is ebbing. So is cousin marriage, with its attendant risk of genetic defects, though it is still fairly common in the Middle East and parts of Asia. Relations between husbands and wives have become more equal (though not equal enough). As women earn more and the stigma of divorce fades, more men are finding that they cannot treat their wives as servants (or, worse, punchbags), because women can credibly threaten to walk away.

In some regions change has been astoundingly quick. In India the share of women marrying by the age of 18 has dropped from 47% to 27% in a single decade. “Love marriages” remain disreputable in India...

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NO TAX is popular. But one attracts particular venom. Inheritance tax is routinely seen as the least fair by Britons and Americans. This hostility spans income brackets. Indeed, surveys suggest that opposition to inheritance and estate taxes (one levied on heirs and the other on legacies) is even stronger among the poor than the rich.

Politicians know a vote-winner when they see one. The estate of a dead adult American is 95% less likely to face tax now than in the 1960s. And Republicans want to go all the way: the House of Representatives has passed a tax-reform plan that would completely abolish “death taxes” by 2025. For a time before the second world war, Britons were more likely to pay death duties than income tax; today less than 5% of estates catch the taxman’s eye. It is not just Anglo-Saxons. Revenue from these taxes in OECD countries, as a share of total government revenue, has fallen sharply since the 1960s (see...

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