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Help Activate Subscribe Monday July 24th 2006 Welcome LOG OUT = requires subscription My Account Manage my newsletters ONLINE FEATURES PRINT EDITION Full contents Enlarge current cover Past issues/regional covers GLOBAL AGENDA POLITICS THIS WEEK BUSINESS THIS WEEK OPINION Leaders Letters WORLD United States The Americas Asia Middle East & Africa Europe Britain Country Briefings Cities Guide SURVEYS BUSINESS Management Reading Business Education Executive Dialogue FINANCE & ECONOMICS Economics Focus Economics A-Z SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY Technology Quarterly PEOPLE Obituary BOOKS & ARTS Style Guide MARKETS & DATA Weekly Indicators Currencies Big Mac Index DIVERSIONS RESEARCH TOOLS CLASSIFIEDS DELIVERY OPTIONS E-mail Newsletters Mobile Edition RSS Feeds Economist Intelligence Unit Economist Conferences The World In Intelligent Life CFO Roll Call European Voice EuroFinance Conferences Economist Diaries and Business Gifts Cities Guide Country Briefings Audio interviews Classifieds Print Edition April 16th 2005 The world this week Politics this week Business this week Leaders Simpler taxes The flat-tax revolution Iraq's government Step by step World economy A call to action China, Japan and the UN A collision in East Asia Mexico's presidential election How not to defeat an awkward candidate MG Rover Greed and cowardice Letters On Turkey, Africa's agriculture, the United Nations, statistics, Christopher Columbus, liars, Japan, America's deficit Special Report Nepal Himalayan horrors United States Californian politics Is Arnold in trouble? George Bush's appointments Bolton wanderer This sporting life Nine lives needed Manhattan's new stadium To build or not to build Children and cancer Unseen and underfought Thespians in Louisiana Come play with me Lexington Time for him to go Correction: American cotton subsidies The Americas Politics in Mexico A would-be president heads for political martyrdom Canada The strange death of Liberal Canada? Cuba's economy Hatfuls of dollars Cuba and its diaspora Sugar and spice The Caribbean Court Justice in the islands Asia Animal and human health Sitting ducks China and Japan The genie escapes The flat-tax revolution Fine in theory, but it will never happen. Oh really? … More on this week's lead article Business Human resources China's people problem Carrefour, Tesco and Wal-Mart Growing pains KarstadtQuelle Middelhoff's way America's media industry Dolans at peace? Nestlé Discomfort food Tungsten Hard luck Internet addresses The name game Online gambling Jokers wild Face value The alchemist of paper Special Report Simplifying tax systems The case for flat taxes Tax compliance in America The burden of complexity Finance & Economics The world economy Running out of puff? Oil prices The bears appear The New York Stock Exchange Specialists stumble Lazard A strange floating world Financing German companies The loan factory Turkey On the trot? Economics focus Life after debt Marjorie Deane Internship Correction: Celtel Science & Technology Third-world medicine Hale and healthy Depression Talk is cheap Bacteriology Screening for screams Anthropology Marching backwards Previous print editions Apr 9th 2005 Apr 2nd 2005 Mar 26th 2005 Mar 19th 2005 Mar 12th 2005 More print editions and covers Subscribe Subscribe to the print edition Or buy a Web subscription for full access online RSS feeds Receive this page by RSS feed Advertisement Advertisement China and India Too early to tell Afghanistan Fewer poppies, for the present Pakistan Thou shalt not have fun Middle East & Africa Côte d'Ivoire A perilous peace deal Uganda A long-standing leader's mixed legacy Nelson Mandela's legacy What's in a name? Iraq At last, nearly a government America and the Middle East A spat, of sorts Europe Balkans Waiting for the European train Germany and the European Union The EU stops here France's EU referendum The noes go marching on Central Europe From Visegrad to Mitteleuropa Swedish politics A spoil-the-men's party Charlemagne Trading blows Britain The election The battleground Campaign diary On the trail MG Rover Last rights Domestic violence Have you stopped beating your wife? Equitable Life The blame game Northern Ireland Bang-bang, bling-bling Spending plans Much ado about nothing Political betting Punters v pollsters Bagehot Reading between the lines Articles flagged with this icon are printed only in the British edition of The Economist Books & Arts African contemporary art Spirits from the tree of life Corporate America The fall of Enron Anti-Americanism in France Mutual contempt Billie Holiday Portrait of a lady The Middle East Stentorian guard Short stories Landscape of memory Obituary Obituary Saul Bellow Economic and Financial