Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category

Stock market drop

February 10, 2018

I didn’t grasp how much the market had fallen till I received this account statement in the mail from my brokerage:

 

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Of babies and bathwater

January 15, 2018

Libertarians tend to be skeptical toward government because it too often uses sledgehammers to kill ants, throws babies out with bathwater, and punishes the many for the sins of a few. (Like TSA, incapable of smart targeting, punishes all air travelers; confiscating, because of some past liquid bomb plot, the coffee bottle my wife forgot was in her bag.)

Advocates of free market economics do not actually call for “unfettered” capitalism. Just like we’re all subject to laws against jaywalking and murder, etc., the same principle applies to businesses, to protect us from harm. But there can be too much of a good thing.

India is a clear lesson, having suffered, since independence, from its founders’ infatuation with the idea of socialism, producing an excess of government and regulation. It’s been called the “Licence Raj.” Whatever notional harm this thicket of rules supposedly protected the public against, that was far outweighed by suffocating the economy and thereby keeping Indians a lot poorer than they need have been. (Another sardonic Indian expression for this was “the Hindu rate of growth.”) Thankfully, India started undoing all this after a 1991 financial crisis, and Narendra Modi’s government, elected in 2014, promised to do more to let business do business.

But two recent episodes show that India hasn’t unlearned its bad habits.

Government’s main economic role should not be constraining businesses, but facilitating them, by creating the conditions for commerce to thrive. For example, a sound judicial system wherein legal disputes can be fairly and efficiently resolved. Another critical role is providing a money supply, the lubricant of commerce.

Modi’s government thought it had a problem with tax-evading business people hiding cash. Maybe it did. Its answer was an attempt to catch them out by invalidating, on short notice, the highest value banknotes — 86% of the money in circulation! Economic chaos ensued with citizens queuing for hours outside banks trying to exchange their old notes — with strict limits — for new ones that were in short supply — prompting a mad scramble to find other ways to buy, sell, and get paid. While many poor people lost savings.

Punishing the many for the sins of a few; a sledgehammer to kill an ant; a baby thrown out with bathwater. (Meantime, it doesn’t even seem that black marketeers were inconvenienced much. Unsurprisingly, they found ways around the restrictions.)

Now a second Indian tale. Another problem is rampant car crashes, often caused by drunk driving. India’s latest brilliant answer: a Supreme Court ruling barring alcohol sales within 500 meters (about 1500 feet) of a state or national highway. Location near a highway used to be advantageous for such businesses. No longer. Indeed, the ruling could potentially close 100,000 bars, costing a million jobs.

Punishing drunk driving makes sense. Punishing an entire legitimate industry– indeed, the entire country — does not. More sledgehammers and ants; babies and bathwater. The victims of this insanity also include state and local governments, which stand to lose billions in alcohol taxes. But many are taking evasive action, by hastily reclassifying state highways into district or municipal roads. Some wags say the true reading of the new rule is “No road shall be classified as a highway within 500 meters of a bar.”

Maybe India will next literally require throwing out babies with bathwater. As a population control measure, of course.

America’s state capture

December 24, 2017

               “The world sees how bad the United States is.”

                                           — Donald J. Trump, 2017

The tax bill is heralded as Trump’s big legislative win. In fact — having built his fortune as a grifter — it’s his biggest scam. At over a trillion dollars, probably the biggest heist in history.

Republican lawmakers duly performed a leader-worship extravaganza sickening for a democracy. One commentator called it ring-kissing; but what was kissed this Emperor’s clothes don’t cover. These sycophants do it because Trump laps it up. Foreign governments too have figured out how flattery turns him to jelly.

“State capture” means looting the state for private benefit. The term was coined in South Africa, where President Jacob Zuma and his business cronies, the Gupta brothers, hardly even bother to hide their corruption.

Zuma

Zuma was the example I cited when, after our 2016 election, I wrote that giving bad men power never makes them better. That such men have a golden opportunity to prove doubters wrong, and become heroes. But they never do. Creeps only become creepier.

The latest is Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa. Following one of the baddest baddies ever, he too had a golden opportunity.

Mnangagwa

So awful was Mugabe that it wouldn’t have taken much for Mnangagwa to look like Gandhi by comparison. And he promised a new leaf. But already it has the same putrid stench as the old leaf.

In South Africa, Zuma’s presidency has nearly ruined the achievement of the country’s transition to democracy. But there’s hope. The ruling ANC party met recently to choose Zuma’s successor, and he failed to swing the vote to his ex-wife (or to derail it). The winner — by a whisker — is Cyril Ramaphosa — just possibly a good man.

