The Ticker Quick Views on Politics, Economics and Finance
Switzerland, a bastion of moderation and discretion, doesn't often go for radical change, especially where corporations are concerned. Yet Swiss voters on Sunday overwhelmingly approved a referendum that will shackle boards and executives and, above all, limit CEO pay.
The Swiss government, lawmakers and chief executive officers say the changes are so severe that companies may be forced to decamp beyond Swiss borders. Jobs will be lost and economic growth will falter, they warn.READ MORE
Arthur Brooks has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today that starts with a kernel of truth: Republicans are in trouble because most Americans think they don’t care about people like them or about the less fortunate. But he gets the diagnosis completely wrong, saying Republicans can fix this by refocusing their messaging. In fact, this perception is accurate: Conservative policies aren't good for the middle class or the poor.
Brooks argues that conservative policies are already good for the poor, and that would be clear if only they were framed differently. For example, he writes:READ MORE
Last week, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave investors and analysts a pleasant surprise, announcing that his country’s budget deficit had fallen to 6.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2012, far below the European Commission’s estimate.
Unfortunately, the lower number is probably wishful thinking on Rajoy's part, because he excluded the costs associated with recapitalizing Spain’s banks. The European Commission's estimate was much higher, at 10.2 percent of GDP, because it included them.READ MORE
As I discuss in my column, Steven Brill's Time magazine cover story last week is an eye-opening expose of U.S. health care. He could also have mentioned that our system is the most expensive in the developed world and that the gap with other countries isn't narrowing.
In 2010, the last year for which data are available, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. spent 17.6 percent of its gross domestic product on health care. That's more than 50 percent more than Canada, the U.K. or Germany, all of which spend less than 12 percent of GDP on health care.READ MORE
The U.S. State Department's new report on the Keystone XL oil pipeline is making the project's opponents uneasy, by acknowledging that whether or not the pipeline is built, heavy crude will still be extracted from Canada's oil sands. It also points out that refineries on the Gulf Coast will keep refining heavy crude from somewhere -- some of it shipped from Canada and some from Venezuela and Mexico.
That's not exactly surprising. There was little reason to expect that, in drafting a second environmental impact report on the pipeline, the State Department would suddenly come up with reasons to deny a permit that weren't in the report that came out a year and a half ago.READ MORE
U.S. Republicans think they have nothing to lose from the sequestration. But nobody knows what the effects of the federal agencies’ spending cuts will be. Will it be chaos? Or will it be bearable? Your guess is as good as mine.
Until we have the answer, Republicans do have something to lose: the credibility of their own argument for spending cuts.READ MORE
Republicans, when pushing back on the claim that their party is in dire straits, are fond of pointing out that the party holds 30 governorships. But there are increasing strains between Republican governors and national conservatives -- because the heterodoxy that has made it possible for Republican leaders to thrive at the state level is not what conservatives want.
I'm not just talking about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Seven other governors, many of them with high national profiles, have declared their intentions to accept Medicaid expansion funds. None of these governors are on the Conservative Political Action Conference agenda either. Beyond that group of eight, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell cut a deal with Democrats creating a commission that may lead to Medicaid expansion -- in order to gather their support for his transportation funding reform, which conservatives also hate because it raises taxes.READ MORE
This morning in China, the state-owned television network had an unusual announcement: At 1:30 p.m. it would air a two-hour special culminating in the televised execution of four Burmese drug runners convicted of murdering 13 Chinese sailors in 2011.
This sort of spectacle is not without precedent in Chinese history. During the imperial era, emperors held leisurely executions at court. During the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards held them wherever was convenient. In both cases, the purpose was clear: impress upon the Chinese audience the consequences of defying the state and the Communist Party.READ MORE
(Corrects second paragraph to reflect that Rodman appeared in matches for World Championship Wrestling, not the World Wrestling Federation.)
Sports and politics have a long tradition of intersecting, often with positive results. Probably the most famous example is the U.S. ping-pong team’s 1971 visit to China. More recently, two NFL players, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe, have used their status as professional athletes to advocate for same-sex marriage.READ MORE
Federal spending cuts known as sequestration officially kicked in today, but most of us probably haven't noticed. In the first days of sequestration, airport security lines won't be markedly longer. Teachers won't be thrown out of classrooms. Unsafe food won't suddenly appear on supermarket shelves (at least no more than it already does).