Indicators Overview Output, demand and jobs Prices and wages GDP forecasts Money and interest rates The Economist commodity price index Stockmarkets Trade, exchange rates and budgets Stockmarket concentration Emerging-Market Indicators Overview Foreign debt Economy Financial markets About Economist.com | About The Economist | About Global Agenda | Media Directory | Staff Books | Advertising info | Job Opportunities | Contact us Copyright The Economist Newspaper Limited 2006. All rights reserved. Advertising Info | Legal disclaimer | Accessibility | Privacy policy | Terms & Conditions | Help Classifieds Jobs Health Sector Adviser Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea - New initiative for Australia’s aid program in PNG - Initia.... Business / Consumer WSI Internet - Start Your Own Business Business Opportunity - WSI Internet Start Your Own Busines.... Tenders Request for Proposals: Transaction Advisory Services for the Privatisation of the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation Jobs Program Director, Education Policy and Systems Program Director of Education Policy and Systems RTI is an independen.... Tenders Incorporation of the Seven Regional Water & Waste Water Utilities (RWU) in Kosovo Incorporation of the Seven Reg.... Jobs Director of Corporate Communications DIRECTOR OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS London - six figure package Th.... Sponsors' feature About sponsorship Proudly Presented by =nEo= Politics this week Apr 14th 2005 From The Economist print edition Mexico's presidential election The mayor of Mexico City, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, threatened a campaign of disobedience after Mexico's Congress voted to strip him of his immunity from prosecution over charges arising from a planning dispute. The vote is likely to prevent Mr López, Mexico's most popular politician, from standing in next year's presidential election. See article More bad news for Canada's minority Liberal government. More than 30 Liberal MPs joined the opposition to vote down a government bill to recognise same-sex marriage, while testimony at an inquiry into Liberal sleaze hurt the party's standing in the opinion polls, prompting speculation that the opposition would force an early election. See article Venezuela's government said it would sue El Nuevo Herald, a Miami newspaper, for libel. The paper published a report claiming that Venezuela's state oil company paid multi-million dollar commissions to intermediaries for oil sales. The Organisation of American States failed to elect a new secretary-general. After five ballots, the two candidates, Chile's José Miguel Insulza and Mexico's Luis Ernesto Derbez, each received 17 votes. The election will resume on May 2nd, possibly with new candidates. At its annual meeting, the Inter-American Development Bank put off until 2008 consideration of a request by China to become a member. China's economic links with Latin America are growing fast, but Japan and the United States are both reported to oppose its membership. A British court sentenced Kamel Bourgass, a failed asylum seeker from Algeria, to 17 years in jail for a plot to use ricin and other poisons in a terrorist plot. But another four defendants, accused of being part of an al-Qaeda terrorist cell, were acquitted. And the court heard that no ricin had actually been made. Undiplomatic John Bolton, George Bush's choice as ambassador to the United Nations, was quizzed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about hostile remarks he had made about the UN and about his conduct as an under-secretary at the State Department. See article California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, withdrew his plan to reform the state's public-pensions system; he will refine his plan with the legislature and public-sector workers, who bitterly opposed the reforms. See article About sponsorship AFP The House of Representatives voted to repeal permanently the estate tax. The bill now goes to the Senate, where it will have trouble overcoming an expected filibuster. A federal grand jury in New York indicted three Britons (currently held in Britain) in connection with an alleged plot to attack financial institutions in Washington, DC, New York and New Jersey. An intelligence tip-off regarding a possible threat last August led the Department of Homeland Security to raise its warnings in the targeted areas. Not quite the right reform The German government said it would introduce a federal minimum wage to combat low-cost competition, especially from its eastern neighbours. It is not clear how a minimum wage can help Germany's 5m unemployed. Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, joined survivors of Buchenwald to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp near Weimar. Some 56,000 people died at the hands of the Nazis there. The European Commission recommended that talks should begin with Serbia and Montenegro on a stabilisation and association agreement that could lead to European Union membership. See article Stanislav Gross, the Czech prime minister, stepped down to make way for a new government. Members of the European Parliament rejected reforms to clamp down on abuses of expenses and allowances. So MEPs will go on claiming reimbursement for bills they have not incurred, hardly a way of making their unloved institution more loved. The European Commission said that it would initiate action against Italy for breaching the stability pact's ceiling for budget deficits of 3% of GDP. The commission predicts that Italy's deficit will be 3.6% in 2005 and 4.6% in 2006. Not exactly friendly Chinese demonstrators staged anti-Japanese protests in Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. They oppose Japan's hopes of becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and object to a school textbook that glosses over Japanese wartime atrocities. China also called Japan's decision to issue drilling rights in the East China Sea a “provocation”. In what they called a “historic” meeting, China and India pledged to settle a Himalayan border dispute. See article Up to 150 pilgrims in India were feared drowned in the state of Madhya Pradesh after the gates on an upstream dam to the Narmada river were opened without warning. Around 300,000 Hindus had gathered to bathe in the river ahead of a new moon. Now govern After two months of wrangling, an Iraqi government began to take shape, after parliament's endorsement of Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, as president and after the nomination of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shia Arab, as prime minister. The main Shia alliance seemed likely to take the ministries of interior, finance and oil; the Kurds are set to oversee foreign affairs, while Sunni Arabs look likely to hold the posts of speaker and minister of defence. AP AP See article President George Bush told Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who was visiting him at his ranch in Texas, that there should be “no expansion of [Israeli] settlements” in the West Bank. But Mr Sharon did not rule out continuing to build new houses in existing settlements. See article The government of Sudan and rebels from the south of the country agreed to allow unarmed opposition groups more say in the drafting of a new national constitution that is supposed to unite the war-scarred nation. Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, asked anyone with allegations of corruption against himself or his family to make them public. A member of parliament suggested it would be more useful to audit the petroleum ministry, which Mr Obasanjo heads. Copyright 2006 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved. Business this week Apr 14th 2005 From The Economist print edition Tight-lipped Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, former chairman and CEO of AIG, invoked his constitutional rights by remaining silent at a deposition based on allegations that the insurance group manipulated its financial statements. Warren Buffett also spoke with the regulators (a unit of Mr Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway is central to the investigation) but said he knew little of the transactions. More turmoil at Morgan Stanley, as two of the investment bank's top stars resigned. Pressure is mounting on Philip Purcell, the bank's embattled chief executive, to stem a wave of defections. Fifteen current and former traders at the New York Stock Exchange were indicted on charges that they cheated investors out of $19m by manipulating stocks to enrich their own accounts. The criminal charges follow a two-year investigation by the US attorney's office in Manhattan. The NYSE, in a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, agreed to improve its monitoring of traders. See article The trial began in Equitable Life's 3.75 billion ($7.1 billion) claim for damages against Ernst & Young, its former auditor, and 15 former directors. Equitable, a British mutually owned assurer, blames the defendants for its near collapse in 2000. See article Fortis, a Belgian-Dutch banking and insurance group, said it would acquire Disbank, a Turkish bank, in a deal worth euro985m ($1.27 billion). The move makes Fortis the largest foreign retail bank in Turkey. See article Lazard, an international investment bank with a 157-year pedigree, gave details of its planned IPO. The proceeds will be used to buy out Lazard's chairman Michel David-Weill, whose family founded the bank, and other longstanding owners. Mr