7
Nov

The Second Coming of Barack Obama

By Kemal Derviş

The race was tough, but US President Barack Obama has won re-election. The question now, for the United States and the world, is what will he do with a fresh four-year term?

To win re-election with a still-weak economy and unemployment close to 8% was not easy. Many leaders – Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown, and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero come to mind – have been swept away by economic discontent in recent years. Although the financial disaster erupted on George W. Bush’s watch, after eight years of a Republican presidency, Obama had to carry the burden of an anemic recovery.

Obama won not only because of his extraordinary personal resilience, but also because a sufficient number of middle-class voters, while unhappy with the pace of economic progress, sensed that an Obama presidency would help them more than the policies championed by his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, which were perceived as tilted to the affluent. Moreover, America’s ongoing demographic transformation makes it harder for candidates who are unable to reach out strongly to Latinos and other minority communities – something that Romney singularly failed to do – to carry the country.

Some aspects of the campaign, particularly the amount of money spent and its negative tone, struck many observers as objectionable. But the competitiveness of American democracy – the fact that an alternative always exists, and that those in power have to fight hard to stay there – was on admirable display for the whole world to see.

Obama will embark on his second term with the global economy at a crossroads. In the US, the uneven and weak recovery has been sustained by extraordinarily expansive monetary policies and ongoing large fiscal deficits. While corporate coffers hold mountains of cash, private investment stagnates. In Japan, solid economic performance remains elusive, while prime ministers succeed each other at a breathtaking pace.

Likewise, Europe is on life support, thanks to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s astute maneuvering and promises of unlimited intervention in sovereign-debt markets. But unemployment is at its highest in decades and growth has essentially stalled, even in Germany, while the troubled southern economies are mired in deep recession. The situation in Greece, moreover, has become socially unsustainable; Greece is small, but a total collapse there could have very negative financial and psychological effects elsewhere. Read more…

Kemal Derviş, a former minister of economy in Turkey, administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and vice president of the World Bank, is currently Vice President of the Brookings Institution.

As published in www.project-syndicate.org on November 7, 2012.

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