Trump is not. He too could have proven naysayers wrong; instead he’s proven we underestimated his badness. Yet a third of Americans still love him. Compare Brazilian President Temer’s approval rating of just three percent. Three! And he’s much less bad. But the difference is that Brazilians see clearly, not blinded by the disease afflicting America: partisanship trumping everything.

And so we get this tax bill — probably the foulest legislation in U.S. history, combining cravenness of intent with hugeness of impact. Looting the Treasury to the tune of over a trillion, mainly to benefit fatcats like Trump himself. His saying it will actually cost him money — “believe me, believe me” — is a stupendous lie. Among the bill’s biggest beneficiaries are what are called “pass-through” business entities. Of which Trump owns approximately 500.

And in the debates, Trump said the “carried interest” loophole, which also benefits him, should surely be scrapped. Was it? Of course not.

The entire bill is one big lie. No, two. First the lie that it’s a gift to “the American people” when it’s overwhelmingly for corporations and the richest, ultimately paid for by the rest. And the lie that it will pay for itself, and benefit the less affluent, by stimulating the economy.

Mnuchin’s teeth

No serious economist agrees. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin lied through his teeth (literally; his normal speech mode) about his own department’s analysis of the bill’s impact.

As both economic and social policy this is insane. Republicans railed against Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill as a budget buster, at a time when the economy was desperate. Today’s economy is, in contrast, humming nicely, with unemployment less than half, yet Republicans slate an even bigger unneeded stimulus. One that in fact will eventually harm the economy by increasing the megatonnage of our national debt bomb.

I mentioned social policy. Ever hear the word “inequality?” Trump was elected, in large part, because of middle- and working-class economic anxiety. Yet it’s the rich this tax bill coddles.

And it sets the stage for worse to come. Targeted next is “entitlement reform.” Indeed, the long looming fiscal hemorrhage of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc., is worsened by the tax giveaway, making reform even more imperative. What’s needed is curbing welfare for the rich. But will Republicans do that? If their tax heist is any clue, they’ll instead use that very legislation — which slashes the money available for social programs — as a pretext for a “reform” cutting those programs for the neediest while preserving hand-outs for the people who . . . donate to their campaigns.

Merry Christmas! Make America great again!

The Founder — what is business for?

December 16, 2017

Ray is a middle-aged guy with a history of dicey, failed business schemes. Now he’s on the road pitching a super milk-shake machine to restaurants, promising it will boost their sales. Nobody’s interested. (And when eating at these joints, he hates the lousy service and food.)

Then he learns that a San Bernardino eatery has ordered eight machines! Curiosity impels him to drive across the country just to see it. There’s a long line outside. “Don’t worry,” he’s told, “it moves fast.” At the window he gives his order. Seconds later he’s handed a paper bag. “What’s this? he asks.

“Your meal.”

“But I just ordered.”

“Right.”

Disoriented, Ray sits on a bench, and bites into his burger. It’s the best he’s ever tasted. The look coming over his face reminded me of the prehistoric tale, Quest for Fire, when Naoh, the leader, is gobsmacked seeing the girl from a more advanced tribe demonstrate what he’d never imagined: making fire.

Ray is Ray Kroc. The year: 1954. The restaurant: a solitary local establishment named McDonald’s.

The rest, as they say, is history; told in the movie, The Founder, with Michael Keaton as Ray.

The restaurant’s owners, two brothers named McDonald, give Ray a tour, explaining how, with scientific attention to detail, they’ve created a unique system for delivering food both fast and good. Blown away, Ray hits on the idea of franchising it. The McDonalds say they’d already tried that, and failed, because they couldn’t master quality control from afar. Ray thinks he can, and persuades them to join with him.

They sign a contract and, overcoming some tribulations, Ray builds the empire with great success. But tensions with the McDonald brothers grow. The film portrays them as virtuous, but too virtuous; their refusal to agree to Ray’s sensible business ideas comes across as unreasonable. Finally, Ray buys them out for what seems an extremely generous cash settlement.

The settlement includes removing the McDonald’s brand name from their own restaurant. Eventually, the brothers are driven out of business altogether . . . by competition from a nearby McDonald’s. A text screen at film’s end also notes Ray’s dishonoring a handshake promise of 1% of future earnings.

