Democracy and global capitalism are under threat, argues the FT's chief economics commentator Martin Wolf, and nativist sentiment is spreading. So who might provide the leadership needed to tackle global challenges?
If the world as a whole is to meet its collective challenges, it has to co-operate. But if it is to co-operate, it needs leadership. During the second half of the 20th century, the high income democracies dominated the world economy under US leadership. These were the richest, most technologically advanced and most powerful countries in the world.
The Soviet Union had attempted to be a rival, but it had failed. With its collapse, there emerged a more unified world of democratisation and globalisation. Presidents George Bush of the US and Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union talked optimistically of a brave new world order of peaceful co-operation. This world exists no longer.
The rise of China, and to a lesser extent India, have diminished the dominance of the old high income countries. The global financial crisis has shaken confidence in global capitalism. The stagnant real incomes and lost jobs of the working class of high income countries have turned many against liberal trade.
A flood of desperate immigrants has ignited nativist sentiment. The economic success of autocracy in China, and the rise of despots across the globe, have undermined faith in democracy. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, with his programme of America first, indicate a profound loss of confidence in any idea of a co-operative and open western led world order.
In such a world, who might provide the leadership needed to tackle the global challenges of climate change, global peace, and sustainable prosperity? Might it be China? Burdened though it is with huge domestic challenges, might it be nobody at all. The question is clear, not so the answer.