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It is de rigueur nowadays to say that our politicians are hopeless; that they are useless, conceited and not up to the job of governing. Our democratically elected representatives are mistrusted and often seen as living in a bubble remote from the lives of ordinary people. No wonder populists from non-political backgrounds are winning elections.

Edward Luce makes a spirited defence of US politicians in his column, arguing most of them are actually decent people. He points out that the breakdown in trust is a reflection of wider divisions in American society — between white and non-white, graduates and non-graduates, young and old. This poses a major challenge, given that the constitution was specifically designed to work through compromise. This is a tension across the west, but Ed thinks it is most toxic in the US as no other democracy is heading towards such a majority-minority future.

Interestingly, one of the few institutions Donald Trump has not criticised is the military. This is no accident, given its high levels of public trust. Whereas barely half of Americans have confidence in Congress, three-quarters have positive attitudes towards the armed forces. A generation ago, it was not the case (see Vietnam). Now people flatter those in uniform. There may be lessons from the Pentagon on how to win favour with the public. The collapse in confidence in politicians is something that needs to be addressed, and soon.

President Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, left, and Paul Ryan, centre, House Speaker. Washington’s breakdown mirrors growing divisions in society © AP

Why he went: Roula Khalaf considers why the US president decided to head to Davos to address the global elite. The forum offers him an extra chance for his “genius” to be paraded, she suggests.

South African revolution: David Pilling says an economic imperative makes this region somewhere investors should watch. All three leaders in Angola, South Africa and Zimbabwe are working to attract more foreign investment.

Early adoption: Anne-Marie Slaughter argues that talent in children needs to be developed early on. Those creative, unpredictable skills that cannot be automated need to be fostered.

Best of the rest

Trump Starts His Trade War — Wall Street Journal editorial board

Inside the Dysfunctional Relationship of Donald Trump and Theresa May — Tim Ross and Margaret Talev for Bloomberg

Trump exemplifies the Ugly American. Davos will accept him anyway — Niall Ferguson in The Washington Post

Our allies fear Britain is retreating from the world. We must put them right — William Hague in The Telegraph

Nothing is halting the junk lifestyle juggernaut — Jenni Russell in The Times

What you’ve been saying

Enjoy good art galleries outside the capital cities— letter from Michael Kenward:

I have fond memories of visiting the impressive Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille where there were just two of us in a room full of Impressionist masterpieces. Then there is the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville, with its impressive array of baroque gems. In Germany, Cologne has no fewer than three museums and art galleries where you are unlikely to have to peer over the shoulders of other visitors.

Last year’s delight, after Mantova’s gem of an all-but-deserted Gonzaga Palazzo Ducale, was the equally crowd-free Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna. A handful of Italians far outnumbered a minimal sprinkling of tourists.

Comment from gaston lagaffe on Davos 2018: The liberal international order is sick:

My take is that the liberal economic order espoused by author has lost legitimacy post-2008, and we are witnessing various attempts to replace it. Capitalism used to have legitimacy on the grounds that you flourished if you provided goods and services that people wanted at a competitive price and failed/went bankrupt if you didn’t. 2008 demonstrated that these rules didn’t apply to a lot of wealthy people in the banking sector. That was resented.

It was followed by a decade of ‘quantitative easing’. I could understand that argument for using low interest rates/government debt to improve infrastructure and create employment. But have you looked at the state of UK infrastructure, after increasing national debt by around £1 trillion? Rather than being steered to infrastructure, the advocates of low interest rates put their hope in the ‘wealth effect’. Increase the incomes of wealthy asset holders and hope they spend more. Plus drive down the exchange rate, increase inflation, and so reduce living standards and labour costs.

Quality of ECB board appointees is crucial— letter from Paul de Grauwe:

The process of appointing the bulk of ECB decision makers is starting. At this stage, there is no indication that the governments that will pick these people realise that the departing members of the executive board have succeeded in bringing the euro back from a total collapse because they were professionals of the highest calibre. This is natural, you never know exactly what dangers you escaped, nor precisely why. We do not care what passports these people hold but we do care that they be chosen from the pool of the best-suited European experts, not active politicians and not even from administrators with scant knowledge of monetary matters.

Today’s opinion

America’s political journey into tribalism Mistrust, which has corroded politics across the west, is most toxic in the US

Free Lunch: The global recovery still deserves our support World economy is strengthening — keep cheering it on

Fostering future talent needs to start early We must seek out the creative, unpredictable skills that cannot be automated

Reasons why Donald Trump decided to take the Davos stage The forum offers the president an extra chance to parade his self-proclaimed genius

FT Alphaville: NAIRU: not just bad economics, now also bad politics

Turkey’s action in Syria threatens fragile alliance Ankara’s estrangement from the west over Kurdish self-determination now runs deep

Davos 2018: Southern Africa faces a full-scale revolution The economic imperative means the region is a place investors would do well to watch

EM Squared: African consumer companies see earnings go up in smoke Profits plunge over past decade amid economic slowdown and missing middle class

FT View

FT View: Labour finds few foes for its public sector stance The UK opposition party is sceptical of private-public partnerships

FT View: The banking reform that can help unite the EU Agreement on a common deposit scheme is the key to deeper reform

The Big Read

The Big Read: Small satellites and big data: a commercial space race hots up Investors see opportunities for cheap rocket technology and launch pad in New Zealand

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