Soft Power and Hard Batons

LONDON – We all remember one phrase from the first presidential campaign by a Clinton.

When Bill Clinton was running for the job in the early 1990’s, one of his staff explained what the central issue in the election was. “It’s the economy, stupid.” he said. Economics explains all – jobs, prices, savings, houses. It determines the public mood and sets the political agenda.

The point is reinforced by a curious glossy magazine advertisement that you might have seen recently. It is for expensive luggage. Mikhail Gorbachev sits in the back of a limousine. He is being driven past the Berlin Wall. On the seat next to him is the luxury brand, a leather attaché case. The message? Who cares about the Wall; forget politics; money rules.

Maybe that’s really how it is. Today the world wrestles with the consequences of America’s addiction to borrowing and with the greed and stupidity of many global banks. Drivers grumble at the cost of filling their cars’ gas tanks. Housewives in poor countries – and in better-off countries, too – despair at the rising cost of feeding their families. In Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, their husbands and sons riot over food prices.