Untruth and Consequences

In every corner of the world, governments are failing to recognize the full implications of their policies, and experts are too confused, or inappropriately influenced, to provide clear and credible guidance. The result is a mixture of hubris and cluelessness that is consuming countries’ entire political establishments.


How the almost mighty have fallen. For the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), the past fortnight has been a series of reckonings for corners cut, untruths told, and hubris unchecked. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is the mightiest to fall, having been impeached and removed from office for fiddling the national budget. Yet despite her eviction from power, the country’s vast corruption scandal rumbles on, with former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva now indicted for corruption and Eduardo Cunha, the parliamentary speaker and the man who initiated Rousseff’s impeachment, himself now evicted from his post and facing his own corruption charges.

In South Africa, the African National Congress, which has been in power without interruption since apartheid ended a generation ago, has suffered a series of humiliating defeats in local government elections, largely owing to corruption charges swirling around a badly weakened President Jacob Zuma. With opposition coalitions now running a number of South Africa’s most important cities, there is growing talk of an ANC split in the not-so-distant future.

The other BRICS are faring little better. China’s first effort at hosting a G20 summit, at a moment when its economy is running at a three-decade low, will be remembered not for any agreement among the assembled world leaders, but for Chinese bureaucrats’ insulting behavior toward US President Barack Obama and his team. Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to deepen his country’s alliance with China and his “bromance” with US presidential candidate Donald Trump; but he also seems to be recognizing the constraints that Russia’s economic weakness imposes on his overseas adventurism, as the Syrian ceasefire agreed with the United States demonstrates. Finally, in response to the violence and contempt that Hindu activists, the core of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have shown toward Gujurat’s Dalits, Modi is now being challenged in his home state, which he once dominated the same way the ANC once dominated South Africa.

For Project Syndicate commentators, the BRICS’ recent troubles are best viewed as the latest symptom of a stagnant global economy’s increasingly dysfunctional politics, in which hubris is often the handmaiden of cluelessness. And acting on what one feels, not on what is known, is all the more dangerous at a time when so much is up for debate.