US Education: Costs Skyrocketing, Some States Falling Behind

The cost of education in the United States has dramatically increased against general inflation rates during the period 2000-2014. The consumer price index for education services increased 120 percent while overall inflation rose about 40 percent. Changes in recent months have only reinforced this trend. The consumer price index for education for the January-July period increased from 3.6 in 2014 to 3.8 percent in 2015, whereas the index for all consumer items was steady at -0.2 percent for the same period in 2014 and 2015. Turning to total expenditures, US federal government expenditures on education are about 5.2 percent of GDP, which is on par with other OECD economies and slightly higher than the world average. That said, the governments of several emerging countries, such as Bolivia, Brazil, and Ghana, outspend the OECD average.

FSU Countries: Military Strength Magnifies Value of NATO

The Global Firepower database published earlier this year provides an interesting perspective on the relative military strength of the former-Soviet Union (FSU) member states bordering Russia as compared to Russia. The contrast is so sharp that any of the FSU countries would almost certainly be unable to defend themselves from Russian military advancement without the direct involvement of NATO or other allied forces. 

The Baltic States, Georgia, and Ukraine combined spend fifteen times less on defense than does Russia. While military expenditures offer only a simplistic cross-country comparison - obscuring differences such as procurement systems and how related industries are supported by each government - the data in this case does show a correlation with smaller armed forces and limited resources. For example, the active military manpower of the Baltic States - comprised of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - is 25 times less than Russia's, and the States have no tanks (vs 15,400 in Russia), no fighter jets or other interceptors, and only small coastal Naval defense crafts.

Nigeria: Armed Conflicts, Military Spending, and the Economic Context

During the mid-to-late 2000s, Nigeria struggled to reign in the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, better known simply as MEND. MEND is a militant group based in the southwest of Nigeria in the Niger Delta, Nigeria's primary onshore oil production region. The group sought increased economic benefits for residents of the Niger Delta from the country's oil production and reparations for destruction of the environment by foreign oil companies. The group's guerrilla warfare tactics and deadly bombings were only part of the reason it was so potent; the group also caused severe economic losses by disrupting or shutting in oil and gas production infrastructure and kidnapping foreign oil workers.

A second violent group was developing its identity and reach during this same period: Boko Haram. Much of the world learned of the Boko Haram terrorist group after it kidnapped 276 school girls from their dormitory in the Nigerian town of Chibok in April 2014, but for years it has grown in size and capability. Formally established in the early 2000s, this Islamic extremist group gained new momentum and potency in the period 2009-2010 when it started an armed rebellion against the government of Nigeria.

Emerging Market and Commodity Currencies

The US dollar strengthened recently to the highest level in the past 10 years against a broad range of currencies. Falling commodity prices force "emerging" and "commodity-dependent" countries to weaken their currencies to maintain competitiveness. However, trying to improve export competitiveness through currency devaluation can induce a sharp rise in inflation rates. Enforced tightening of monetary policy also reduces economic growth because high interest rates stifle new business activity. According to the latest IMF estimates, countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Russia, and Venezuela are experiencing simultaneous declines in GDP and rapdily rising inflation, the so called "stagflation" phenomenon.

China Emerging Cities, 2015

Where will business opportunities in urban China arise as a result of rapid increases in populations, incomes, infrastructure and economic activity? Five years ago, The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) looked to answer that question. The EIU devised an emerging city rankings index and published a report on the subject, CHAMPS: China’s fastest growing cities, which highlighted the rise of inland Chinese cities. It identified 2007 as a pivotal year for the economy, when inland China started to grow at a faster rate than the more developed coastal region. The aforementioned CHAMPS came not from the east, but from north-eastern, central and western parts of the country: Chongqing, Hefei, Anshan, Maanshan, Pingdingshan and Shenyang.