The Problem with Presidents

By Mahbubani, Kishore | Newsweek, August 30, 2010 | Go to article overview
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The Problem with Presidents


Mahbubani, Kishore, Newsweek


Byline: Kishore Mahbubani

We need global, not just national, leaders.

Mao Zedong was right. we should always focus on the primary, not secondary, contradictions. And right now, our primary global contradiction is painfully obvious: the biggest challenges of governance are global in origin, but all the politics that respond to them are local. There are many wise leaders around the world, but there is not enough global leadership.

The first decade of the 21st century has only accelerated the emergence of such challenges. The era began with 9/11, when a plot hatched in Afghanistan brought down the Twin Towers in Manhattan. In 2003 SARS jumped simultaneously from a village in China to two cities on opposite sides of the world--Singapore and Toronto. Barely six years later, H1N1 haunted the globe. The speed and ferocity of the Lehman Brothers crisis brought the world to the brink of a meltdown.

The biggest challenge of all is progressing more slowly than the financial crisis. But climate change is the perfect example of just how ineffective our current leadership structures are. The solution to global warming is quite simple: we have to increase the economic price of greenhouse-gas emissions equitably, with rich countries paying more and poorer nations paying less, but with all countries paying some price. Yet someone has to make the first move. America--whose population is only 5 percent of the world but consumes 25 percent of the world's gasoline--is the obvious candidate. If the price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States were to be raised by $1 (and that would still make an American gallon cheaper than a European or Singaporean gallon), the change in driving habits would dramatically cut greenhouse-gas emissions. And American leadership, by example, would likely change attitudes in other nations.

In many ways, the United States is the wisest country in the world. It certainly remains the most successful, despite its recent travails. Yet in this land of wisdom and success, not one American politician would dare advocate a $1 solution to save the world. It would mean immediate political suicide.

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