David-Weill had a public falling-out with CEO Bruce Wasserstein over the bank's strategy. See article Shop till you drop Tesco, the world's third-biggest retailer, posted a 21% jump in underlying pre-tax profit to 2.0 billion ($3.8 billion) for the year ending February 26th. One-fifth of the British company's sales came from its overseas stores. Carrefour, the world's second-biggest retailer, based in France, said first-quarter revenue increased by 5.2%; it too was helped by strong overseas sales. But KarstadtQuelle, a troubled German department-store chain, reported a net loss for 2004 of 1.6 billion ($2.0 billion). See article Harley-Davidson reported an 11% rise in net profit for the quarter ending March 27th compared with a year ago. But its shares fell as the celebrated motorcycle manufacturer reduced its production and About sponsorship earnings forecast for 2005 due to flat sales in America. Apple Computer recorded a 530% increase in net profit for the quarter ended March 26th compared with last year. Revenue rose by 70%. However, Apple's shares fell slightly as investors worried if such growth could continue. Siebel Systems, a software company based in California, named George Shaheen as its new chief executive. Michael Lawrie stepped down after failing to increase sales; last week the company warned that first-quarter sales would be far short of expectations. Genentech, a biotechnology company, posted a 61% rise in first-quarter net profit to $284m compared with a year ago. Revenue increased by 50% to $1.46 billion. Verizon bought a 13.7% stake in MCI held by Carlos Slim Helu, a Mexican billionaire and MCI's largest shareholder, for $1.1 billion in an effort to bolster its bid to buy the long-distance telecom operator. Cold comfort America's trade deficit hit another monthly high of $61.0 billion in February. Some analysts took comfort that the deficit with China narrowed slightly from $15.3 billion in January to $13.9 billion in February—even though this still represented a 67% increase on February 2004. See article The International Energy Agency revised down its forecast for the demand for oil in 2005, leading the oil price to fall to just above $50, its lowest level for seven weeks. See article The International Monetary Fund forecast that the world's economic growth would slow in 2005 to 4.3% from 5.1% in 2004. See article Wired Copper traders and executives met at the Fourth World Copper Conference in Chile, the world's biggest copper producer accounting for 37% of mine production last year. The primary interest was the metal's price, which hit a record high (for delivery in three months) of $3,338 a tonne this week before falling back. Global supplies are tight, driven by demand from China, which is expected to consume 22% of the world's copper in 2005. Copyright 2006 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved. Simpler taxes The flat-tax revolution Apr 14th 2005 From The Economist print edition Fine in theory, but it will never happen. Oh really? THE more complicated a country's tax system becomes, the easier it is for governments to make it more complicated still, in an accelerating process of proliferating insanity—until, perhaps, a limit of madness is reached and a spasm of radical simplification is demanded. In 2005, many of the world's rich countries seem far along this curve. The United States, which last simplified its tax code in 1986, and which spent the next two decades feverishly unsimplifying it, may soon be coming to a point of renewed fiscal catharsis. Other rich countries, with a tolerance for tax-code sclerosis even greater than America's, may not be so far behind. Revenue must be raised, of course. But is there no realistic alternative to tax codes which, as they discharge that sad but necessary function, squander resources on an epic scale and grind the spirit of the helpless taxpayer as well? The answer is yes: there is indeed an alternative, and experience is proving that it is an eminently realistic one. The experiment started in a small way in 1994, when Estonia became the first country in Europe to introduce a “flat tax” on personal and corporate income. Income is taxed at a single uniform rate of 26%: no schedule of rates, no deductions. The economy has flourished. Others followed: first, Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia's Baltic neighbours; later Russia (with a rate of 13% on personal income), then Slovakia (19% on personal and corporate income). One of Poland's centre-right opposition parties is campaigning for a similar code (with a rate of 15%). So far eight countries have followed Estonia's example (see article). An old idea that for decades elicited the response, “Fine in theory, just n


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