What countries are the most and least miserable? In what follows, I update my annual Misery Index calculations. A Misery Index was first constructed by economist Art Okun as a way to provide President Lyndon Johnson with a snapshot of the economy.
President-elect Donald Trump appears focused on domestic policy. He wants to rebuild infrastructure, cut taxes, reduce imports, save jobs, streamline regulation and more. While he seems to have strong views on international issues, he seems to lack “nuance.” He won’t be able to escape foreign controversies, but he could avoid creating his own.
As expected, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Philippines was exultant. Beijing responded angrily. Territorial disputes pose a perennial international problem. Great powers, including the U.S., typically refuse to be bound by the decisions of others when they believe important interests to be at stake.
British voters delivered a shock to global markets on June 23rd. with their 52-48 percent vote to leave the European Union. When the turmoil subsides, more sober-minded Brits may come to regret their decision to abandon their four-decade membership in the continental-sized common market.
The NATO-Russia Council met in Brussels for the first time in nearly two years. “We are not afraid of dialogue,” announced alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Alas, the talks didn’t get very far. Afterward he explained: “it was reconfirmed that we disagree on the facts, on the narrative and the responsibilities in and around Ukraine.” Indeed, he added, “there were profound disagreements.”
China is not known for its commitment to human rights. While the Chinese people remain much freer than during Mao Zedong’s rule, President Xi Jinping has been cracking down on dissent inside and outside of the Communist Party. For good reason people of good will in America wish to encourage Beijing to better respect its citizens’ civil and political liberties.
The history of China’s banking system in the first half of the 20th century offers powerful insights into the conduct of monetary policy and the consequences of government intrusion into banking and monetary institutions that are well worth considering today. Monetary economists and monetary historians would do well to study China’s example.
“Syrians are everywhere,” an aid worker told me. “Everybody is poor now.” Well over a million Syrians are scattered across Lebanon, many in small “tented settlements.” Almost half live in sub-standard housing; many lack fuel and warm clothes for winter. The government spends upwards of $1 billion annually to care for refugees and local residents are losing patience with the influx. Nearly a third of the country’s population is made up of people fleeing one conflict (Syria) or another (Iraq, Palestine).
The threat Islamic extremism and ISIS in particular poses to security and eventually to longer term business and investment conditions was underscored in November when parts of Paris were attacked by gunmen and suicide bombers. Some 129 people were murdered and hundreds wounded. The Paris incidents were preceded this year by numerous onslaughts.
American voters face a dizzying array of 2016 presidential candidates — 21 at last count. Their positions on economic issues likely will command voters’ greatest interest. Historically, unless the country is at war, foreign policy has not been an issue of great interest during presidential elections. But this time may be different as two critical issues weigh on the minds of many Americans.
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