Who are the world’s 100 leading public intellectuals? Woundingly, I do not appear on the list compiled by “Prospect” and “Foreign Policy” magazines. But at least I sit along the corridor from one of these great brains: Martin Wolf is on the list.
Prospect are now inviting readers to vote for a top five. In the interests of self-aggrandisement by association, I have decided only to vote for colleagues or former colleagues – so my five votes go to Martin, Niall Ferguson (FT columnist), Larry Summers (ditto), Christopher Hitchens (Sunday Correspondent) and Anne Applebaum (The Economist). This seems an appropriately infantile response to an infantile exercise. And anything that stops Noam Chomsky from winning again has to be worthwhile.
We have a new conventional wisdom. Hillary is done for…again. The notion that Barack Obama has all but secured the Democratic nomination is hard to argue against.
For those of you who wish to see me discussing this in video format, here is the link.
American presidents are meant to have big ideas about the world: a “new frontier”, an “alliance for progress”, a “war on terror”. Unfortunately for the Democratic party the big idea that most animates their two would-be presidents – Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – seems to be mutually assured destruction.
Viewed from the United States, there are three ways of looking at the rise of China and India: as an illusion, as a threat or as an opportunity. Fareed Zakaria is an optimist.
Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, came to the US as an 18-year-old student from India. But, in many ways, this is a very American book – both in its optimism and in its determination to leave the reader with useful lessons.
Much of the material in The Post-American World will be well known to anyone with a passing interest in international affairs: the stunning economic growth in Asia; the challenge to America’s post cold-war hegemony; the parallels between modern America and the British empire. Zakaria tells this story in a convincing and entertaining way. But it is familiar stuff.
The novel feature of Zakaria’s book is its effort to argue that “the rise of the rest” need not entail the decline of the US.
To illustrate his point, he draws an analogy with tennis. A generation ago, American players dominated the US Open. Now they have to share the prizes with players from other nations. This does not mean that Americans have suddenly got worse at tennis. It is just that others have learnt how to play the game.
I went to a couple of meetings this week where the food crisis was discussed. At Chatham House on Monday John Holmes, the UN’s co-ordinator for emeregency relief, gave a careful and under-stated presentation -which was still alarming in its implications. He told me after the meeting that he thinks that we are still only at the beginning of the food crisis – and that prices and hunger are likely to keep rising for a while yet.
I’ve certainly noticed on my travels that food prices are now a big political issue in almost every country that I visit. I first noticed it on a trip to Pakistan and Bangladesh at the beginning of the year. In both countries, people told me that the biggest source of popular discontent were not the machinations of President Musharraf or the Bangladeshi interim government. It was the fact that the price of staple foods had gone up by as much as 40% over the last year.
In case you haven’t been reading the papers, London has a new mayor. Boris Johnson has won. I thought that both Boris and Ken Livingstone gave unusually graceful speeches at the count last night. There was no triumphalism or buffoonery in Boris’s speech – and his tribute to Ken was generous and sounded genuine. Livingstone, for his part, avoided bitterness and accepted responsbility for his defeat – which was also generous, given that the more plausible explanation is that he was a victim of an anti-Labour rip-tide that is sweeping Britain.
The conventional explanation of Boris’s victory is that the voters are fed up. The economy is turning down, people are scared of crime and everybody in London is in a bit of gloom. This seems to me precisely wrong. Electing Boris is the act of a supremely confident city. You wouldn’t take a chance on a joker like him if you were actually worried about the future.
This may be the laziest blog I have ever done. But I heartily recommend this splendid seven-minute video from Slate, summarising the Democratic presidential race so far.
And just to add a teensy bit of value of my own. I met a long-time Clinton adviser at an event in London today. His private take is that Obama has now locked up the nomination. Yes, the Reverend Wright stuff is incredibly damaging. But it’s too late to de-rail Obama now. He said that: “The Democratic elite decided a few weeks ago that Obama will be the nominee. And he will be. The trouble is that he can’t finish Clinton off. And that show’s he a weak candidate.”