Bitcoin Is Bigger Than The Bubble

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There may be people who still haven’t heard of Bitcoin, but there can’t be many and they must live a long way back from the road. From its beginnings as a niche of niches somewhere on the outer belt of the internet, this strange and next-to-impossible-to-understand mathematical construct has turned into a phenomenon that has transformed the loose change of its earliest adopters into millions …

First published on CapX: read more here

Trump has been consistent – and wrong – for decades

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Trumpism remains grotesquely fascinating. And as the Trump “administration” cavorts and capers its way to what increasingly looks like an early termination, there is still a small window of time in which to reflect on what Trump is, and how this extraordinarily compelling and talentless individual has captured and destroyed the 45th American presidency.

Into this field of debate comes a new book entitled Donald Trump: The Making of a World View. The authors, Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman, are both historians, at Cambridge and King’s College London, respectively. They have clipped speeches and trawled transcriptions of interviews going back to 1980, when Donald Trump started to make known his views on world affairs. Their conclusion is this: at least ideologically, Trump is not as erratic as he seems. On the contrary, he is drearily consistent …

First published on CapX: read more here

Erdogan’s authoritarianism is fuelled by resentment

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the strongman president of Turkey, scourge of liberals and secularists, promoter of conservative Islam and Islamism throughout the Middle East, baiter of the West, and jailer of journalists and judges, has been very lucky in his enemies.

Piece by piece Erdogan has overturned a century’s worth of carefully constructed secularism in the largest and most dynamic economy in the Middle East, and he has done so with the unwitting assistance of his political opponents. Like a martial art master, Erdogan draws his enemy close. Then he turns and uses his opponent’s weight against him. Effectively, he weaves a political narrative that casts whoever opposes him as representative of a murky, secretive and privileged order …

First published on CapX: read more here

South Sudan: a lesson to the world in how not to build a nation

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There is no standard definition of what makes a country viable as a country. What are the materials, the history, the culture, the institutions that allow a territory to grow into a something more than just a geography of resources? What are the building blocks of an accountable and democratic state?

Whatever these ingredients are, we know what happens when they are not present. And nowhere is this lesson clearer than in the case of South Sudan.

Only five years ago, South Sudan was the newest and most optimistic member of the community of nations, a state-building project backed by the goodwill and expertise and cash of well-intentioned supporters around the world.

Today, the country has imploded into a fireball of violence and suffering, an off-the-radar disaster comparable in its scale to Syria (the number of refugees recently passed the one million mark). In other words, the outcome of the project has been as disastrous as its ambition was great. But why?

First published on CapX: read more here

Leadership Lessons From Hipster Central

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According to one estimate there are about 11,000 business books published every year. Many sell well and some sell millions: business advice is very big business. Companies and entrepreneurs – the active ingredients of capitalism – seem to be weirdly desperate to find out how to operate the machinery of capitalism. Leadership, teamwork and organizing are all in the mix, but what they really want to know usually boils down to this: how do you run an efficient organization?

First published on CapX: read more here

A Picture Of Cape Verde

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In the islands of Cape Verde off the coast of West Africa there is an institution called the aluguer. Perhaps ‘institution’ is too weak a word. The aluguer – from the Portuguese verb ‘to rent’ – may at first sight seem nothing more than a shared taxi in the form of a Toyota van or a flatbed pickup truck. In reality the aluguer is the backbone of society and economy: not just a bus but also an informal courier and messaging service, a small-scale cash-banking network, an ambulance, a limousine, and a theatre on wheels. Take an aluguer through the cobbled streets of Mindelo or the mountain roads of Santo Antao and you will see more than the view.

First published on CapX: read more here

The Descent Of Egypt

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In January this year an Italian graduate student from Cambridge University disappeared in Cairo. Giulio Regeni had been researching independent trade unions in Egypt; on the evening of January 25 he was on his way to meet an academic colleague from the British University in Cairo. According to the Associated Press news agency Regeni got as far as a security check in a metro station close to his apartment. Then he disappeared.

First published on CapX: read more here

Chinese Money On Sunset Boulevard

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Wang Jianlin is China’s richest man. With a personal fortune of over $30 billion, he owns businesses that range from department stores to commercial property, from e-commerce to media to tourism. But that is not enough for Wang Jianlin: in the past he has made no secret of the fact he also wants to be a Hollywood film mogul. And this year his dream has been fulfilled.

First published on CapX: read more here

The True Cost Of Surveillance

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The Conservative government recently published proposals for new legislation to regulate spying in the UK. The draft Investigatory Powers Bill seeks to do many things, particularly gathering up powers already contained in a lot of different existing laws and subjecting them all to a coherent oversight procedure. Most of the discussion generated by these proposals has been about the implications for liberty. But there is another and related dimension that should be considered, and that is the potential for the Bill to harm the economy.

