News Feed: Leaders

“DEAR people of Belgium. This is a huge deal. As you know, I had the balls to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, and so should you.” It sounds like Donald Trump—a bit, anyway. It is definitely a picture of Donald Trump. But the person in the video, produced by sp.a, a left-wing Belgian political party, is not quite the American president. It is a computer-tweaked facsimile, into whose mouth has been put a not-entirely serious homily about Belgium’s carbon emissions.

Faked images are not new. Stalin airbrushed his enemies out of history by having them removed from official photographs. Visual-effects studios in Hollywood transpose actors’ faces onto the bodies of fitter, more disposable stunt doubles. But tinkering with video is hard. Doing it well requires specialists who are scarce and expensive.

Technology is making things cheaper and easier. The video by sp.a is a “deep fake”—which draws on “deep learning”, an artificial-intelligence technique used in everything from...


WHEN a company goes bankrupt, recriminations tend to follow. Even so, the fury caused by the recent collapse of Carillion, a British contracting firm, is unusual. A report on the debacle by British MPs, which was released this month, savaged everyone from the firm’s executives to its regulators. But the MPs reserved special bile for the Big Four accounting firms—not just KPMG, which audited Carillion’s accounts for 19 years, but also its peers, Deloitte, EY and PwC, each of which extracted fees from the company, before and after its fall. The MPs have called for a review into the audit market and asked it to say whether the Big Four’s British arms should be broken up. The row is local, but concerns about the industry are global.

Critics of the auditors are right in two respects: that the industry matters, and that it needs reform (see...


THE last time Colombia elected a president, in 2014, the country was at war. Its army was fighting the FARC, a Marxist guerrilla group dedicated to overthrowing the state and to making money from drug-trafficking and other crimes. In 50 years 220,000 people died and 7m were displaced. This year’s presidential election, the first round of which is scheduled for May 27th, is the first since the war’s end. President Juan Manuel Santos negotiated a peace deal with the FARC in 2016 and won the Nobel peace prize for it but cannot run again.

Candidates in this year’s vote are rejecting his legacy. The front-runner is Iván Duque (pictured left), an ally of a conservative former president, Álvaro Uribe, who was the peace accord’s most ferocious critic (see article). His closest competitor is Gustavo Petro (on the right), a former mayor of Bogotá who was...


MOST American elites believe that the Trump presidency is hurting their country. Foreign-policy mandarins are terrified that security alliances are being wrecked. Fiscal experts warn that borrowing is spiralling out of control. Scientists deplore the rejection of climate change. And some legal experts warn of a looming constitutional crisis.

Amid the tumult there is a striking exception. The people who run companies have made their calculations about the Age of Trump. On balance, they like it. Bosses reckon that the value of tax cuts, deregulation and potential trade concessions from China outweighs the hazy costs of weaker institutions and trade wars. And they are willing to play along with President Donald Trump’s home-brewed economic vision, in which firms are freed from the state and unfair foreign competition, and profits, investment and, eventually, wages soar.

The financial fireworks on display in the first quarter of this year suggest that this vision is coming true. The...


IN MARCH 2014 the brave doctors of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) sounded an alarm. They were struggling to contain an outbreak of Ebola in Guinea, a poor and violent west African state. The Ebola virus causes a terrifying disease: a fever sometimes followed by massive internal and external bleeding. It is contagious, via body fluids, and frequently fatal. Yet no one paid much attention to MSF’s warning, and by June the epidemic had spread to 60 places in three countries. It was not until August that year that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared an international health emergency. The delay allowed Ebola to rage out of control, killing 11,000 people in six countries and leaving 17,000 children without one or both of their parents. Only after the epidemic had peaked did the world pay heed. Some governments panicked, imposing flight bans on all travellers from affected countries. This prompted many to go by road, where they were harder to track.

Global public-health...


POPULISTS often put their finger on problems that irk their countrymen. They also tend to come up with inadequate solutions to them. So it is with President Donald Trump’s plan, unveiled on May 11th, to lower the price of prescription drugs.

Drugs are more expensive in America than anywhere else. A month’s supply of Harvoni, which cures hepatitis C, costs $32,114 in America and $16,861 in Switzerland. Some cancer drugs can cost more than $150,000 a year. Mr Trump campaigned on a promise to reduce prices. He suggested that he would make it easier to import drugs from abroad and would force drug companies to lower prices for Americans, using the state’s bargaining power to save $300bn a year—preposterous, given that this is almost the entire sum the government spends on drugs. Nevertheless, his promises may have helped Mr Trump win the support of the majority of older voters.

The president’s plan, which he called the “most sweeping action in history to lower the price...


