Global Ethics Corner: The Debt Crisis: Are Politicians the Problem?

August 12, 2011

The American debt ceiling standoff and a possible Greek default were resolved by agreements to 'kick the can down the road,' and leave the difficult choices for tomorrow.

Two results were the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating and a global stock market meltdown. Ironically, most commentators and politicians saw these crashes coming.

Why weren't these train wrecks avoided?

The Economist says, "Now the politicians have become the problem."

It compares European and American policies to Japanese actions during their last two disastrous decades. It notes, "Japan has mostly been led by a string of consensus-seekers. ...Mr. Obama and Mrs. Merkel are better at following public opinion than leading it."

However, blaming our leaders may be too easy an answer. If leaders are to blame, then we only have to throw the bums out. Unfortunately, the next set of bums seems to be equally ineffective.

There are other possible villains.

The Economist also notes, "The problem lies not just in the personalities involved, but also in the political structures ... in part because partisan redistricting has handed power over to the extremes."

In addition, technology fragmented public space, competition pushed media into narrower and more hyperbolic trajectories, issues impassioned fringes, the moderate center lost its voice, and democracy paralyzed itself.

The Economist reflects, "No wonder China's autocrats ... feel as if the future is on their side."

What would you accept to solve today's monumental problems—a more authoritarian government? Alternatively, is less government possible given the train wrecks looming ahead? If the future demands strong leaders, how strong should they be, and would you abide by their decisions?

By William Vocke

For more information see:

"Turning Japanese: The absence of leadership in the West is frightening—and also rather familiar," The Economist, July 30, 2011, p.7–8.


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