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The Year Ahead 2017

Saving the Center

The political center – particularly the progressive center – wins when it has the initiative, when it is leading the debate, when the solutions it is proposing are radical as well as sensible. Only a strong and revitalized center, one that rediscovers the policy agenda that owns the future, can defeat today's populist surge.

LONDON – There is no doubt about the waves of discontent and anger sweeping Western politics. The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union after four decades of membership, jeopardizing all the intricate trading and political connections that such a long relationship created. Against all forecasts by political pundits, Donald Trump won the United States presidency, something the political class thought virtually inconceivable. Throughout Europe, new political parties are springing up, all based on variations on the same theme: the political establishment has ignored us, and we will throw them out in protest.

One defining feature of this uprising is that the impetus for change has become more important than any consideration of what change might mean in practice. The things said by leaders riding this wave can be wildly out of kilter with normal rules of political conduct; but none of it matters. What matters is that the revolt is happening, and whoever happens to catch the wave will be borne aloft.

By contrast, politicians who make reasoned arguments of a conventional kind merely irritate rebellious voters, arousing impetuous dismissal, if not contempt and derision.

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  1. Financial planning report Getty Images

    The Metric God That Failed

    • Over the past few decades, formal institutions have increasingly been subjected to performance measurements that define success or failure according to narrow and arbitrary metrics. 

    • The outcome should have been predictable: institutions have done what they can to boost their performance metrics, often at the expense of performance itself.
  2.  Laborers fill orders of machine grade steel to be shipped throughout the Pacific Northwest Natalie Behring/Getty Images

    Trump and the All-American Trade Debate

    • Donald Trump’s recently announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminum have raised fears that his administration will roll back the rules-based free-trade system that has facilitated global commerce since World War II. 

    • But a closer examination of the history of US trade policy shows that Trump’s protectionist gambits are neither new, nor likely to have a lasting effect.
  3. Pictures of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Financial Secretary Paul Chan of Hong Kong ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

    The Asian Values Debate Returns

    • For the time being, concrete evidence of policy success in countries like China and India may well be the most effective way to buttress the case for applying non-Western perspectives to national development strategies. 

    • But, in the longer term, non-Western thinkers will need to translate their ideas into testable models and theories.
  4. MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

    Saving Mothers and Newborns

    • Tens of thousands of mothers and newborns die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every year, which is why maternal and perinatal mortality is still one of world’s most daunting public-health challenges. 

    • But recent research finds that a comprehensive systems-based approach provides reason for hope.