First published on CapX: read more here

We Are The New Georgians

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Sometimes it seems as if Britain is surrounded by existential threat. Armed extremism, financial  upheaval, cultural confusion – all can feel like they could break a brittle, uncertain society. But these are only the headline concerns of the day. Deep beneath the headlines there is another country where real change happens, sometimes slowly, and sometimes not. At this level Britain really is in a state of transformation. It is nothing to do with terrorism, or politics, or religion. It is a lot to do with new machines, new materials, new algorithms, and new patterns of behaviour. These are things that are changing the shape of minds as well as environment, and what is really striking is just how relaxed Britain is about it. To find a historical parallel for this era of peaceful redrafting of the fundamentals one has to go back at least two and a half centuries. It is Georgian Britain that offers the best guide to what is happening today, and some clues to what might happen next.

First published on CapX: read more here

The World’s Most Pointless War

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Africa has had a good press this last few years. It deserves it. In most countries life is getting better, and people have more power to work, to spend, to choose. But not everywhere. And particularly not in one country that few know, that fewer have visited, and that today is on fire.

First published on CapX: read more here

Here It Comes: The Next Meltdown

emerging-markets-crash-1400x788The average cycle time between financial crashes is ten years. A decade is about as long as it takes for bad debts to be purged, for financial risk-taking to swing from appetite to aversion and back to appetite again. In other words, the world is about due for some trouble. The only question – usually – is where the epicentre will be. But that’s easy: it will be in the emerging economies.

First published on CapX: read more here.

 

Russia’s World of Digital Control

red-web-1400x788In the English language the words ‘spy’ and ‘Russia’ are fellow travellers. The Russian state is secretive by nature and the methods of the secret state are the methods of the spy services: surveillance, interception, and information control. All of these techniques are part of the political management system of Putin’s Russia, and they have all been greatly enhanced in the last fifteen years. Thanks to two outstanding Russian journalists, Irina Borogan and Andrei Soldatov, we now know much more about how Russia uses and co-opts the worlds of digital communication and information flow to monitor its citizens at home, and shape their world view. On a recent visit to London, Borogan and Soldatov joined CapX for a conversation about their recent book The Red Web on Russia’s domestic programme of surveillance and censorship.

First published on CapX: read more here.

Chinese Competition? You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

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What’s the biggest economic risk from China? A GDP growth crash? A bond price meltdown? Low-cost knock-off competition? Copyright theft and counterfeiting? Actually it is quite likely that the answer is none of the above. The biggest risk from China is competition, but not the sort of cheap-and-cheerful competition that Western companies have grown used to. It’s something much more scary than that.

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China Hasn’t Crashed. Yet.

1chinaFor as long as I can remember I have been reading financial reports about the coming ‘hard landing’ in China – and explanations from the financial wizardry as to why there won’t be a hard landing as long as the Communist Party is in charge and in funds. Last week it seemed that the wizardry had finally been proved wanting, with consecutive days of near 10% falls in the mainland and Hong Kong stock markets, and enough downs and ups in Western markets to make it seem as if the day of doom was close to hand. Is this the end of the China boom? Is it the beginning of the next recession? Could this be the final, violent phase of the global crash that began in 2007?

First published in Capx.co: read more here

Corbyn Has Found the Fear

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Jeremy Corbyn, an awkward unclubbable left-wing activist who thinks Venezuela is the model of how a society should be managed, is coming closer to winning the leadership of the Labour Party, Britain’s main opposition party. Of all possible responses from Labour to its humiliation in the recent general election, the Corbyn surge is the least-expected. The Conservatives cannot believe their luck. The focus-group centrists of Labour are banging their heads on their keyboards in despair. The great mass of disinterested onlookers are going ‘what? who? why?’, before changing channel. And Corbyn surges on.

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India Needs a Total Reset

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Earlier this year, India’s finance minister used the occasion of his budget to declare a truce. There would be no more multi-billion tax raids on big foreign companies in India. Investors could rest easy: the days of ‘tax terrorism’ were over. One month later, the London-listed Cairn Energy opened a brown envelope to find that the Indian authorities were demanding $3.2 billion in extra tax. Cairn had just joined countless other investors who have learned that India’s economy is schizophrenic. It will extend one hand as a friend, and the other as an enemy. If India is to get anywhere near its massive potential, it needs treatment.

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How to Crack the Knowledge Code

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Why is Switzerland so rich? Why is Portugal so poor? And what exactly is the recipe for going from poor to rich? These are the sorts of questions that development economists and policy folk from a thousand think-tanks spend their days and nights puzzling over. But according to a group of economists and data-crunchers at Harvard’s Center for International Development, the answers may not be as elusive as some fear.

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