With last week’s release of the president’s budget, Washington has once again descended into partisan squabbling. In the US today, there is pervasive concern about the basic functioning of democracy. Congress is viewed less favourably than ever before in the history of opinion polling. There is widespread revulsion at political figures seemingly unable to reach agreement on measures to reduce future budget deficits. Pundits and politicians alike condemn “gridlock”. Angry movements, such as Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, are present and still active on the extremes of both sides of the political spectrum.
Meanwhile, profound changes are redefining the global order. Emerging economies, led by China, are converging towards the west. Beyond the current economic downturn lies the even more serious challenge of the rise of technologies, which may raise average productivity but will displace large numbers of workers. Public debt is increasing in a way that is without precedent except in times of total war. A combination of an ageing population and the rising prices of health and education will put pressure on future budgets.