Opinion

When things fall apart

Rajkamal Rao | Updated on January 17, 2018

The disconnect between common people and the elites in power has never been starker. Here’s a snapshot of what’s happening around the globe



The leaders of the world today have unmatched resources. The cream of the civil service provides them with the best of advice, an advanced military with sophisticated tools always keeps them in the know, and the brainiest of academics and pollsters help them constantly feel the mood of the electorate.

Yet, around the globe, ordinary citizens feel helpless as our so-called leaders cannot even provide basic security, the primary function of civilised governments. Nice, Istanbul, Orlando, Brussels, Paris, Dhaka, and San Bernardino are just a few places far from war-torn areas that have witnessed horrific terror incidents all in the last year. In each case, hundreds of innocent people were killed or hurt whose only crime was to have ventured out of their homes. In Brussels and Istanbul, all that the victims were guilty of was to travel. Even airports, generally considered to have solid security when compared to other public places, appear no longer safe enough.

Caught napping

Look at the state of war and conflict in Africa and Eurasia. Turkey barely managed to survive a military coup. Factions in South Sudan are killing each other, leaving thousands of citizens unprotected. Iraq, in its zeal to re-conquer territory lost to the Islamic State, is teaming up with Shia militias from Iran setting off retaliatory terror attacks each week, some massive in size. In neighbouring Yemen, the Saudis are assisting the government to fight the Houthi rebels, a Shia group — again, thousands have been killed. Russia, the US, the UK and France are all engaged in aerial bombardment of different targets in Syria while the country deteriorates so far into the abyss that most people don’t even care anymore. Is this the performance record of the G-20?

Leaders in Europe last year were stunned when human traffickers pushed boatloads of refugees across the Mediterranean to land in Greece. The refugees wanted to head north to more prosperous countries such as Germany, the UK and Sweden confirming the views of sceptics who had maintained that many were “economic refugees” fleeing lack of work opportunities rather than war and strife. With all the resources that the EU leaders have and the many meetings that they constantly attend, how could they not see this coming? By the time the EU leaders got around to digesting what was happening, close to a million refugees had migrated all over the western world.

David Cameron and the other EU leaders also never saw Brexit coming. How in the world could Cameron have been so naive as to offer a Brexit vote without considering the possibility that he might lose the gamble? When the history of the 21st century is written, Cameron’s boast will go down as one of the most arrogant — one that completely tore up the post World-War II order that had uneasily existed through the Cold War.

No joke, this

In the US, most people who did not watch TV had never heard of Donald Trump. The entire political class thought he was a joke. A thrice-married billionaire businessman showman who talked his head off accusing Mexican immigrants as lawbreakers was expected to dissipate into political oblivion weeks after he launched his campaign. In the end, Trump showed that he was a master at taming social media and exploiting the pulse of the anxious American voter. A complete political novice, he went on to destroy the political careers of 17 other governors and senators, including Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. The Republican party leadership is stunned, and still so dazed that they do not know what hit them. How could so many elites read the electorate so badly?

Or just go back a few years. How could the intelligence agencies of the US, the UK and other western nations have been so wrong about insisting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction? How could the US and the UK be so naive as to not see that toppling Saddam Hussein would result in utter chaos?

We learn in grade school that we can only borrow if we can pay interest and return the full principal, the sum of which is the amount. Why is it that no US government official — including such stars as Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke in the US Federal Reserve — saw the great 2008 financial crisis ahead of time so that they could prevent it from happening in the first place? This was not just a US crisis, to boot. Entire countries — Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain — almost went bankrupt as excessive debt based on a real estate bubble was at the core of the problem. How could so many leaders and government officials miss out on crucial data and make such a mess of things?

It is easy to say that hindsight is 20-20 but the scale of bad judgment of our leaders, almost always resulting in bad policy, is horrendous. If the rest of us ordinary mortals were to perform this way in our jobs, we would be immediately fired. Yet, these same leaders continue to talk to us as though they know it all and insist that their latest plans — whatever they may be — will definitely work.

The disconnect between common people and the elites in power has never been starker. It is this divide that is the cause of global anxiety. Until it is bridged, disorder around the world will likely continue.

The writer is the managing director of Rao Advisors, LLC

Published on July 18, 2016

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