Along the way, Ray meets smart and comely Joan, wife of a franchisee. Uh oh, I said to myself, will the movie now devolve into a messy marital saga? Happily, no. Ray’s first wife is swiftly dispatched, with Joan seen again only fleetingly in a final flash-forward scene.

Hollywood is dominated by people on the political left, with anti-capitalist, anti-corporate bents. Its films reflect this. Maybe strange, since after all they are produced by corporate types making lots of money working for big businesses. Yet they do portray business in a relentlessly negative light. In movies from It’s a Wonderful Life to Erin Brockovitch to Avatar to Robots (and, yes, Super Size Me), the villain is typically a ruthless, greedy businessman or corporation, criminally trampling human values. So pervasive is this theme in popular culture that it’s no wonder so many people revile the whole idea of business and commerce.

The Founder is, unusually, a more balanced and mostly positive portrayal of business. Ray is chiefly a sympathetic character. Even when he plays hardball with the saintly McDonalds, we see why he’s kind of right to do so (except for that final bit about the percentage). Though aiming to make money, Ray, and the McDonalds, were impassioned primarily by their vision for giving people excellent products and service. That could not be accomplished without the business earning a profit.

Steve Jobs too exemplified this: he made a lot of money, but saw that only as empowering him to make great products. It was the products, not the money, that he cared about.

This is the fundamental concept underlying business in general. You profit by giving customers something they value more than what they pay. But that idea gets submerged amid all the anti-capitalist, anti-corporate messaging, infecting even business people themselves

The PBS Newshour recently featured famed glass artist Dale Chihuly and his art-producing “factory.” The interviewer confronted him with criticisms that it is indeed “just” a money-making operation. Chihuly couldn’t answer except by agreeing (only when prompted) that the enterprise, with all its employees, could not continue unless it made money.

Chihuly and creation

He should have said: “What’s created here gives pleasure to people who buy it, own it, view it, and experience it. They value that more than the money they pay (or else they wouldn’t pay it). So yes, we make money, but we make it by making a better world.”

Inequality, wage stagnation, and free stuff

December 6, 2017

Recent years have seen much agitation about inequality, and the seeming fact that middle-income earnings have risen very little, if at all, in recent decades. Some see this as the rich “hogging” all the societal wealth gains.

Inequality is a real concern. Society is ever more bifurcated between the well educated and the less educated.

However, there are a number of reasons why that ostensible wage stagnation is not what it seems. First, wage comparisons over time must factor in inflation. But most economists know that government inflation indices are themselves inflated, overstating the true fall in the dollar’s value. Compounded over decades, this significantly understates the current worth of today’s pay.

Also, such wage numbers generally omit fringe benefits, which are increasingly important. The biggest one is health benefits which have risen greatly in both cost and value over decades. When that too is factored in, today’s workers are again seen to be earning more.

A further factor was highlighted by a recent piece in The Economist, which really made me sit up and take notice. It’s the value people get out of the internet. This adds to living standards and the quality of life one has with a given income level. And it’s more significant than you might guess.

The Economist reports how some researchers made estimates of the value of web goodies based on how much money people would demand, when asked, to give them up. These are necessarily crude estimates, yet they are eye-popping.

It’s $900 a year for YouTube and other video; $2800 for maps; $750 for Facebook; and a whopping $16,600 for search engines. (The Facebook estimate seems very low to me in comparison to the others; it may reflect that many people have a love-hate relationship with Facebook, considering it a sinkhole of time). Anyhow, this again gives at least some idea of the value of these services, to the average American.

We get these goodies essentially free. Of course, we do “pay” by giving web businesses data they use to target ads at us. But it’s a very one-sided deal. The Economist notes that, as against the $750 estimated value of Facebook to an average user, Facebook eked just $4.65 in ad revenue.

True, this has still made Mark Zuckerberg very rich. But it points up the fundamental fallacy of the rich getting their wealth at the expense of the rest. Zuckerberg provides users with value over a hundred times what he gets. That indeed is the essence of commerce: businesses profit by selling things for less than their value to buyers. That’s how the whole world gets richer.

New depths of depravity

December 3, 2017

“Believe me,” he says, “believe me.”

A constant verbal tic. As if his subconscious knows he won’t be believed. You might think a man widely called a liar might try to avoid lies. But au contraire. He shoves his thumb in our eye.

“Believe me,” he said, regarding the tax bill, “This is going to cost me a fortune. This is not good for me. Believe me.” He said the “wealthy and well connected” aren’t benefiting and are actually mad at him because the bill is ending a lot of their loopholes. “I don’t care,” he said.

