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Straight from the Specialists

The election question

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(This piece comes from Project Syndicate. The opinions expressed are the author’s own)

With street protests roiling democracies from Bangkok to Kyiv, the nature and legitimacy of elections are once again being questioned. Are popular elections an adequate criterion by which to judge a country’s commitment to democracy? Beginning next month, elections in Afghanistan and India will throw this question into even sharper relief.

Afghanistan will hold a presidential election on April 5. But a smooth electoral process is far from guaranteed – especially given that US President Barack Obama has already informed Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the United States and NATO have no choice but to withdraw their troops by the end of this year.

The US and NATO would prefer to avoid an abrupt and complete withdrawal – a preference that Afghanistan’s neighbors share, fearing that any resulting disorder would spill over their borders. The problem is that Karzai has refused to sign a painstakingly negotiated bilateral security agreement governing a post-2014 US-NATO mission in Afghanistan, leaving Obama with little choice but to begin contingency planning. The only conceivable alternative would be to await the next president’s inauguration, in the hope that Karzai’s successor would formally accept the agreement.

India’s decade of decay

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(This piece comes from Project Syndicate. The opinions expressed are the author’s own)

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has been in office since 2004, recently held what was only the second press conference of his current five-year term, which is rapidly approaching an inglorious end. Betraying his yearning for approval, Singh told the assembled journalists that he hoped that history would judge his tenure more kindly than his political adversaries do.

The return of the ugly American

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(This piece comes from Project Syndicate. The opinions expressed are the author’s own)

Nearly a month after American authorities arrested India’s deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, outside her children’s school and charged her with paying her Indian domestic worker a salary below the minimum wage, bilateral relations remain tense. India’s government has reacted with fury to the mistreatment of an official enjoying diplomatic immunity, and public indignation has been widespread and nearly unanimous. So, has an era of steadily improving ties between the two countries come to an end?

The resurrection of Congress

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(This piece comes from Project Syndicate. The opinions expressed are the author’s own)

The overwhelming victory of the Indian National Congress in elections in the important southern state of Karnataka in early May has shaken up the country’s political scene. India’s troubled ruling party had appeared headed downhill in the build-up to the next general elections, which must be held by May 2014. Now, following its huge win in Karnataka, all bets are off.

Why India slowed

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This piece comes from Project Syndicate. The opinions expressed are the author’s own

For a country as poor as India, growth should be what Americans call a “no-brainer.” It is largely a matter of providing public goods: decent governance, security of life and property, and basic infrastructure like roads, bridges, ports, and power plants, as well as access to education and basic health care.

Is finance too competitive?

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The opinions expressed are his own

Many economists are advocating for regulation that would make banking “boring” and uncompetitive once again. After a crisis, it is not uncommon to hear calls to limit competition. During the Great Depression, the head of the United States National Recovery Administration argued that employers were being forced to lay off workers as a result of “the murderous doctrine of savage and wolfish competition, [of] dog-eat-dog and devil take the hindmost.” He appealed for a more collusive business environment, with the profits made from consumers to be shared between employers and workers.

Concerns about the deleterious effects of competition have always existed, even among those who are not persuaded that government diktat can replace markets, or that intrinsic human goodness is a more powerful motivator than monetary reward and punishment. Where the debate has been most heated, however, concerns the effects of competition on incentives to innovate.

Is inequality inhibiting growth?

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By Raghuram Rajan
The opinions expressed are his own

To understand how to achieve a sustained recovery from the Great Recession, we need to understand its causes. And identifying causes means starting with the evidence.

Two facts stand out. First, overall demand for goods and services is much weaker, both in Europe and the United States, than it was in the go-go years before the recession. Second, most of the economic gains in the U.S. in recent years have gone to the rich, while the middle class has fallen behind in relative terms.

The hazard of second best

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By Mohamed A. El-Erian

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

NEWPORT BEACH – The international community risks settling for second best on two key issues to be discussed this month at global meetings in Washington, DC: the lingering (if currently somewhat dormant) European debt crisis, and the selection of the World Bank’s next president. It is not too late to change course, but doing so will require the United States and governments in Europe to resist harmful habits, and emerging countries to follow up effectively on recent initiatives.

Scary oil

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

Today’s fragile global economy faces many risks: the risk of another flare-up of the euro zone crisis; the risk of a worse-than-expected slowdown in China; and the risk that economic recovery in the United States will fizzle (yet again). But no risk is more serious than that posed by a further spike in oil prices.

Egypt’s unfinished revolution will succeed

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By Mohamed A. El-Erian

(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

NEWPORT BEACH – A year ago, Egyptians of all ages and religions took to the streets and, in just 18 days of relatively peaceful protests, removed a regime that had ruled over them with an iron fist for 30 years. Empowered by an impressive yet leaderless movement – largely of young people – the country’s citizens overcame decades of fear to reclaim a voice in their future.While much has been achieved since those euphoric times, Egypt’s revolution today is, unfortunately, incomplete and imperfect – so much so that some now doubt whether it will fully succeed. I believe that the doubters will be proven wrong.

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