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Democracy can be a messy business, as the citizens of both the US and UK can testify at the moment. In fact, accountability of any sort can be a real bother — term limits on heads of government, for example. So why not remove these restrictions?

Martin Wolf argues in Wednesday’s column that Xi Jinping’s decision to ditch the two-term maximum on Chinese Communist Party leaders is shocking even if it is logical. Introduced by his reforming predecessor Deng Xiaoping, the limit was part of a drive to prevent any future leader from becoming as all-powerful as Chairman Mao.

“Autocracy may work,” Martin writes. “But it is, at the least, a high-risk system, even in a country with a tradition of high quality bureaucracy, such as China.” This is because you run the risk of the untramelled power being used either for malevolent purposes or destructively even without that intent — the so-called “Bad Emperor problem”.

Democracy needs to regain prestige to compete with China’s model of one-man rule, he argues. But China needs to beware rule by unchecked personal whim.

Bonus cap may fit gender pay gap aims
Brooke Masters  welcomes the HSBC decision to shift away from discretionary payments for bonuses towards more transparent awards calculated on the basis of ratings and salary level. In the short term this could boost the earnings of (mostly male) bankers but in the long term will help with efforts to achieve fair pay. Because research shows, as she argues, that “discretion may open the door for unconscious bias — or worse”.

Running diesel off the road
Pilita Clark analyses the ruling from Germany’s top administrative court that cities should have the right to ban diesel cars. This could have consequences well beyond the country’s borders and beyond its domestic car industry. Courts in other jurisdictions are increasingly willing to intervene to defend air quality — and each ruling is a nail in the coffin for diesel vehicles’ appeal to consumers.

Syria’s seventh circle of hell
David Gardner on how Russia and Iran, in different ways, have exploited international divisions to devastate the de-escalation zones. But he argues that all parties to the Syrian tragedy and regional mayhem are culpable in the failure to prevent the daily mass destruction of civilian lives.

Best of the rest

Trump is on a collision course with the Fed — Sebastian Mallaby in The Washingon Post

The Russia investigation could be more like Iran-Contra than Watergate — Julian E Zelizer in The Atlantic

Corbyn’s cosy Brexit pitch is a gamble. But he’s still beating May — Rafael Behr in The Guardian

The Irish border is a bigger problem for Brexiteers than a Tory rebellion — Stephen Bush in The New Statesman

Macron’s social rupture — Daniel Fortin in Les Echos (in French) on the SNCF reforms

Corbyn’s slow running down of the media — Isabel Hardman in The Spectator

What you’ve been saying

Mentally the UK risks becoming a Quebec— letter from Ed Sketch 

Mentally, the UK risks becoming Quebec, as it is in relation to the rest of Canada. Somewhat insular, economically 15 per cent poorer than its neighbouring provinces (or in the UK’s case neighbouring states) and losing economic and cultural dynamism. I say this with great respect for Quebec. I find Montreal an interesting enough city, though one with a modern airport that had to be mothballed when the economy drifted down because of the risk of separation. A visit to Quebec should be something the Brexit politicians should make. But Quebec is now light on value-add business and, like Wales, overly dependent on government spending, which in the UK’s case will not be subsidised by a larger state organisation. Nor, it seems, by a thriving finance sector in the future. Something to consider?

Comment from Na on How my bitcoin frustration led to a cryptocurrency conversion

There are lot of innovative companies in UK which are moving out and raising millions in other countries, which essentially is a loss to economy. I know lot of companies like talenthon.io and etoro which went to eastern Europe to do their banking as UK banks won’t accept the money. Considering that they are doing absolutely legal stuff, following all KYC/AML guidelines laid out by all banks and ready to grab on all legal escrow processes. It’s a shame UK is missing the pie created by their own people.

Tighten the rules of engagement on free speech— letter from Margaret G McGarrahan

If Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter followed the same procedures that The Washington Post and other traditional newspapers follow, we would not have a quarrel with them. The Washington Post prints an article only when it is confident that the content is true. It always identifies the reporter, too. And before any article is printed there is a strenuous effort to corroborate the information from other sources. The large technology companies do not do this and the government does not require it because these platforms are not legally considered media outlets. This means they do not have to follow the rules that apply to The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Financial Times. I notice that I have to add my telephone number and full address to my email to your Letters desk — as well, of course, as my full name. This should also be required of anyone who posts anything on Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter. This would not be a constraint on free speech. It would simply guarantee true speech.

Today’s opinion

Russia and Iran cynically exploit divisions over Syria Together they have turned two ‘de-escalation zones’ into the seventh circle of hell

Instant Insight: Liam Fox and Boris Johnson show Brexiters are losing the argument Those in favour of leaving the EU are failing to address the UK’s serious situation

Instant Insight: Germany’s ruling is another nail in diesel’s coffin More automotive firms are likely to follow Toyota and Fiat-Chrysler’s electric lead

America’s teachers give voice to demands for gun control Concealed weapons in the classroom do not appeal to education insiders

Europe’s centre left has lost voters’ trust Social democrats are scorned for taking too little pride in national identity

EM Squared: Import surge threatens east European trade surpluses Strong growth is sucking in imports as monetary and fiscal policy remain loose

Xi’s power grab means China is vulnerable to the whims of one man Autocracy is a risky system, even in a country with a solid bureaucratic tradition

Free Lunch: Are there good types of populism? Extremes draw strength from timidity of centre

FT View

FT View: Taxing revenues is a poor fix for tech’s avoidance Greater harmonisation and energetic enforcement are a better bet

FT View: Emmanuel Macron’s trial of strength with France’s railway unions The reform of SNCF is important; its symbolic significance more so

The Big Read

The Big Read: Italian election: voters frustrated with shallow recovery Ahead of Sunday’s election many people are still waiting for the promised improvements from economic reform

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