All huge lies. Does he think people are fools? Well, his supporters, yes.

Or does he delude himself that having concealed his tax returns he can now deny the nevertheless obvious fact that this legislation will benefit him personally, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars? What mental disorder is this?

But the big lie is claiming to help the middle class. In reality (yes, reality still does exist) middle class people will get crumbs at best, many will actually pay higher taxes, while the wealthiest, and corporations, make out like bandits. Moreover, while the latter give-aways are permanent, the benefits for the less wealthy expire in five years, so most of them will be paying more. This will happen, conveniently, in the next administration. Do they imagine the next president will get the blame?

It’s also a brazen political hit, targeted against wealthier states like New York, California and Massachusetts, which happen to have higher state and local taxes — and happened to vote against Trump.

And the idea that the tax cuts will trickle down to the less wealthy because businesses will hire more and pay more is another big lie. American businesses are already sitting atop piles of excess cash. And meantime, whatever stimulatory effect these tax cuts might have will be cancelled out by their blowing up deficits and national debt, which will ultimately wreck our economy.*

Then Trump re-tweeted stupid phony videos disseminated by an extreme right-wing British hate group to smear Muslims. Talk about fake news! A disgusting witless act by the President of the United States. Almost the entire British nation (including even Nigel Farage!) came together in shock to condemn it. (In response Trump tweeted an insult at Britain’s prime minister.)

The irony is that if he’d wanted to show Muslim atrocities, instead of this fake garbage he could have used pictures of children tortured by the Syrian regime; or James Foley’s head sawed off; or the Jordanian pilot burned alive; or, for that matter, 9/11; and the New Jersey Muslims celebrating it. (Oops, that was another Trump lie.)

Even more disturbing is that, despite everything, Trump’s approval rating still holds in the high thirties. In any other country, or in our own past, a leader behaving so egregiously would have forfeited all support. But today’s America is afflicted by extreme partisan tribalism.

Fools will say I should just shut up already, give it up, suck it up (and what about Hillary). Sorry, this is not normal politics. My beloved country is being defiled, and it breaks my heart.

* Only one Republican senator, Bob Corker, had the sense and integrity to vote no — literally the last man standing.

The Republican tax plan: “A big beautiful Christmas present” or coal in our stockings?

November 4, 2017

The real question: why?

Why this Republican tax proposal? Well, it’s billed as “reform,” and God knows our federal tax system is an ungodly mess crying out for reform. But this bill isn’t it. Fewer brackets means nothing. Admittedly, eliminating some deductions and, particularly, the Alternative Minimum Tax would be significant simplifications. Yet in other ways, new complications are actually added. Trump’s saying nine out of ten would be able to file on a postcard is a lie even biglier than usual for him.

It’s also a lie to call it the biggest tax cut in our history. It would be true if Trump had added the words for corporations.

And why cut taxes? Because they’re too high? When for decades government spending has exceeded taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars yearly? When the federal debt now tops twenty trillion?

Republicans — supposedly the party of fiscal conservatism — originally were supposedly aiming for a revenue-neutral reform — that is, making up the cuts by getting revenue elsewhere, like capping 401Ks. But of course taking any benefit away from anyone is political poison. So predictably, they jettisoned any notion of paying for the cuts. The budget they passed recently (with virtually no debate) permits them (due to arcane rules) to now enact a tax cut costing a whopping $1.5 trillion, over 10 years, with only 50 Senate votes, rather than an impossible 60.

But even with that giant window, making the math work is very hard. Especially with corporations getting most of the $1.5 trillion available. Additional fat cuts for fat cats necessitate compensatory tax increases for many middle and upper middle class folks. At best, some less affluent people will get peanuts, while caviar is served to the richest and, especially, corporations.

After decades of Democrats caricaturing Republicans as caring only for the rich, the GOP is now shamelessly proving it. When economic inequality has been a growing concern, to propose a tax bill that will significantly aggravate that inequality is disgraceful.

But they say the aim is to stimulate the economy, spur growth, and create jobs. Producing so much more income, and thus more tax revenue, that the cuts will pay for themselves. They’ve been making this argument for forty years. It has never proven true. A tax cut might be stimulative if it put money in the pockets of Joe Sixpack who’ll spend it. But not when most goes to the rich who’ll just save it. And corporate hiring simply has nothing to do with how much tax they pay on profits.

