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Russia’s economy is isolated from the global rout

Čt, 03/26/2020 - 11:03

VLADIMIR PUTIN is no doubt feeling smug. The Russian economy ought to be in crisis, but it is not. Covid-19 is causing a global meltdown. The price of oil has slumped below $30 a barrel, half what it was two months ago. Oil and gas traditionally account for two-thirds of Russian exports. That has sent the rouble sliding. The currency has lost nearly a third of its value since early January.

Yet even as the world’s richest countries are in turmoil, taking on vast sums of debt to cushion the blow, Russia’s economy shows few signs of panic. This is not because Russia has diversified, defeated corruption, protected property rights, or boosted competition, investment or growth. It has done none of those things. Rather, the Russian economy is less sensitive to the shock because it has already been self-isolating for the past six years. Ever since Mr Putin illegally annexed Crimea and fomented war in Ukraine, the West has imposed sanctions on Russia and Russia has imposed sanctions on the West.

Since then, the aim of Russia’s macroeconomic policy has been not to foster growth but rather to build a fortress economy that could withstand a severe shock. Underpinning this policy was a fiscal rule in 2017 that required the budget to balance with an oil price slightly over $40 a barrel. Anything above that figure was funnelled into...

Kategorie: Evropa, Souhrn

Germany offers cash for everyone

Čt, 03/26/2020 - 10:33

IT WAS SHAPING up to be a bumper year for the Hotel Esplanade in Dortmund. On February 13th its owners threw a big party to celebrate a €2.5m ($2.7m) extension, and to mark the moment that Katja Kortmann took over as manager from her retiring father. Two weeks later the cancellations began: first a trickle, then a tidal wave of up to 300 a day. On March 27th the Esplanade will close its doors to guests and send its 40 staff home. The plan is to reopen on April 19th, but Ms Kortmann doubts that will happen. “It’s just tragic,” she says.

Desperate times, desperate measures. On March 25th Germany’s MPs—sitting the requisite two metres apart in the Bundestag—backed an extraordinary set of policies designed to shield the country’s workers and companies from the worst ravages of the virus. Even sceptical observers have been surprised by the government’s speed and boldness. Its package, the most comprehensive in Europe, includes several elements, some of them dusted off from previous crises.

Chief among them is an expansion of Kurzarbeit (short-time work), under which the state pays 60-67% of the forgone wages of workers whose hours are cut. The scheme, copied across Europe, helped Germany avoid mass lay-offs in 2008-09, but Ms Kortmann’s experience shows how things will differ this time. In the...

Kategorie: Evropa, Souhrn

Why Dutch swear words are so poxy

Čt, 03/26/2020 - 10:33

IN MOST LANGUAGES, if someone said you had cancer, it would be a diagnosis. In Dutch, it is more likely to be an insult. Kankerlijer (“cancer-sufferer”) is one of a long list of Dutch profanities and expletives derived from diseases. An undesirable person might be told to “typhus off” (optyfussen) or “get consumption” (krijg de tering). If in (American) English you laugh your ass off, in Dutch you might “laugh yourself the pleurisy” (lachen je de pleuris). No one in England has been called a “poxy bitch” for centuries, but in the Netherlands you can still call someone a pokkenteef. A damned long way is a klereneind (“cholera-end”). And so on.

Because expletives are based on social taboos, in most cultures they are linked to sex, excrement or religion. Many Dutch swear words are as well, but they often feel weaker than the medical ones. Schijt is less like its English cognate and more like the gentler French merde. Mierenneuker (“ant-fucker”) is an anodyne expression for someone who fusses over details. “Whore” is an insult in Dutch too, but when the rapper Lil’ Kleine had a beef with pop singer Anouk last autumn, he went...

Kategorie: Evropa, Souhrn

Spain has suffered more covid-19 deaths than any country save Italy

Čt, 03/26/2020 - 10:03

Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For more coverage, see our coronavirus hub

WITH ITS carefully spaced empty white beds laid across the dark floor, the pavilion of Madrid’s exhibition centre looked like an installation left over from last month’s contemporary art fair. In fact it is a field hospital, set up by the army in 18 hours on March 22nd. Three days later it housed more than 300 coronavirus patients, and was being expanded to take up to 5,500. It is the front line in what Spain’s Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has called “the most serious situation the country has faced since the civil war”.

After Italy, Spain is the country worst hit by covid-19, with 49,515 cases and 3,647 dead as of March 26th, with both numbers still rising steeply. It has now overtaken China on the death count. Officials see this week as crucial. With the health system in Madrid, the centre of the outbreak, close to breaking point, the government hopes that a state of emergency and lockdown imposed on March 14th will ensure that the peak...

Kategorie: Evropa, Souhrn

Why does Germany’s death rate look better than Italy’s?

Čt, 03/26/2020 - 10:03

Editor’s note: The Economist is making some of its most important coverage of the covid-19 pandemic freely available to readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. To receive it, register here. For more coverage, see our coronavirus hub

A NEW PASTIME has emerged among people stuck at home: obsessively tracking how their country’s covid-19 death toll compares with those of their neighbours. Some divide the deaths by the number of reported cases of the disease to get a supposed fatality rate. That, in turn, often leads to the premature conclusion that some European countries are spectacularly better than others at keeping people with covid-19 alive.

Take Italy and Germany. On March 25th Italy had recorded 74,386 cases of covid-19 and 7,503 deaths, the highest number in the world. Germany’s tally that day stood at 37,323 cases and just 206 deaths. Going by these figures, the fatality rate would seem to be around 20 times higher in Italy than in Germany. In fact, this is a spurious number, for several reasons.

First, in any country the number of confirmed covid-19 cases is an unknown fraction of the actual number of cases. Both Italy and Germany have been testing lots of...

Kategorie: Evropa, Souhrn

How grasshoppers triumphed over ants in Europe

Čt, 03/26/2020 - 09:03

TO EXPLAIN A complicated story, it helps to have a fable. Those who watched the last euro-zone crisis often turned to Aesop’s story of the ant, who worked hard all summer ahead of the coming winter, and the grasshopper, who lazed about during warm weather only to come begging for a handout when the cold arrived. The euro zone, in this simplistic telling, was split between ants and grasshoppers. On the one side were rich, northern countries such as Germany that reformed their economies and spent little during the long summer of the 2000s. On the other were profligate grasshoppers, such as Greece and Italy, that ran up chunky deficits or left their inefficient economies untouched, causing misery when the financial crisis hit. For the ants, this was vindication. When the grasshoppers came begging, they were forced to live like ants, with strict rules on spending and often painful economic reform. Chirps of complaint were ignored. Ants ruled.

Less than a decade later and the grasshoppers are in the ascendant. EU member states have agreed to rip up spending rules to cope with the economic wreckage caused by covid-19. Governments have gorged themselves at a fiscal buffet. Spain launched a stimulus worth 3% of GDP. France put out extra spending amounting to 2% of GDP. Even Germany, the queen of the ant colony, has joined in. Berlin burst...

Kategorie: Evropa, Souhrn


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