Jordan’s election

I found some of the erroneous representation of the facts supporting your article on Jordan to be worrying (“The uneasy crown”, October 22nd). Your claim that voter turnout in the 2016 election “slumped to a dismal 37%” from 56% at the election in 2013 is misleading. In 2013, the election law stipulated that voters had to pre-register to vote. Official figures correctly reported voter turnout at 56% of registered voters. At the time, you wrote that “Some pollsters argue that, out of an adult population of 3.7m, only 35% voted, once soldiers, expatriates and those who refused to register are excluded, not the 56% the government claimed” (“Calming down”, February 23rd 2013). The government never took issue with the 35% figure as a percentage of eligible voters. Both figures are correct depending on which baseline you use.

In order to encourage participation, the 2016 election law eliminated the registration requirement so that any eligible voter could cast a vote, even at the last minute. Using your own figures, voter participation in 2016 was 37% of eligible voters, up from 35% in 2013. This contradicts your assertion that massive voter apathy resulted in a “dismal” drop in turnout. Moreover, a large percentage of Jordanians live abroad and the country has an overwhelmingly young population, both factors which typically have a dampening effect on voter participation.

You also claim that “crime is climbing” in Jordan. Government statistics say otherwise; that the crime rate has declined by more than 16% over the past two years. Not that crime, serious as it is, was ever a major challenge in Jordan compared with many countries. Surely The Economist should not support such absolutist claims by pointing to individual crime cases, however horrendous they may be.

My country has weathered the international financial crisis, the spillover effects of the Arab spring and the ongoing crises in the region. Jordan hosts the largest number of registered refugees in the world (per head) and not just from Syria. Given the turmoil in the region, it should come as no surprise to anyone that all Jordanians are feeling “uneasy”, the crown included. With our limited resources and challenged economy, we are dealing with the humanitarian spillover of these crises on behalf of the international community as part of our shared global responsibility, while also being proactive in trying to resolve the region’s many conflicts. 

Our elections were conducted smoothly, professionally (as reported by international observers), were transparent and represent a triumph of progress over regression and a triumph for Jordan. Are we a mature democracy? We are not there yet, but determined to get there, and we will.

NASSER JUDEH
Deputy prime minister
Minister of Foreign Affairs & Expatriates
Amman, Jordan

The royal prerogative

Parliament rules, not OK?” (October 15th) missed the point about democracy and parliamentary sovereignty. Parliament has not been ignored over Brexit. It was consulted about leaving the European Union before the referendum when MPs voted unanimously for the 2015 Referendum Act, which handed the democratic mandate to the people to vote yes or no.

Whether or not the government uses the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 to start negotiations to leave the EU, it is simply carrying out the will of Parliament and of the people. Unfortunately, the use of the royal prerogative muddies the democratic waters. Usually it can be used to carry out certain acts (for example, withdrawing from treaties) without consulting Parliament or the people. Unusually in this case, the government wants to use it having consulted Parliament and the people.

If we want to abolish or reform the royal prerogative we need to change our constitution. This is a separate matter and it should be done by democratic means, that is, another referendum or act of Parliament. And not, as is currently happening, reform by judicial review.

TESSA MAYES
Documentary film director
London

Asterix would Leave

Asterix in Belgium” bemoaned the ability of the parliament in Wallonia to block a free-trade deal between the European Union and Canada (October 22nd). The wonder is that with situations such as this, those who voted to remain in the EU in Britain’s referendum still cannot fathom why those who voted Leave did so in order to unshackle themselves from the EU corpse.

ROGER LEWIS
Toronto

Talking about the British government’s strategy to exit the EU, Luxembourg’s prime minister recently observed that: “Before they were in, they wanted many opt-outs. Now they want to be out, with many opt-ins.” The British Election Study found many Leave votes were registering a protest vote (“After Brexit, Bregret”, October 15th).

Many people now believe free movement of people may be a price worth paying for staying in. With regards to U-turns, Theresa May should ignore Margaret Thatcher and recall John Maynard Keynes: “When somebody persuades me I am wrong, I change my mind.”

REV JOHN CAMERON
St Andrews, Fife

Dealing with depression

The new discoveries for treating depression are fascinating (“Sniffing at a new solution”, October 15th). The World Health Organisation considers depression to be the leading cause of disability worldwide. It is surprising that intravenous ketamine infusions are still not formally recommended by psychiatric associations, despite 14 years of research that repeatedly demonstrate their effectiveness in treating resistant depression.

As you say, off-label use is common in medical practice. Ketamine has a long safety record in anaesthesiology and emergency care. Abuse is unlikely with supervised intravenous application. It also remains unclear why psychoactive effects of the drug are considered a drawback rather than a possible part of the mechanism of action.

Patent protection has long expired, making ketamine unattractive for drug firms, but it is a rare opportunity for health-care providers and public-health systems to offer a new treatment at reasonable costs and with huge potential benefits.

NIELS MADERLECHNER
Anaesthesiologist
Berlin

Funding infrastructure

“In the past, federal funds have flowed easily to boondoggles because politics…has directed the flow of money” (“A view from the bridge”, October 22nd). How true. The prime exhibit is New Orleans. In October 2001, Scientific American published a long report on what was likely to happen if a hurricane struck America’s Gulf coast. The response was almost immediate; some $20 billion of federal funding came flowing from Washington. But between DC and New Orleans, the stream was diverted into housing schemes and unnecessary roadworks. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina arrived, and every one of Scientific American’s predictions came true. The resulting damage is estimated at between $96bn and $125bn.

