Letters to the editor | October 2nd 2021 edition

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Letters are welcome by email to [email protected]

A controversial report

Your director in addition to your previous article on the World Bank’s Doing Business and China report gives a false impression of Kristalina Georgieva’s career (“Why Georgieva should leave”, September 25; “How Bank leaders of the World pressure to change global index workers”, digital editions, 17 September). I was the senior director in charge of the report in 2017. Her instructions to me were clear: verify the numbers without compromising the integrity of Do Business. I was comforted that the score for China was comparable to scores from previous years. Despite your headline, I didn’t feel any pressure from her. The Economist he got it wrong.

Georgetown University
washington, DC

Home truths

The Free Exchange column on the need for more housing took a binary approach to the problem by pitting public versus private solutions, with a strong bias in favor of the private sector (September 11). For example, he mentioned “public” housing in Singapore. The land in Singapore was not nationalized, but was acquired with fair compensation for public purposes. Yes, 80% of the population live in this type of housing, but around 90% of adults also own their own homes. Property is held on lease, usually for 99 years.

Most of the flats were built by the housing development board, offering a subsidy to those on lower incomes to buy their flats. The most expensive apartments were built by private developers, but the rental model is the same, and the land under private development often belongs to the state. Only 5% of the population own land or freehold, naturally the most expensive on the island. Despite this, some “public” apartments have changed hands for more than 1m Singapore dollars ($740,000) on the resale markets. Some “public” housing developments have even won international awards for their architecture.


The column’s focus, on urban cores full of office blocks, meant that property investment and tax revenues could be adversely affected if jobs and people move because of the pandemic. The city dichotomy was replaced years ago. The challenge is how to make the best use of assets and how to unlock a city’s potential.

As Jane Jacobs saw in the 1960s and Sir Peter Hall years later, urban problems generate innovations. When problem-solving cycles are blocked, as they often are by centralised, top-down policies, cities are less able to produce their agglomeration effects – concentration, specialisation, mobility and migration – into productivity building tactics. The climate change trend and the magnitude of urban disasters demand a new paradigm. The paradigm shift that everyone was talking about after the 2007-09 financial crisis is still a work in progress. Paradigm shifts usually take a good 20 years to work out; we are half way there.

OECDurban affairs and management policy (retired)
Saint-Mandé, France

Supply chains and workers

You argued that supply chains are changing, not failing (“Why skippers aren’t scattered”, September 18). This shines a light on the extent of the supply chain in the world, and in particular the poor treatment of transport workers. Larger companies with a network of local resources are able to adapt, but two years after this crisis and the pressure is now taking its toll. It is blindly optimistic at best, and reckless at worst, to assume that the basic forces of market supply and demand can provide a cure.

Without workers, supply chains come to a standstill. But instead of protecting them, governments have forced workers to stay on ships for a year or more and are denied movement across borders. It is not surprising that we are seeing large numbers of them leaving the industry, making the problem worse. If transportation workers are not given urgent priority, the supply chain crisis we are seeing in many parts of the world will not worsen, and then we will all be wiped out.

International Shipping Room

Spacious spaces

Although expats may no longer be needed (Bartleby, 18 September), treating every country the same goes against many of the The Economist weekly effectiveness reports: the idioms that make countries unlike each other, and how to manage them successfully through a business, economic or cultural lens. I lived abroad for several years, after studying business and the local language at school. Certainly some business can, and should, be done with temporary staff, but keeping an expat sends a continuous and positive message of communication to the head office as well as the local office. It is sometimes more important to support these relationships, especially among Asian cultures, than the actual business.


Preserving Islamic sites

“Bulldozing History” (September 4) described Arab states destroying ancient treasures. You barely mentioned Saudi Arabia, but it has a long history of systematically destroying religious sites, most of which are important to the main Islamic faith.

The most important thing was the destruction of the religious shrines in the al-Baqi cemetery inside the center of Medina, which contained the graves of Fet Muhammad’s daughter and grandchildren, as well as other family members. Its demolition in 1925 was ordered by the Al Saud regime based on their radical Wahhabi beliefs that shrines and graves should not be visited.

Despite the many challenges of the mainstream Islamic community and offers to rebuild, the Al Sauds firmly restrict access to the now leveled sites, as they see this as a challenge to their Wahhabi way of thinking. It is a shame that the Saudi government does not look at these sites as economic opportunities in the same way they think about promoting sports and culture, helping to avoid sectarian differences in Islam . This is certainly a concern for those who call themselves the guardians of Islam.



Your review of a book about indexing history suggested that search engines would save time looking things up (“Keys to All Knowledge”, September 4th). Have you ever fallen down the Google rabbit hole? Looking for information about the dragons teeth on the North Downs, I turned up much later listening to the songs of the Mountain Jews, through searches on attack, gunpowder, Nobel, Azerbaijan and more. Time, joy and serendipity.


Your wonderful review reminded me of an index I once read in the chemical rubber handbook:

Sea water; see water, sea

New York

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