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We live in the age of the strongmen: authoritarians surfing a tide of populism who act decisively to give reassurance in uncertain times. Does this mean we are witnessing the death of democracy? That leaders such as Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan represent the future?

Philip Stephens is not so sure. In his latest column, he acknowledges that democracies have their problems — as the turmoil in Italy shows — but also finds the alternatives wanting. In China, he is struck by the constant fear in the Communist party that the country may tilt towards a democracy. In Turkey, Mr Erdogan has few allies and has put himself at odds with most of the country’s neighbours.

The problems of the strongman are most apparent in Russia. Philip points out that Mr Putin is increasingly isolated on the world stage and the Russian economy is suffering from a lack of foreign investment and technology. There were no cheering crowds on the streets to celebrate Mr Putin’s re-election. Those who think democracy has had its day might be speaking too soon.

Letter from a Leaver
Robert Shrimsley offers a condensed version of the recent blogs by Dominic Cummings, master of the Vote Leave campaign, about how Brexit is going wrong. If only he had been able to implement the referendum result, things would have been different.

The loser on trade deficits
Robert Zoellick, former president of the World Bank, says that Donald Trump’s focus on manufacturing plays to his core voting base but harms other parts of the US economy. Although many of the president’s views have been “fluid”, his loathing of bilateral deficits has remained consistent.

Productivity slackers
Chris Giles argues that the UK’s biggest companies are responsible for the challenges facing the economy. Simply put, the largest companies are not achieving what they used to. More fizz is therefore needed in the best sectors.

Best of the rest

The Word That Derailed the Trump-Kim Summit — Uri Friedman in The Atlantic

£350 million for the NHS: How the Brexit bus pledge is coming true — James Forsyth and Fraser Nelson in The Spectator

Long live Macron, populist president of Europe — Philip Collins in The Times

With Kim Jong Un, There’s No ‘Win-Win’ — Nicholas Eberstadt in the Wall Street Journal

Think London’s trains are bad? Look at the great northern train fail — Phil McDuff in The Guardian

What you’ve been saying

Little-known Conte could unite fragmented Italy — letter from Vito Tanzi:

Just consider the alternatives. It might allow both Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star leader, and Matteo Salvini, his League counterpart, to pull back from the more extreme and dangerous promises that they have made to their electors. If pursued, some of the promised policies would be a direct and quick road to financial disaster.

With a wise, though inexperienced, technocrat as president of the council of ministers and with competent ministers such as Giancarlo Giorgetti and Paolo Savona in key economic ministries, Italy might have the least dangerous government possible at this difficult time.

Comment from Democrat on The exorbitant cost of Trump’s America going it alone:

The incongruence between what America claims to be and what it has actually become has been laid bare by Trump. Anyone who has spent any time in the US will know that the roots of this moral decline were laid long before Trump decided to run for office.

Obama appealed to America to live up to its better self, without the gumption to take on the vested monied interests that lie at the root of the moral bankruptcy we see today.The time to take on corrupt vested interests was after the 2007/8 financial crisis. Instead we chose to bail them out. Trump is the inevitable consequence.

The true purpose of accounting is to hold society to account — letter from Paolo Quattrone:

Auditing concerns both accounting processes and the truth of accounting content. The former is the realm of auditors and the latter is the realm of other stakeholders fighting for an accounting truth, a truth that does not exist. Therefore preparers will have to reach an agreement with other stakeholders on what counts as the “right” accounting valuations, and be accountable for those in front of the general assembly and society.

Companies will still fail, scandals will emerge and questions will be asked. But if we restore the true purpose of accounting, to hold society to account by making users ask the right questions rather than consume the wrong answers, we may move on from pointing fingers to a place where we can make better decisions in the future.

Today’s opinion

Instant Insight: Libyan remarks may have sunk Donald Trump’s North Korea summit
No one knows how the drama between the president and ‘little rocket man’ will go next

New York property jitters herald declines elsewhere
Some treat housing like a tradeable asset and chase yields. But what happens next?

A Leaver writes: politicians have ruined my Brexit
It has all gone horribly wrong for the man behind the Vote Leave team

Free Lunch: Give Italy’s new rulers a chance
EU has opportunity to disprove that it blocks alternative economic policies

The US will be the loser from Trump’s focus on trade deficits
The president’s obsession with manufacturing plays to his base but ignores services

EM Squared: Nigeria’s GDP per head to fall for 8 straight years, says IMF
Fund calls for urgent action to stem falling living standards and to tackle poverty

FT Alphaville: Further reading

The world’s strongmen have their problems too
The death of democracy is trumpeted today as loudly as the end of history once was

The Big Read

The Big Read: The fight to own Antarctica
Competition for natural resources, research and tourism is putting pressure on the cold war-era treaty that guarantees order on the continent

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