The Great Debate UK

from Felix Salmon:

How not to compete with payday lenders

I'm in the UK at the moment, where it's quite amusing to see the amount of attention paid to national institutions for which there is no American equivalent. Obviously, there's the way in which a woman having a baby became front-page news for days on end, generating astonishing quantities of coverage despite the fact that all the facts could be summed up in a single tweet. And then, on the financial side of things, you have the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Yes, financial. The head of the Church of England gave a long interview to a magazine called Total Politics, and if you get through the first 3,000 words or so, you'll eventually find two paragraphs on the subject of payday lending. The archbishop says he would like to compete with High Street payday lenders, helping to build up a network of "credit unions that are both engaged in their communities and are much more professional".

This incredibly vague plan, which even Welby admits is a "decade-long process", was treated as a major announcement by the UK press: the BBC covered it at great length, and got reactions from senior politicians of all stripes; AFP ran a story under the headline "Church of England declares war on payday loans firm"; the Economist weighed in on historical parallels; and the FT flooded the zone, providing a news story ("Church of England to take on payday lenders"), a video, and a column from John McDermott.

This is all pretty impressive given that what we're talking about here is the ultimate in vaporware. Welby didn't really announce anything, there is no real plan in place for anybody to compete with the payday lenders, and in fact, if you read what he says carefully, it's good news, not bad news, for those he is criticizing. According to Welby, when he met the head of Wonga, the biggest payday lender in Britain, the bishop said to the businessman that "we’re not in the business of trying to legislate you out of existence, we’re trying to compete you out of existence". Which must have been music to Wonga's ears -- since competition from the Church is the last thing Wonga is worried about. The big risks, for Wonga, are legislative.

from The Great Debate:

The short and long of emerging markets

Fickle investors have spurned emerging markets in recent weeks, but this rout has obscured a more alluring vista out on the horizon.

Developing economies now account for 50 percent of global output and 80 percent of economic expansion and are projected to continue growing far faster than developed nations. They are expected to possess an even larger share of global growth, wealth and investment opportunities in years to come. So much so that the labels investors use to classify some of these nations will change as the developing develop and the emerging emerge into more potent economic powers

from Nicholas Wapshott:

The birth of a new prince

Now, after a torrid summer marred by natural tragedies, needless death, and devastating destruction, comes undiluted happy news. Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, has given birth to a prince. So, the first child of a commoner to be welcomed into the British royal family in modern times (Wallis Simpson tried to gatecrash in 1936 and was promptly asked to leave) has delivered an heir to extend the Windsors’ influence into the next generation.

The birth has set off genuine rejoicing around the world as a harmless piece of fun that only a humbug could find offensive. And the impeccably authentic upstairs/downstairs soap opera that makes “Downtown Downton Abbey” look like “The Days of Our Lives” has provided another romantic twist in an endlessly colorful plotline that began nearly two thousand years ago with the Kings of the Angles.

from The Great Debate:

Europe’s leaders should boycott Putin’s Olympic ceremony

In February 2014 the Russian elite will gather in the gleaming super stadiums of Sochi -- governors and oligarchs, police chiefs and “political technologists” -- to thunderously applaud as Vladimir Putin opens his Winter Olympics.

He has been dreaming of this for years.

But this is not a ceremony European leaders should attend.

In Sochi the Russian elite wants to dumbfound the EU -- not only with synchronized ice skating and Kremlin-coordinated firework displays -- but with a ceremony underscoring the absolute power of their leader.

from John Lloyd:

In Britain, a summer of quiet revolution

The British Isles are sentries in a turning world. The monarchy, pageantry, the mediaeval House of Lords, titles, accents, the established Church of England with the Queen at its head -- they all give the adroit illusion of continuity and the primacy of tradition over change.

But this summer there are diverse changes modernizing the Isles. These revolutions, small and large, will not be reversed, and will contribute significantly to a redefinition of what it is to be British (and Irish). The illusions of tradition will remain, as diligently served as ever. The core is hollowing out.

from The Great Debate:

Derivative rules: Global problem needs global solution

The 2008 financial crisis demonstrated how interconnected the global financial system is. What began as a real estate bubble fueled by subprime mortgages in many states ballooned into a global financial panic of unprecedented magnitude. Bundles of poorly underwritten mortgages generated toxic derivatives bet on in a global market. When the dust settled, there was broad agreement that not only did we need a new financial regulatory regime, it had to be globally coordinated.

The United States, the European Union, Britain, Japan and other nations should come up with a regulatory regime that works across all borders. This does not have to be the exact same set of rules and regulations, but rather compatible systems, based on a common set of definitions and structures.

from The Great Debate:

Historically, Egypt’s revolution is more of the same

The history of revolutions tells us one sad fact: Egypt is in for a long period of violence, chaos and upheaval before it even begins to enter into the Promised Land of democracy.

Many Western politicians and commentators expressed surprise and even alarm over Egypt's revolution, as the military ousted President Mohamed Mursi from power. Yet, examining the history of revolutions shows that these upheavals usually destroy more than they build – and, over the last 400 years, have rarely created durable democracies.

from The Great Debate:

Egypt: Elections do not make a democracy

An election is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for democracy.  That's the takeaway from the continuing upheaval in Egypt.

Last year, Mohamed Mursi became Egypt's first freely elected president.  Mursi won with 51.7 percent of the vote -- slightly more than the 51.1 percent that Barack Obama won in 2012. Mursi was the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that had been banned and persecuted in Egypt for 60 years.

from The Great Debate:

How Russia puts business behind bars

President Vladimir Putin at a news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

The Russian Duma approved its much anticipated amnesty for entrepreneurs on July 2, seeking to halt the legal onslaught against the Russian business community. More than 100,000 Russian businesspeople are now either in prison or have been subject to criminal proceedings, according to Boris Titov, Russia’s official ombudsman for the defense of the rights of entrepreneurs. He maintains that the majority are innocent.  Releasing them -- and improving Russia’s overall business climate -- remains critical as the Russian economy continues stumbling along with low growth and falling revenues.

from The Great Debate:

What just happened in Egypt?

It was not supposed to turn out this way: Only a year after Egyptians freely elected Mohamed Mursi as their president for a four-year term, he was removed by a military decree. This sets in motion a “road map” for a new transitional period leading to another experiment akin to the period following the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The ambivalence was hard to miss. The sheikh of Al-Azhar Mosque, Egypt’s storied and influential institution, was there to lend legitimacy to the military decree. But his words told the story. He was compelled by sharia, he said, to choose the lesser of two evils in supporting early elections. But the ambivalence of the thousands of liberals who joined together in the protests at Tahrir Square and other public squares was even greater.

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