Meantime, the whole growth stimulation idea ignores the impact on deficits and debt. Which are set to explode in years ahead as ever more older people collect pensions and benefits while ever fewer work and pay taxes. We can finance the gap by borrowing, as long as interest rates remain at historic lows. But if ballooning debt spooks the financial markets, interest rates will spike up, and we won’t be able to afford much except interest payments. That makes cutting taxes suicidal economic insanity.

And snuck into the bill is this hidden stinker: repealing the Johnson Amendment, which bars churches from partisan politics. A terrible idea. (Read about it here.)

No wonder they want to ram this through quickly, without any pesky hearings or debate. Before anybody can really figure out what’s happening. Just like they tried to do with health care. Rushing such a hugely complex and consequential plan is also disgraceful and crazy.

But finally, for Republicans, the real reason behind all this is not economic policy. It’s more like religious belief. Tax cuts are a matter of faith, comparable to belief in God for Christians. Never mind economics, reality, or sanity.

Will it pass? Very doubtful. Likely it will get watered down into something insignificant — which Trump will nevertheless call a “big, big win.”

Huuuge!”

(Note, my family would benefit significantly from the GOP plan. And I was a Republican myself until recently. This tax plan epitomizes why I quit.)

 

The Jones Act — How protectionism sank our fleet

October 28, 2017

Remember Trump ordering a temporary waiver of the Jones Act, to get help to Puerto Rico? What was that all about?

The Jones Act, passed in 1920, limits shipping between U.S. ports to American built, owned, and crewed vessels. This was to shield the U.S. shipping industry from foreign competition. A textbook example of protectionism. Though usually protectionism isn’t so blatant, telling foreign business to get lost altogether.

Railroads also lobbied for the Jones Act, fearing that foreign ships would undercut them too in the business of transporting goods. And railroads did benefit, because ships built and crewed by Americans are so much costlier that all other forms of transport are cheaper in comparison. Thus, whereas 40% of Europe’s domestic freight goes by sea, just 2% does in America (despite our 12,383-mile coastline).

The Jones Act not only inflates the cost of U.S. sea transport, above what it would be with open competition; it inflates land transport costs too, by eliminating some of its competition. All those higher costs go into the prices for things we buy. Protectionism protects businesses — well, certain favored ones — at the cost of screwing consumers — and other businesses — here, ones that ship their products. Competition always benefits consumers, and the economy as a whole.

And protectionism doesn’t save jobs — because a business that isn’t competitive without it isn’t a good long term bet anyway. The Jones Act shows this. It could protect U.S. ships against foreign ones, but not against trains, trucks, and planes. In fact, the Act sank the U.S. shipping fleet. As recently as 1960 it was 17% of the world total; today just 0.4%.

That’s why the Jones Act had to be waived for Puerto Rico — there just weren’t enough U.S. ships for the job. Indeed, while the collapse of merchant shipping leaves most of the country with reasonable non-water alternatives, that of course is not true of places like Puerto Rico, Hawaii, or Alaska. (Hawaiian cattle ranchers regularly fly animals to the mainland!) In such places the impact on consumer prices and the cost of living is severe — yet one more reason why Puerto Rico’s economy was so dire even before the storm.

The Jones Act should surely be repealed — but lobbyists from the sailors’ unions and ship owners — the few that are left — are probably still politically powerful enough to prevent it.

A different idea about health care

September 22, 2017

As Republicans try one more time to pass a bill to strip millions of their health care, a huge policy crap-shoot without benefit of hearings, public debate, or input from experts, here’s another idea.

We keep hearing that middle class wages have flatlined over a long period. Actually, recent data shows a significant uptick. But anyway, such numbers are misleading because they normally reflect only salaries — and not fringe benefits — which comprise a growing part of total employee compensation. The big one is health insurance.

About 150 million Americans get health insurance through their employers, and its value (i.e., its cost) now averages about $18,000 annually. Combining this with salaries tells us that total earnings have not stagnated, but risen substantially.

This also means Americans effectively spend a growing part of their incomes on health care. It’s even more than that $18,000, what with rising deductibles, co-pays, etc. Of course, health care is something of value, improving quality of life, worth paying for. But paying for health insurance is not quite the same thing. Healthy people get little benefit. Indeed, the whole system is set up for them to subsidize the sick; and Obamacare expanded on that.

Overall, Americans spend a lot more on health care/insurance than other advanced countries, without being healthier. This is fundamentally because it’s not a competitive market. There’s really no shopping around for health services; the end-user isn’t usually the one who’s paying. Obamacare didn’t fix this.