ITALY has gone without a government for more than two months. That is no great shock. At elections on March 4th, Italians deserted mainstream parties and backed radical populist ones whose leaders have never had to haggle to form a coalition. The surprise has been the belated reaction of the financial markets, which this week suddenly woke up to the looming threat. The men who, as The Economist went to press, were on the verge of taking power in Italy cannot be trusted to run it.

One reason for the delay—and for general concern—is that the populist parties that won the most votes have conflicting policies. The far-right Northern League promised a flat tax rate of 15%, which would lower revenues. The Five Star Movement (M5S), which claims to transcend left-right divisions, promised a universal basic income of €780 ($920) per month, which would require huge outlays. Bridging the gap between these two parties, in office as well as in the coalition talks, would be hard for...


THE non-compete clause has been causing trouble for over 600 years. In 1414 an English court heard the case of John Dyer, an apprentice whose master had stopped him from plying his trade for six months. The judge was having none of it. “The contract is contrary to common law,” he ruled. Individuals should be free to pursue the livelihood of their choice.

That principle has been diluted in the intervening centuries—most countries give businesses some leeway to use non-compete clauses, whereby workers promise not to start or join firms that go head-to-head with their ex-employer. But their prevalence in America is striking (see article). According to a study by the Treasury in 2016, almost 20% of American workers are bound by a non-compete agreement, and almost 40% have been subject to one at some point. Efforts to rein them in are...


GAZA is a human rubbish-heap that everyone would rather ignore. Neither Israel, nor Egypt, nor even the Palestinian Authority (PA) wants to take responsibility for it. Sometimes the poison gets out—when, say, rockets or other attacks provoke a fully fledged war. And then the world is forced to take note.

Such a moment came on May 14th. Tens of thousands of Palestinians massed near Gaza’s border fence, threatening to “return” to the lands their forefathers lost when Israel was created in 1948. Israeli soldiers killed about 60 protesters—the bloodiest day in Gaza since the war in 2014 (see Briefing). In a surreal split-screen moment, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was exulting over the opening of America’s embassy in Jerusalem, calling it a “great day for peace”.

Many countries have denounced Israel; a few...


WHAT is America’s greatest source of power? Its military might is unparalleled. Its market is vast. Alongside these assets stands the dollar. The world depends on America’s currency, and hence on access to dollar payments systems and the banks America has effective control over. Greenbacks fuel trade everywhere. On average, countries’ dollar imports are worth five times what they buy from America. More than half of all global cross-border debt is dollar-denominated. Dollars make up nearly two-thirds of central-bank reserves. That gives the Treasury a veto over much of global commerce.

Most presidents have used the...


YAWNING deficits, stubborn inflation, a plunging currency, spiking interest rates, dwindling reserves and a humbling turn to the IMF. Argentina seems to be going through a classic emerging-market crisis, culminating in the government’s decision this week to seek a precautionary loan from the fund—an institution that fears Argentina almost as much as Argentina fears it.

The country is not quite repeating its own crisis-ridden history. Argentina today has a reformist government largely intent on doing the right thing, rather than the populist administrations that blighted its recent past (see article). But its troubles are real. Many wonder if they will spread to other emerging markets. Several economies share one or two of its vulnerabilities. Mercifully few share all of them.

Argentina’s rate of inflation, which exceeds 25...


THIS year marks the 200th anniversary of the first successful human-to-human blood transfusion, conducted by James Blundell, an English obstetrician working just across the Thames from The Economist’s offices. Today blood is big business—with global exports worth more, in 2016, than global exports of aeroplanes. But that trade is distorted by the refusal of most governments to allow payment to people who give plasma, blood’s yellowish liquid component.

The blood trade today consists mostly not of blood for transfusion, demand for which is falling as medical techniques improve, but of plasma (see article). Most of this comes from plasma-collection centres, where it is extracted from whole blood and the platelets and blood-cells are transfused back into the donor. Plasma is used to make drugs such as factor VIII, which...


BY PULLING out of the Iran nuclear deal, President Donald Trump is counting on renegotiation or regime change. He is more likely to end up with war.

On May 8th Mr Trump did not cut America’s ties with the Iran deal so much as take an axe to it. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as it is known, curtails Iran’s nuclear programme for a number of years and permanently subjects it to intrusive inspections, in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Mr Trump’s withdrawal from the “decaying and rotten” agreement honoured a campaign promise. However, the president was unexpectedly harsh in vowing to extend sanctions, not just restore them, and to punish any firm doing business with Iran wherever it is based.

Since the UN says that Iran was honouring the agreement, as even its critics allow, Mr Trump has strengthened the arguments of foes that America cannot be trusted and that the global rules it claims to uphold are made to be broken. The question for the other parties to the deal...


