Bill Emmott is the author of the recently published The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea. In the book, he explores the current crisis of the Western model by defining its core values (democracy and openness), why they took hold (because they promote both prosperity and fairness at the same time), and how in recent decades they have failed to deliver on those benefits for a large part of the population. He also recommends eight remedies. Bill Emmott was for 13 years the Editor-in-chief of The Economist. He has also made controversial documentaries for the BBC, and written books on Italy, Japan, rivalries among Asian nations, and more.
“Forty years ago, West Germany’s chancellor Willy Brandt predicted the end of democracies. He was wrong, but it’s a question worth asking again.”
Bill Emmott, author and former Editor-in-Chief of The Economist, is a confirmed optimist. In the face all of today’s challenges, in the face of inequality, terrorist threats, and mass migration, he remains persuaded that democracy is the best response.
While some observers see an undercurrent of darkness running through these early years of the 21st century, this is not a view shared by Bill Emmott, who was Editor-in-Chief of The Economist for 13 years and recently authored The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea. As he pointed out at the FHH Forum, any number of signs could be construed as painting a bleak picture of the world’s political and economic future. Things look pretty grim wherever you look, whether it’s the crisis in the Middle East with Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan mired in conflict; the bitter fallout from the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis reviving harrowing memories of the Great Depression; or extreme weather events leaving entire regions devastated, as reconstruction efforts are paralyzed by corruption.
And then there’s Donald Trump’s trip to Asia, the longest Asian visit scheduled for a US president in 25 years. Emmott doesn’t see a lot to celebrate in current relations between America and China. “The American president will arrive in China in a position of weakness. He will arrive as a supplicant, asking China for assistance in dealing with North Korea,” Emmott says. “He will come as something of a fugitive,” continues Emmott, given the net tightening around him vis-à-vis his campaign team’s possible collusion with Russia during the presidential elections. “Is this a handover moment of leadership from America to China?” Emmott asks. He rejects that as premature, but believes there’s no doubt that China is establishing its legitimacy on the world stage, and creating a real opportunity to face the US on an equal playing field.
Democracy, or bust
Is this a danger for the West? Emmott prefers to focus on the health of America’s economy and the main economies of the Eurozone. He goes on to talk about the political volatility that was illustrated in the French and US elections, propelling relative newcomers to the presidency, and even in the way different parties are joining forces, like in Germany. As for the middle classes—whose salaries have shrunk to the same levels as twenty years ago—he asserts that they’re now rising up to denounce an unfair system, with massive inequality of opportunity. Not to mention the thorny issue of immigration. Emmott observes that these recent developments have put a question mark over how open our democracies are, and whether they’re really geared towards the common good. “We are seeing a rebellion of those who feel that equality has been lost,” he notes, recalling the 1970s, when German Chancellor Willy Brandt was predicting European democracies would soon die. Although his forecast was thankfully wrong, this doesn’t mean that we don’t still have a lot to do, quite the contrary. Emmott thinks that some real efforts need to be made, some considerable efforts right across the globe. “In Europe we must exploit the unreleased potential that is represented by high unemployment,” he insists. For its part, Japan needs to work on reducing gender inequality. And he believes the US has to avoid a retreat into protectionism that no one would benefit from.
It’s a long list, but Emmott doesn’t despair. Especially since the current economic up-cycle seems secure, at least for the immediate future. While the temptation towards dictatorship is still in evidence—witness Turkey and Russia, and even China, with its leader Xi Jinping already thought of as a modern-day Mao—democracy is certainly worth fighting for in earnest. “It has to win out, because there’s no other political system that can guarantee progress and liberty,” Emmott concludes. “As things stand, it’s certainly far from perfect—but to put it in liberal parlance, I’d say we have the best democracy money can buy!”
Click on the video to view the speaker’s interview at the Forum.
See which experts and personalities are invited to the Forum.