In "The State of the Union: Bush mostly got it right" (Economic Viewpoint, Feb. 25), Robert J. Barro points to the dismal growth rates of Iraq (since Saddam's takeover), Iran (post-Shah), and North Korea (after the 1951 war) to validate the "axis of evil" label. This implies that poor economic growth is somehow evil per se. Yet Barro seems oblivious to the harsh sanctions imposed on all these countries that prevent them from trading freely with the world's largest economies.
Robert J. Barro's objection to volunteerism might be the reason that the U.S., despite being the No. 1 economy, has the smallest share of its gross domestic product allocated to international aid. What matters is not the type of action--volunteering or profit making--but one's dedication. Yes, Bill Gates is great. But Linus Torvalds' team of programming volunteers benefits the world, too. They are both dedicated to their cause. So don't give up volunteering just because of Adam Smith's insight about self-interest. John F. Kennedy's call for more people to dedicate themselves to public service is not that bad.
Jakarta I agree with the link pointed out in "Russia's Enron?" (European Business, Feb. 18) between the accounting problems at Gazprom and growing concerns around the world about the cozy relationship between auditors and corporations. What requires clarification is the history of the fight for improved corporate governance at Gazprom. While I applaud the leadership Bill Browder is showing this year to pursue better corporate governance at Gazprom, I think the record should show that, last year, the fight for transparency was led by my partner, Boris Fyodorov, and our company, United Financial Group, and its clients. We have been pretty active this year fighting for better governance at Gazprom, as well.
United Financial Group
Moscow "China's power shift" (Asian Edition Cover Story, Feb. 25) says that "keeping a lid on social unrest, as always, will remain a top priority in Beijing." As I understand the rural situation, dictatorial control by regional party bosses in these remote areas has allowed them to raise taxes on the poor to such an extent that sometimes-deadly protests have resulted. One reform that could be taken by Beijing is to allow rural areas to elect their own leaders in open elections. Such elections could result in less corruption and fewer protests. And they could be a building block for elections throughout China sometime in the coming decades, as the people gradually learn to make choices for themselves.
San Francisco You say that "Japan's deflation is the real danger" (Finance, Feb. 11). Obviously, a deflationary spiral has already started, as broad price indexes are declining further--even though the government denies it is occurring. Currently, the Bank of Japan and the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi are trying to blame each other, and such disagreement lessens confidence in the business community. There is no strong accord between policymakers to demolish the deflationary spiral: Some ministers even expect a positive inflation target. However, the Council of Economic & Fiscal Policy recently announced it started a discussion of how to fight deflationary pressure. It is not too late to do so, and I hope that an intense, hand-in-hand accord between the government and the BOJ will be reached as soon as possible to prevent a fiasco.
Tokyo "Can Koizumi pull back from the brink?" (Asian Business, Feb. 18) may be a quite superficial view about why the Prime Minister's popularity ratings were so much higher before he fired his comrade, former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka. Much of Tanaka's support was from apolitical people--about a quarter of all eligible voters--who usually abstain from voting but at times trigger big political shifts when they do. Politics in Japan has returned to normal. Koizumi's popularity rating is quite high in Japan's postwar era. You can never say a Prime Minister with a 50% rating is on the brink.
Chiba, Japan "Finally, a no-hassle, no-strain computer" (Technology & You, Feb. 11)-- the new Apple iMac--objects to the one-button mouse. I for one hope it never dies. As a graphic designer and occasional programmer, I work on computers 12 hours a day. I have used both two- and three-button mice as well as the one-button Apple mouse. I never experience soreness with the one-button mouse. My hand can completely rest on the mouse, and the simple action of using all fingers to press the button keeps the hand and forearm relaxed. I have come to appreciate the simplicity of this little workhorse. It embodies the core idea that is Apple Computer Corp.
Although it is very practical, and although most people do it, exchanging documents in a proprietary file format is a bad habit ("Is there life outside Microsoft Office?" Technology & You, Jan. 28). The most common applications comprise a whole bunch of functionalities that have potential security issues, such as the ability to transport and execute unfriendly computer code.
Zurich "Day of the discounters" (European Business, Feb. 11) seemed to disparage giant-killers Ryanair and easyJet as they tear apart monopolistic British Airways, Air France, and Lufthansa. These subsidy-free discounting dynamos force Swissair, Sabena, Alitalia, and others to fly--or die--in the real world. There are other rewards: Using smaller, regional airports spreads economic benefits and may loosen the anticompetitive stranglehold of airport operators like the British Airports Authority.