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Person of the (authoritarian nationalist) decade

Summary:
Imagine an Asian country with nearly 1.4 billion people, mostly non-Muslim. On the edge of the country, close to central Asia and the Himalayas, is a province inhabited by roughly 10 or 15 million Muslims, some of whom agitate for independence. The central government has cracked down on the local population with severely authoritarian and undemocratic policies. Of course I’m talking about China. And India. Meanwhile Japan and South Korea are engaged in a ridiculous spat over national pride. And then there’s the Philippines. The person that best represents the global zeitgeist is not the leader of any of those countries. Nor is it Trump, or Salvini, or Orban, or Bolsonaro, or Boris Johnson or any other of the usual suspects. They are either long time nationalist thugs or

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Imagine an Asian country with nearly 1.4 billion people, mostly non-Muslim. On the edge of the country, close to central Asia and the Himalayas, is a province inhabited by roughly 10 or 15 million Muslims, some of whom agitate for independence. The central government has cracked down on the local population with severely authoritarian and undemocratic policies.

Of course I’m talking about China.

And India.

Meanwhile Japan and South Korea are engaged in a ridiculous spat over national pride. And then there’s the Philippines.

The person that best represents the global zeitgeist is not the leader of any of those countries. Nor is it Trump, or Salvini, or Orban, or Bolsonaro, or Boris Johnson or any other of the usual suspects. They are either long time nationalist thugs or opportunists riding an ideology that they don’t actually believe in.

To truly capture the zeitgeist of the 2010s, you’d need to find someone of unimpeachable integrity. Someone whose courage and honesty are beyond dispute. Someone who prior to the 2010s was a passionate supporter of classical liberal ideals, and who was willing to fight for those ideals at great personal cost.

And that’s because to truly understand the zeitgeist you need to recognize its mysterious power, it’s ability to change people’s minds. There is one person who far more than any other captures the zeitgeist of the 2010s. One person who went from being a liberal saint to an anti-Muslim bigot. Who went from being a passionate supporter of human rights to a jailer of journalists. Who went from being a Nobel Peace Prize winner to an authoritarian thug.

I present to you the person of the decade:

Person of the (authoritarian nationalist) decadePS.  This Atlantic piece sums it up nicely:

Whether or not Suu Kyi has changed, the world around her has. Democratizing Myanmar “would have been easier two decades ago,” says Thaung Tun. He’s right. Twenty years ago, democracy was on the march, authoritarian China wasn’t yet flexing its muscles, neighboring India hadn’t turned decisively to Hindu nationalism, a liberal United States was the sole underwriter of the international order, terrorism was a peripheral threat, and the Pandora’s box of social media had not yet been opened.

Ah, the world we’ve lost.  It almost makes me want to cry.


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Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment".

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