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The Only Thing That Scares Vladimir Putin (And Many Others)

The Only Thing That Scares Vladimir Putin (And Many Others)

Today, Brazilians will pour into the streets to vent their anger about something that, in fairness, makes a lot of people's eyes glaze over. But it's the same issue that's roiled politics in Spain, France, and Argentina recently. In Nicaragua last year, it prompted a violent political crisis. And in Russia – well, let's just say there is only one thing Vladimir Putin is truly afraid of and it's…


Pension reform.

Governments do a lot of things, but few of them affect people's welfare as directly as paying for their retirement. A pension is a promise: you will be provided for in your old age. When governments break that promise – as many do to avoid a debt crisis – the political consequences can be severe.

The problem: Many countries make overly generous promises when they set up their pension systems, underestimate how long people would live, or simply mismanage the money. Often, to keep the payments flowing, governments have to divert money from other productive uses or run up huge deficits. In Brazil's case, the financial mess threatens the country's economic stability and growth.

What are the options? One approach is to cut the outlays for retirees – by raising the retirement age, narrowing eligibility, or reducing payouts. But all of that is politically explosive. It not only hurts pensioners, but also their families, who must often help shoulder the burden of supporting them.

Another approach is to raise taxes. But the jump would be huge. In Europe, taxes would have to rise as much as 30 percent to cover future pension outlays, says the IMF. That would be political suicide.

What usually happens: Compromise. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wants to save $300 billion over the next decade but will almost certainly settle for less. Last year, Vladimir Putin watered down his own pension reform after it lopped double digits off his approval rating almost overnight.

It's a problem in the world's largest economy too. In the US, the Social Security system will have to start paying out less than originally promised in 2035 unless Congress reforms it. Many US states and cities are facing pension overhauls or higher taxes to put their plans on a more sustainable footing.

The political compromises required to solve these problems will be painful. Far from a boring story, pension reform cuts to the heart of what governments owe their citizens, and the difficult tradeoffs they face when those promises become unsustainable.

A century after the rise and destruction of Tulsa's Greenwood neighborhood, Greenwood Rising is turning the site of a tragedy into a vibrant community hub, supported by a $1 million grant from Bank of America.

Greenwood, or Black Wall Street, was a thriving community of Black-owned businesses until the race-fueled massacre of 1921 that killed hundreds of Black residents and wiped out the neighborhood's homes and businesses. Nearing the 100th anniversary of this tragedy, focused activity in the neighborhood—including a history center—is bringing to life the spirit of Black Wall Street.

The most ambitious global vaccination drive in history is in motion. Over the past three months, more than 213 million COVID-19 shots have been administered across 95 countries, and the vaccination rate is slowly increasing. At the current rate, around 6.11 million doses are being administered daily.

It's a rare bit of hopeful news after 15 months of collective misery. So where do things stand at the moment, and what's keeping the world from getting to herd immunity faster?

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Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

With protests growing, where does that leave the Myanmar coup?

Well, certainly no feeling on the part of the military that they need to back down under either domestic or international pressure. There's been relatively limited violence, thankfully so far. A few protesters have been killed. They've used tear gas, they've used water cannons, but much less of a crackdown than certainly they're capable of or that we've seen from the Myanmar military historically. That, of course, gives the protesters on the ground more incentive to think that they have success, and they can continue.

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Reducing carbon emissions is good for the planet and good for your lungs, but there's one group of countries that might not be so keen on green: those that rely heavily on oil and gas exports to run their economies. As the rest of the world gets closer to "Net Zero" in the coming decades, these petrostates will be in big trouble unless they diversify their economies — fast. So, how vulnerable are the world's top oil and gas producers to a low-carbon future? We look at how the treasuries of the 20 most hydrocarbon-dependent nations will fare over the next two decades under what the Carbon Tracker Initiative refers to as a scenario in which global demand for oil and gas will be much lower than today.

US to release Khashoggi report: The Biden administration's intel chief is expected to release on Thursday a report on the murder of Saudi dissident journalist — and US resident — Jamal Khashoggi. In line with previously reported findings, the assessment will say that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman was involved in the plot to kill and dismember Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Aside from a sprinkling of new details, we don't expect much from the report itself, but we are keen to see how it shapes US-Saudi relations under Joe Biden, who has promised to take a harder line with Riyadh over human rights and security issues than his predecessor did. Part of that new approach is that the US president will no longer speak directly to the Crown Prince himself as Trump did — from now on, only his dad, King Salman, gets calls from the White House.

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