India's New Election Battleground: Guaranteed Income

A political battle is brewing in India over a proposal to implement one of the world's boldest experiments in poverty alleviation. On Monday, the leader of the country's opposition Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi, pledged to deliver a guaranteed income to every poor citizen in India if his party wins a parliamentary election set for later this year.


The proposal, if implemented, would be by far the largest ever government attempt to guarantee citizens' incomes. Around 50 million Indians, or 3.5 percent of the population, live in extreme poverty today, earning less than $1.90 per day. The scheme would likely extend beyond the poorest of the poor.

Guaranteed income has been gaining steady support in India for years, in part because it's seen as a silver bullet for rampant corruption and government waste. Under India's current byzantine welfare scheme, around 36 percent of all government assistance doesn't make it into people's pockets. Basic income proponents believe that number could be reduced by moving toward a simpler and more direct transfer system.

Mr. Gandhi didn't clarify who would receive the new benefit, and one of the biggest challenges will be determining which segments of the population qualify. Just this week, a former advisor to the current Modi government offered a similar proposal that would see 75 percent of rural households receive around $250 from the government each year. The scheme would cost a fairly manageable 1.3 percent of GDP, which could be balanced by cuts to other social welfare programs.

But with a big election looming, the debate over guaranteed income in India is as much about political maneuvering as good governance. The opposition's announcement was strategically timed to underscore their generosity ahead of the release of a government budget expected to be chock-full of popular handouts. The rural voters who would benefit most from the proposal turned out in big numbers for the Congress Party in a recent spate of state-level election victories that's brought them back from the political wilderness.

The call for guaranteed income is now set to be a defining issue in India's upcoming election season. It will be an important test case for politicians around the world who see it as a possibly transformative policy solution.

Wrecking the global economy's hopes for a relaxing late-August Friday, China and the US have taken fresh shots at each other in their deepening trade war.

First, China announced new tariffs on US goods in response to US levies on China's exports that are set to take effect next month.

Trump responded with a vintage tweet storm, lashing out at China and demanding that US firms stop doing business there. The Dow plunged as markets waited for the next shoe to drop. And drop it did: later in the day Trump announced higher tariffs on nearly everything that China exports to the United States.

Why now? Bear in mind, all of this comes right as Trump is leaving for this weekend's G7 summit in France. That gathering already promised to be a testy one – but with the global economy slowing, the impact of Trump's increasingly nasty trade war with China will add fresh tensions to the occasion.

So where are we in the trade war now? Here is an updated list of what measures each side has imposed to date, and what's next. Both sides have a lot at stake, but from the looks of it, the list isn't going to get shorter any time soon.

When Donald Trump first started talking about buying Greenland last week, we figured it was a weird story with less legs than a Harp seal.

Signal readers, we were wrong. President Trump was so serious about purchasing the autonomous Danish territory that this week he abruptly cancelled a trip to Denmark after the country's prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, labelled the idea "absurd."

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The Amazon in flames – More than 70,000 forest fires are burning in Brazil right now, most of them in the Amazon. That's up 84% over the same period last year, and it's the highest number on record. This is the dry season when farmers burn certain amounts of forest legally to clear farmland. But critics say Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's efforts to loosen conservation rules have encouraged farmers, loggers, and miners to set more fires, many of them illegally. Bolsonaro – a science skeptic who recently fired the head of the agency that tracks deforestation – says, without proof, that NGOs are setting the fires to embarrass his government. Meanwhile, the EU is holding up a major trade deal with Brazil unless Bolsonaro commits to higher environmental protection standards, including those that affect the Amazon.

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Over the past fifty years, the Amazon rainforest has shrunk by an area equal to the size of Turkey. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Brazilian government supported settlement of the sparsely populated region for security reasons. Since then, huge swaths of the forest -- which is crucial for limiting the world's greenhouse gasses -- have been cleared for farmland used to feed Brazil's population and support its massive agricultural exports. Greater awareness of the environmental impacts in the 1990s produced tighter conservation regulations, though plenty of illegal clearing continues. In recent years, the annual deforestation rate has begun to rise again, and Brazil's new president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged to weaken regulations further in order to support businesses.