Who will rescue the rest of us?

Editorial, Normal


THE rescue of the 33 Chilean miners, from what was feared would be their tomb, gave the world something to cheer about.
Hope has not, after all, become a redundant virtue in the21st century.
But, looking around us today, there do not seem to be many reasons for optimism elsewhere.
The world lurches towards a currency war, or even towards trade protectionism, threatening to destroy jobs and growth.
America’s recovery from recession is anemic and largely jobless.
China, meanwhile, with foreign reserves worth half its total output, denies with a straight face that it is deliberately manipulating the value of the renminbi. So its trade surplus continues to soar at the expense of other countries.
Nor does a global solution to the challenge of climate change appear any closer.
A few weeks of rain in Australia has emboldened those who think that global warming is a gigantic hoax perpetrated by the United Nations or conspiring scientists or maybe men from Mars.
The war in Afghanistan bleeds more lives and treasure into the inhospitable terrain of that sad land, with little immediate chance of whatever might constitute sufficient success to allow the US and its allies to quit.
In Palestine, Israeli colonies continue to grow with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ignoring Washington’s efforts to secure traction for the peace process.
Europeans continue to look inward, obsessed with their own problems of declining competitiveness and how to pay for entitlements that they have come to regard as theirs by right.
With the gap between the world’s rich and poor increasing, the impoverished South seeks a home or a job in the developed North.
Legal and illegal migration triggers far-right hostility in countries that customarily brag about their commitment to civil liberties.
So, as Lenin once asked, what is to be done?
The world obviously needs political leadership of the highest quality to see us through.
We need the sort of courage that was the hallmark of (former British prime minister) Margaret Thatcher.
We need former US president Bill Clinton’s extraordinary ability to spin a political narrative that enabled voters to identify their own interests with his goals.
We require former German chancellor Helmut Kohl’s understanding of the need to identify the big decisions in politics, and to get those decisions right.
We need leaders with sufficient mastery of detail, like China’s last premier Zhu Rongji, who cannot only tell us how they will get us from A to Z, but can actually lead us from A to B.
Looking around, leaders like this seem to be an extinct species. 
Or, if they exist at all, they appear to be constrained by dysfunctional political systems.
Their ability to act is limited by their political environment.
The best example is US president Barack Obama.
Obama inherited messy and expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and an economy in meltdown.
His attempts to revive the economy have inevitably driven up the deficit. But, no recovery in the labour or housing markets has yet materialised.
Now Obama faces defeat in the mid-term elections at the hands of Republicans whose past policies created many of the problems that weigh him down today. – Project Syndicate



*Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong and a former European Union commissioner for external affairs, is chancellor of the University of Oxford.