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The Economist Corner – essential readings IX

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Labour markets

Good intentions

Employers are becoming increasingly optimistic about hiring new workers

FEARS of a “jobless recovery” in the West have abounded ever since the world economy returned from the abyss last year. For some, the latest quarterly survey from Manpower, a global employment-services company, brings timely good news. Of the 36 countries included in Manpower’s survey, employers in 30 of them are increasingly bullish about their hiring plans for the next three months compared with the third quarter of 2009. Only in five countries, all of them in debt-laden Europe, are employers expecting negative hiring activity over the next quarter. This compares favourably, however, to the seven European countries with a negative outlook just three months ago. The survey suggests that the BICs (Brazil, India and China) bounce will continue. The three countries, along with Taiwan, report the most positive hiring plans in the survey, with China reporting its strongest hiring plans since the survey began there in 2005.

The Republicans

What’s wrong with America’s right

Too much anger and too few ideas. America needs a better alternative to Barack Obama

HAPPY days are here again for the Republicans, or so you might think. Barack Obama’s popularity rating is sagging well below 50%. Passing health-care reform has done nothing to help him; most Americans believe he has wasted their money—and their view of how he is dealing with the economy is no less jaded. Although growth has returned, the latest jobs figures are dismal and house repossessions continue to rise. And now his perceived failure to get a grip on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is hurting him; some critics call it his Hurricane Katrina; others recall Jimmy Carter’s long, enervating hostage crisis in Iran. Sixty per cent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

All 435 seats in the House are up for grabs in November. The polls portend heavy losses for the Democrats, who currently enjoy a 39-seat majority there. Quite possibly, they will lose control of it. The Republicans stand less chance of winning the Senate, where a third of the seats are contested this year, but they should win enough to make it almost impossible for the Democrats to break a filibuster there by picking off a Republican or two. The second two years of Mr Obama’s presidency look like being a lot tougher than the first.

Malice in Wonderland

Mr Obama deserves to be pegged back. This newspaper supported him in 2008 and backed his disappointing-but-necessary health-care plan. But he has done little to fix the deficit, shown a zeal for big government and all too often given the impression that capitalism is something unpleasant he found on the sole of his sneaker. America desperately needs a strong opposition. So it is sad to report that the American right is in a mess: fratricidal, increasingly extreme on many issues and woefully short of ideas, let alone solutions.

This matters far beyond America’s shores. For most of the past half-century, conservative America has been a wellspring of new ideas—especially about slimming government. At a time when redesigning the state is a priority around the world, the right’s dysfunctionality is especially unfortunate.

The Republicans at the moment are less a party than an ongoing civil war (with, from a centrist point of view, the wrong side usually winning). There is a dwindling band of moderate Republicans who understand that they have to work with the Democrats in the interests of America. There is the old intolerant, gun-toting, immigrant-bashing, mainly southern right which sees any form of co-operation as treachery, even blasphemy. And muddying the whole picture is the tea-party movement, a tax revolt whose activists (some clever, some dotty, all angry) seem to loathe Bush-era free-spending Republicans as much as they hate Democrats. Egged on by a hysterical blogosphere and the ravings of Fox News blowhards, the Republican Party has turned upon itself. Read more in The Economist.

America’s right

The risks of “Hell, no!”

The tea-party movement is pushing the Republicans to the right. That may make it harder to recapture the White House from Barack Obama 

IN MOST democracies, politicians have a wretched time in opposition. America arranges things differently. Even in opposition, the minority party can still play a powerful role. It can propose, shape and—thanks to the arcane filibuster rules of the Senate—frequently block legislation. It can run big state governments and try out new ideas there. And because elections in America are so frequent, it never has to wait long for the next chance to win back the allegiance of the national electorate.

For America’s Republicans the 17 months since Barack Obama replaced George Bush in the White House have been unexpectedly sweet. Fewer than 50% of Americans now approve of the way he is doing his job, down from the high 60s at the beginning of 2009. His insouciant handling of the oil spill in the Gulf is under fire from all sides. And his big victory over health-insurance reform has not turned his ratings round. On the contrary, the Republicans hope that “Obamacare” is going to give them even bigger gains in November when 36 seats in the Senate, all the seats in the House, and 37 governorships will be up for grabs in the mid-term elections.

What have the Republicans done to deserve this? Nothing at all, say the Democrats, apart from leaving behind an economic catastrophe and then being as obstructive as possible while Mr Obama struggles to clean up the mess. Democrats now call the Grand Old Party the “party of No”. Not a single House Republican voted for the stimulus package in January 2009. In the end, not a single Republican in the House or Senate voted in favour of health reform. The Republicans showed grudging support for financial regulation but only, Democrats say, because public anger at Wall Street left them no choice.

Republicans make no apology for their obstructionism. When thousands of them gathered in New Orleans in April for the four-yearly Southern Republican Leadership Conference, the word from the speakers was not just No. It was, as Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, put it, “Hell No!” Even mainstream Republican politicians now portray themselves as the thin red line defending America’s constitution, liberties and moral values from an arrogant president who is determined to appease America’s enemies, drown future generations in debt and turn God’s own country over to a godless socialism. In New Orleans Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and possible presidential candidate, called Mr Obama “the most radical president in American history”, posing as great a threat to America as the Soviet Union once did.

Will Americans believe this apocalyptic narrative? The fast-brewing success of the tea-party movement, a widespread mutiny against big government that erupted after Mr Obama’s election, suggests that many will. The media have a habit of lampooning the tea-partiers as ultra-conservatives and closet racists. But these people tend to be better educated and better-off than the average. Most are middle-aged and white. They care more about the fate of the economy and the growth of big government than culture-war issues such as abortion and religion. They strongly disapprove of Mr Obama, or at least of what he is doing. And they are angry. Read more in The Economist.


Written by Theophyle

June 13, 2010 at 2:31 pm

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