OPINION

Something has snapped

From the outset, it was clear that 2008 would be a difficult year, but developments have exceeded even the worst expectations. Who would have expected the US economy to be on the brink of a recession, jeopardizing growth in Europe and the rest of the world? Who would have expected food riots in far-flung corners of the world, and oil smashing through the 100-dollar-per-barrel mark, and showing no sign of easing? It’s World Earth Day today and something seems to have snapped. For the first time since World War II, progress does not appear to be inevitable. Rich and poor countries have become accustomed to the benefits of globalization. Today, together, they are learning of its ills – many of which stem from globalization’s successes. The price of food is rising across the world because more people are eating well. Increase in demand, along with the fashion for biofuels and crop failure, have created shortages and raised prices. Living standards in poor, manufacturing countries are rising, leading to higher wages and higher prices, creating a new series of problems for manufacturers and consumers everywhere. In this climate, no country and no leader appears to know what to do. The United States is trapped in the last, endless months of a divisive presidency. In Europe, the German chancellor seems to have lost her way, the French president has not convinced anyone that he can lead France effectively (let alone inspire Europe), and in Britain the relatively new prime minister is bending under the burden of his party’s long tenure in government. China remains insecure; it has given itself over to rage and isolationism because of the criticism over Tibet and human rights. There are no more political and economic ideologies on which leaders can lean. There is only the need for them to act seriously and effectively. And that is precisely where we see how naked they are.