Recently, during a medical appointment with one doctor, another stopped in to “consult,” for a few minutes. He neither examined nor treated me. He billed $405. Because he could. This is why health care costs are out of control.

A NY Times op-ed last November (by Professors Regina Herzlinger, Barak Richman, and Richard Boxer) proposed a simple reform that would have a big impact.

The main reason our system evolved the way it did is because employee health benefits aren’t taxed like regular wages are (which, by the way, makes them even more valuable to workers, enlarging the impact on the “wage stagnation” picture). But, as the Times writers point out, workers have little control over this enormous expenditure made on their behalf; they cannot try to economize or shop around for insurance. If they could, they’d opt for a wide variety of different plans.

So the writers propose that, without losing the nontaxableness, moneys earmarked for health insurance be given to employees, to purchase it themselves. If you spend the whole $18,000, fine; but if you spend less, you get to pocket the savings. (Even if you’re taxed on that part, it’s still a big benefit.) This would give insurance companies a strong incentive to develop a whole array of varied (and often cheaper) options, to compete for those consumer dollars — an incentive almost wholly lacking in the existing system.

It would also make the market for health care itself more like, well, a market. Competition among insurers would in turn exert pressure on providers to likewise innovate to offer more efficient, cost-conscious care. Meantime many more people would choose to use insurance as it was originally conceived, that is, to cover only big expenses, not routine ones. For the latter they would shop around, again mindful of costs. That would have a huge positive impact on the way health care is provided — and billed.

This reform seems like a no-brainer. And a huge vote winner too. Why has no politician latched onto this? Do the insurance companies (who wouldn’t like breaking open their comfy status quo) really have the whole system locked up?

The Economist: A love letter

August 31, 2017

On this blog I’ve frequently cited The Economist. It’s a news magazine (though Britishly calling itself a “newspaper”). I’ve subscribed for about thirty years. The Economist is my friend, almost a lover even, integral to my existence.

Maybe because I was a socially awkward youth, wordly clueless, I’ve always had an ache for understanding. To know what’s going on, and why. This The Economist provides. It keeps me informed about every corner of the globe (and in today’s interconnected globalized world, it all matters). And much of it is deeply fascinating, like a great global “Game of Thrones” with hundreds of characters and story lines. Take Venezuela’s for example, a dramatic tale (indeed, a morality tale), unfolding for a quarter century. The Economist provides a ring-side seat. Much of this stuff never makes it into newspapers or other sources.

The Economist doesn’t merely report events, it analyzes them. And furthermore it has a definite point of view, not only expressed in its editorials (called “leaders”) but also infusing its news coverage. It is the stance of classical liberalism, the philosophy of thinkers like John Stuart Mill, aiming to maximize human liberty and flourishing, through limited, democratic, accountable government, and openness to ideas, enterprise, commerce, and human variety. Indeed, it was specifically to oppose Britain’s “corn laws” (restricting free trade) that the publication was launched in 1843.

Did I fall in love with The Economist because its philosophy matched my own, or did the magazine shape my outlook? Probably some of both. Anyhow it’s rare for me to disagree with it. (There were some baffling past presidential election endorsements which seemed at odds with the magazine’s editorial stance.)

So far I may have made it sound dry. It is not. The writing is often a pleasure to read and is full of droll wit. I recall one report, quoting Cuba’s Raul Castro saying Honduras should be sanctioned because its president (arguably) wasn’t seated democratically. “Castro said this,” The Economist wrote, “with a straight face.”

So The Economist has no time for cant or hypocrisy. The magazine tells it like it is – often with delicious zingers.

And not just with words. Its covers too can be a hoot. One gem depicted the European nations, when confronted with a threatening Russia, collectively as a quivering jelly mold, with their cringing faces.

The magazine also covers business, finance, science, and the arts, including excellent book reviews. And the final page always provides a parting treat: an obituary. Yes, its obits too are flavorful reading, often about less famous personages, but always interesting ones. Or at least The Economist seems able to make them so.

Depicting France’s Macron; the feet sticking up are Theresa May’s

I’m pleased to have gotten into its pages a few times myself, with letters-to-the-editor. (The latest responded to an article about violence in Baltimore, pointing to the drug war as a major cause.)

I wish more people read it. Many of the world’s movers and shakers certainly do, but not enough of them. It’s dismaying when folks aspiring to (or exercising) leadership are so ignorant about the world. An Economist reader would never have said, “What’s Aleppo?”