TWO years ago, if you had asked experts to identify the most influential person in technology, you would have heard some familiar names: Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Alibaba’s Jack Ma or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Today there is a new contender: Masayoshi Son. The founder of SoftBank, a Japanese telecoms and internet firm, has put together an enormous investment fund that is busy gobbling up stakes in the world’s most exciting young companies. The Vision Fund is disrupting both the industries in which it invests and other suppliers of capital.

The fund is the result of a peculiar alliance forged in 2016 between Mr Son and Muhammad bin Salman. Saudi Arabia’s thrusting crown prince handed Mr Son $45bn as part of his attempt to diversify the kingdom’s economy. That great dollop of capital attracted more investors—from Abu Dhabi, Apple and others. Add in SoftBank’s own $28bn of equity, and Mr Son has a war chest of $100bn. That far exceeds the $64bn that all venture capital (VC) funds raised...


ELECTIONS in Malaysia are normally predictable. In fact, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and various allies had won all of them since 1955, until this week. Over the years UMNO has resorted to every conceivable trick to remain in power: stirring communal tensions among Malaysia’s ethnic groups, locking up critics, rigging the electoral system in its favour, bribing voters with populist handouts and threatening chaos if it lost. In the run-up to the election on May 9th it did all of that. It was testimony to the awfulness of the government of Najib Razak that the opposition was even in contention. And it is testimony to the good sense of Malaysian voters that the opposition won, convincingly, paving the way for Malaysia’s first ever change of government (see article).

For a country where politics has always been run along communal lines, the...


SO MANY false starts would have soured other romances. Resistance from antitrust authorities halted a union between T-Mobile and Sprint, America’s third- and fourth-largest wireless carriers, in 2014. A row over merger terms scuppered talks last year. But the attraction never dimmed.

This week the pair announced an all-stock deal that would create a company with a heft similar to that of AT&T and Verizon. The happy couple promises lower prices for customers, higher profits for shareholders and a sharpening of America’s technological edge (see article). Regulators should be sceptical. The tie-up is bad for consumers; and there are better ways to build whizzy new networks.

Consumer welfare first. The international evidence suggests that cutting the number of big operators would be bad for customers. Research by British...


THE harassment of the Windrush generation of Caribbean migrants is a shameful chapter in Britain’s history, and ministers are paying for it. One home secretary resigned on April 29th; her predecessor, Theresa May, now the prime minister, is weakened. It falls to Sajid Javid, who took charge of the Home Office this week, to clear up the mess.

There is little to like about Mrs May’s migration policy. The state-led hounding of thousands of law-abiding British citizens was a side-effect of the “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants that she created as home secretary.

Indeed, Mrs May’s rigid insistence on reducing net inflows to the arbitrary level of 100,000 a year created a hostile environment for all migrants, not just the illegal ones (see article). Landlords, employers and others were given new duties to check people’s...


“LIKE organising a shipwreck in order to find out who can swim,” is how Alain Peyrefitte, then France’s education minister, described his country’s non-selective system of recruiting university students half a century ago. Peyrefitte hoped to transform the system by introducing selective admissions. He failed, and instead triggered the student uprising of May 1968. Now President Emmanuel Macron, attempting a similar reform, has also brought students out on the streets (see article), and the French hear echoes of soixante-huit. But he is right to try to reform a wasteful higher-education system, just as Peyrefitte was. France’s model is inefficient, inequitable and allows too many young people to sink without a chance.

Napoleon who?

That model traces its roots to 1808, when Napoleon Bonaparte introduced...


IF ANY country ever needed a fresh start, Angola does. It is more corrupt than Nigeria; its infant mortality is higher than Afghanistan’s. Until September it had been ruled by the same man, President José Eduardo dos Santos, for 38 years—more than twice as long as most Angolans have been alive. Even in retirement, many expected Mr dos Santos to continue pulling the strings; he remains head of the ruling party. Hardly anyone expected his successor, João Lourenço, to break the chokehold that the dos Santos family and their cronies have on the Angolan economy. So Mr Lourenço’s first few months in office have pleasantly surprised (see article).



RARELY do optimism and North Korea belong in the same breath. However, the smiles and pageantry in April’s encounter between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in, leaders of the two Koreas, hinted at a deal in which the North would abandon nuclear weapons in exchange for a security guarantee from the world, and in particular America. Sadly, much as this newspaper wishes for a nuclear-free North Korea, a lasting deal remains as remote as the summit of Mount Paektu. The Kims are serial cheats and nuclear weapons are central to their grip on power (see article). Moreover, even as optimists focus on Korea, nuclear restraints elsewhere are unravelling.

By May 12th President Donald Trump must decide the fate of the deal struck in 2015 to curb Iran’s nuclear programme. This week Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, gave a presentation that seemed designed...