PROFESSOR PHILIP LLOYD
Cape Peninsula University of Technology
Bellville, South Africa

Taking Spain into NATO

You claimed that “if any political party can claim to have invented modern Spain, it is the Socialists” (“The battle for a party’s soul”, October 8th). The problem is that you wrongly credited the Socialists for doing something that other people did. It was not the Socialist Felipe González who took Spain into NATO in 1982. It was my father, Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo, who was Spain’s prime minister at the time and a member of the centrist UCD.

The UCD party was also responsible for managing Spain’s transition to democracy. In fact, the Socialists voted against joining NATO in 1982, only to change their mind four years later, in what became one of Mr González’s most notable about-turns.

JOSÉ MARÍA CALVO-SOTELO
London

Valuing private equity

Too often your briefing on private equity reduced the industry’s strategies to financial engineering (“The barbarian establishment”, October 22nd). The value that private-equity firms brings to their investments extends far beyond the addition of debt. Moreover, leveraged buy-outs, or LBOs, have steadily decreased as a share of private-equity deals over the past decade. Even among LBOs, debt levels have lessened significantly since the days of the RJR Nabisco deal in the 1980s, which featured prominently in your piece. The industry has shifted to growth strategies, with a particular focus on the middle market.

The article also claimed that private equity benefits from the “perverse aspects” of the capital-gains treatment of carried interest and interest deductibility. These have been part of our tax code for decades, well before they became political sound bites. They exist because they properly incentivise entrepreneurial risk and help to drive improvements in companies across all industries. Removing them would undoubtedly curtail investments and hurt employment as well.

Even taking fees into account, private equity’s long-term investment strategies routinely beat market returns, including the S&P 500. In fact, it is the top-performing asset class for American public-pension funds, beating stocks, bonds and other investments over the long term.

MIKE SOMMERS
President
American Investment Council
Washington, DC

You underplayed private-equity’s raison d’être as an active owner, which is in stark contrast to taking passive shareholdings in companies. You argued that public markets are inclusive and deep. But they do disregard the large swathes of small- and medium-sized companies in need of equity investments to whom public markets are off-limits.

Private equity has been at the vanguard of a movement towards increasingly varied and efficient capital allocation, which now includes direct investments from institutional investors, co-investments and search funds.

JOACHIM SATCHWELL
Copenhagen

Private-equity funds were once more accurately called leveraged buy-out funds, or sometimes management buy-out funds. At some stage in the 1990s, the more genteel term “private equity” was hijacked, leaving minority investing in growing companies to some tongue-twister such as “later-stage venture capital”. But now we read that “venture-capital companies …are effectively just private equity for fledglings”. Truly, ambition scorns the steps by which he did ascend.

Interestingly, some practices of private equity, especially the use of a target company’s assets as security for an acquisition, were until quite recently unlawful in several countries, including Britain and Canada. They were once considered to be exploitative and destabilising, but an earlier deregulation did away with the restrictions.

RICHARD RUTHERFORD
Former chief investment officer at the International Finance Corporation
Washington, DC

Venture capital and private equity are fundamentally different beasts. Private-equity managers take boring, cash-generating businesses, load them up with debt (hence gaining the risk-profile they are seeking, and thus the potential returns) and use that funding to expand the businesses until they are ready to exit.

Venture capital’s risk/return profile derives from the inherently risky nature of the businesses themselves, usually because of their early stage. More King Arthur than Genghis Khan?

SIMON GOLDMAN
Investment manager
Albion Ventures
London

Tchaikovsky was gay, too

As you say in your review of a book on Van Cliburn, an American pianist, the award of the first prize of the International Tchaikovsky Competition to an American back in 1958 was probably a conscious decision by the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, to thaw the cold-war ice cap of those days (“Piano man”, October 15th). However, the important point is not whether Cliburn deserved the prize. According to all indications, he was definitely the best among the competitors, even if the jury had to seek the approval of Khrushchev before announcing its decision.

The great irony is that while Cliburn, a gay man, went on to become a close friend of Russia in the following five decades, his runner-up, Naum Shtarkman, spent eight years in Soviet jails for being a homosexual.

The contrast could not have been more compelling.

THANOS CATSAMBAS
Potomac, Maryland

The public purse

The Economist’s study of Elon Musk’s finances was good, but omitted a key element of his success: government subsidies (“Countdown”, October 22nd). Mr Musk may be a clever entrepreneur and shrewd financier, but he is also a crony capitalist. Tesla’s electric cars are wonderful machines, but the buyer of each one gets a $7,500 tax credit, a gift from all other taxpayers. Tesla’s new megafactory for batteries has received subsidies from the government of Nevada, where the factory is based.

SolarCity, another enterprise of Mr Musk’s, reaps tax credits at the federal and state level. SolarCity is generally paid at retail rates for the power it generates, rather than wholesale (the cost of generation), meaning that it receives a subsidy from all other power-company customers.

SpaceX, his third company, does big business with the federal government, including more than $5bn in air force and NASA contracts.

The Economist is a champion of free-market capitalism. Elon Musk is not one of its practitioners.

ROBERT ARIAS
Crownsville, Maryland

Mr Musk may have inspired the portrayal of Tony Stark in the film version of “Iron Man”, but he is a poor shadow of that character (“Float like a butterfly”, October 22nd). Tony Stark is a fictional engineering genius who has innovated computer programming (Jarvis), mechanical engineering (Iron Man), as well as energy production (the fusion reactor that he exploded in the first “Iron Man” film).

Mr Musk probably couldn’t change a flat tyre on one of his Tesla vehicles.

W.J. TATE IV
Ewing, New Jersey