But don't let these noncatastrophic consequences fool you: The slow bleed of sequestration will hurt the U.S. economy and undermine perhaps its best chance for a robust recovery.READ MORE
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron's tactic of pledging to claw back powers from the European Union and then hold a referendum on whether to leave or stay in the bloc has failed its first election test.
That was the general consensus in the U.K. news media this morning, after Cameron's Conservative Party was reduced to a humiliating third place in a by-election in the southern constituency of Eastleigh. The Tories were beaten not only by their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats (who held on to the seat), but also by the UK Independence Party.READ MORE
We find ourselves today on the brink of yet another manufactured crisis in Washington. By now, almost everyone has heard of the automatic spending cuts, or sequestration, set to go into effect tomorrow.
The Barack Obama administration has spent the past few days describing the doomsday scenarios that will play out if an agreement isn't reached to avoid the cuts -- and it seems as if Republicans and Democrats alike want to find a way to avoid them. Only neither side has been able to reach a compromise that would actually satisfy all parties involved.READ MORE
Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru are discussing the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI.
Margaret: Ramesh, as Pope Benedict XVI took off this afternoon from the Vatican, I thought of Richard Nixon, another leader who resigned and left the seat of power by helicopter. Like Pope Benedict, Nixon was involved in a cover-up. Unlike the pope, he paid a price.READ MORE
The European Union is about to do something remarkably lame: ban bonuses that are more than twice bankers' salaries.
The rules, which would limit bonuses to one times salary -- two times base pay is possible, but only if a supermajority of shareholders approve -- are supposed to take effect next year. The cap would apply to EU bankers anywhere in the world.READ MORE
The website Going Concern, which covers the accounting industry in the same way the New York Post covers Lindsay Lohan, has a hilarious article that spotlights a Big Four accounting firm's promotion of ... cuddling.
Yes, cuddling. It seems KPMG LLP has sent postcards to some of its employees under the title "Health Benefits of Cuddling." For those accountants who aren't familiar with the term, it explains: "Cuddling or hugging, a kind of physical relationship, involves holding or closing your arms around the back, waist, or neck of another individual."READ MORE
Over at Slate (naturally), Matt Yglesias writes that, as ways of cutting the deficit go, the sequester actually isn’t so bad. He says: “if you're a ‘defense’ dove like me and have a non-utopian view of the domestic discretionary budget then this looks like we're mostly talking about harmless spending cuts.” Therefore, he says, it's better to let it hit than to repeal it.
This is wrongheaded for three reasons.READ MORE
Haruhiko Kuroda, the government's nominee to become Governor of the Bank of Japan, is a compromise. He agrees with Shinzo Abe, the new prime minister, that BOJ policy has been wrong. He has warned about the perils of deflation and called for more aggressive monetary easing. But so far, unlike Kazumasa Iwata, who was once in the running, he hasn't said the central bank should buy foreign bonds.
A decision to buy foreign bonds would make driving the yen lower an explicit goal and say "new rules" with startling clarity -- but it's controversial. Abe backed away from the idea at the recent G20 meeting. The Diet might have balked at Iwata. Kuroda stands a better chance of being confirmed.
Six weeks ago, the Slovenian daily newspaper Delo wrote that the government of Janez Jansa was “clinically dead.” The only question then was how long it would be before it actually expired. Yesterday, the parliament in Ljubljana gave the government its coup de grace: The conservative Jansa was out and center-left politician Alenka Bratusek has 15 days to form a new government, otherwise Slovenia is heading for early elections.
Bratusek and her Positive Slovenia party will probably succeed in cobbling together a new administration with the opposition Social Democrats, among others. She says she has four priorities: “kick-starting growth, balancing public finances without hampering growth, protecting and developing the public sector, and restoring people’s trust in the institutions of the state.”READ MORE
At the end of multi-party talks today about its nuclear program, Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili called the two-day session in Kazakhstan a "turning point." Did he mean it, or was he stretching out negotiations to buy time for the expansion of Iran's capacity to build nuclear arms?
Iran's interlocutors -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. -- will have a better idea once Iran officially responds to their latest proposal to ease sanctions in exchange for Iran's curtailing of its nuclear program. Technical experts are to meet next in Istanbul on March 18, with high-level negotiations resuming in Kazakhstan on April 5.READ MORE