Listen to this article
This article is from today’s FT Opinion email. Sign up to receive a daily digest of the big issues straight to your inbox.
Narendra Modi is not known to mince his words. The Indian prime minister’s rhetorical attacks on his enemies were partly credited with his sweeping election victory in 2014. Only on Monday, a particularly vituperative speech, made at a recent rally in the southern state of Karnataka, was criticised by former prime minister Manmohan Singh and leaders of the opposition as “threatening, intimidating in content, and a public warning”, in a letter of complaint addressed to India’s president.
Mr Modi is not the only global leader to have gained a reputation for strongman leadership, as Gideon Rachman points out in his column. But does he belong in the same unappealing gang that includes President Xi Jinping of China, the thuggish Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey? Is his style as wild as that of US president Donald Trump or Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines? The answer to that question matters enormously given India’s position as the world’s largest democracy.
Mr Modi’s place on the autocracy-democracy spectrum is ambiguous, says Gideon. On one hand, his economic reforms have enjoyed great popular appeal, even when they have had mixed success. On the other, anxiety is mounting about threats to press freedom and the independence of the courts. Then there is the spectre of resurgent communal tension between Hindus and Muslims, which Mr Modi seems all too willing to manipulate for political gain. Strongman leaders, Gideon notes, tend to become more, not less, autocratic.
Theresa May has been a gift of a prime minister to the UK’s Eurosceptic right, argues Janan Ganesh. The premier has drawn red lines that leave almost nothing to negotiate with the EU. Why then the pantomime of discontent that has seen prominent Leavers describe her strategy as “crazy” and “cretinous”? Their motives must be cynical, Janan writes. In the face of inevitable popular anger, no one wants to be associated with the final deal, whatever shape it takes.
When Mary Daly gave her first presentation at the head office of the US Federal Reserve in 1997 she remembers a senior male bank leader congratulating her: “I didn’t expect that. You’re such a tiny little woman, who knew?” Society’s perception of women in economics may have changed a little since then, argues the director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, but there are still too few women (of whatever height) in the field — especially when more than half of US graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are now female.
John Thornhill observes that in the wake of a series of scandals the tech industry is building a new language for itself — call it “human”. The new word cloud hovering over Palo Alto prominently features the terms responsibility, privacy, inequality and bias. It’s hard to tell, writes John, whether this change of tone is just a hat tip to changing public opinion, or evidence of meaningful change in the way the industry interacts with its consumers. A recent trip to Silicon Valley has given him some clues.
Best of the rest
Palestinians do not want to negate Israel. We just want a future — Atef Abu Saif in the Guardian
When companies supersize, paychecks shrink — Bryce Covert in the New York Times
Thanks to Donald Trump, night is falling in Iran again — Christopher de Bellaigue in the Spectator
The promise of vaping and the rise of Juul — Jia Tolentino in the New Yorker
How #MeToo revealed the central rift in feminism today — Moira Donegan in the Guardian Long Read
What you’ve been saying
Time for technology to shake up bond trading — letter from Simon Fasdal
Your assessment that bond trading is being dragged into the 21st century is very timely. For those of us who saw the potential of technology to disrupt trading over a quarter of a century ago, it is hard to imagine there are still parts of this crucial market for government and corporate funding that rely on phone trading. Developments in data processing and robotics will not only improve the trading experience of larger institutions, they also have the potential to improve the trading experience for private investors and smaller institutions.
Comment from Deuce, in reply to Corporate Lobbying in the Washington Swamp
The murky pool of cronyism in the US is getting worse. When lobbyists, money and special interest groups take over the swamp, it breeds corruption, controlling the process, writing the laws, bribing politicians and funding elections. A cast of thousands making the place a dung heap. Trump could address this, restoring sanity, wringing the place dry and condemning Congress’s dietary need for pork. Regrettably, the swamp that was supposed to be drained is only getting deeper.
Punishing compliance would set a precedent — letter from Bruce Couchman
What is particularly offensive about Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement on Iran is the likely secondary sanctions against non-American companies operating outside the USA and not using American components. Although countries may sometimes violate the letter or the spirit of a UN Security Council resolution, it is rare if not unprecedented to punish foreign companies for complying with a resolution which both the USA and their own countries initially supported. Punishing third-party companies for complying with a resolution would set a dangerous precedent.
Leavers are preparing their Brexit betrayal narrative
They are not equipped for life as defenders of a flawed but liveable reality
Silicon Valley is slowly learning how to speak human
Tech companies appear to understand that they need to become more diverse
French workers’ fight with Macron recalls a rural transformation
State companies such as SNCF boosted social mobility in poorer farming regions
Free Lunch: Decision time is looming for euro reform
The path to the June summit on the monetary union’s future
How India’s Narendra Modi will shape the world
The prime minister’s position on the autocracy-democracy spectrum is ambiguous
Economics trails other sciences in attracting a diverse student mix
The discipline must stop treating women as if they were rare birds
Advice and Dissent, by Alan Blinder
A perfectly timed handbook on the art of effective policymaking
How to make sense of the volatile natural gas market
Rising prices in Asia seem to suggest we are at the start of a new super cycle
Tidy desks challenge messy creativity
Factories have become neater in recent years — now automation is cleaning up offices
‘Unreliable’ Bank of England is right to be cautious
State of the UK economy is precarious and the BoE has recognised the risks
FT View: Donald Trump’s bizarre U-turn on sanctions against China’s ZTE
President’s addiction to dealmaking leads him astray over the telecoms group
FT View: Rome opens its gates to the modern barbarians
The economic proposals of Five Star and the League are cause for concern
The Big Read
The Big Read: Anbang: the downfall of China’s global dealmaker Prison sentence for Wu Xiaohui is a cautionary tale about Beijing’s control of business