Spiegel Online is running a four part series titled Which Country Has the Best Government.
In my view, the series raises serious doubts about the notion that most people have in the "West", particularly in the United States, Canada, and some European countries about the superiority of the democracy/free market "religion" championed, in particular, by the United States and the global agencies, like the IMF and the World Bank, that serve its policies, the Washington Consensus.Using Rio de Janeiro as an example, the first in the series describes how Brazilian governments have managed to invalidate the seemingly irrefutable laws of globalization. The Chinese city of Lanzhou shows the practices that have turned China into a superpower in the second article. A third report from the US pinpoints the weaknesses plaguing the system of "checks and balances" that has been in place for more than 200 years, while the final piece on the exemplary European nation of Denmark explains how governments and their citizens can cooperate.
In the article on Rio de Janeiro, for example, it is reported that,
The country has a nearly balanced budget, little debt and almost full employment. It is in the process of overtaking France and the United Kingdom, and is poised to become one of the world's five largest economies. Despite being a newly industrialized country itself, Brazil gives development aid, and its dollar reserves of over $350 billion (€290 billion) make it one of the countries with the potential to help save the European Union.
Globalization expert Nicholas Lemann sums up the Brazilian miracle in The New Yorker: "Among the world's major economic powers, Brazil has achieved a rare trifecta: high growth, political freedom, and falling inequality." That first factor stands in stark contrast to the United States and Europe, the second factor to China and the third to almost anywhere on the map.
Lemann's high praise for Brazil makes it seem that global leaders searching for the secret to good governance should make a pilgrimage to the Amazon.In the introduction to the series,Cardoso failed to achieve one of the central aims of good governance: an equitable distribution of wealth. That effort was taken up by his successor, who became president in 2002: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, known to all as "Lula," leader of the left-wing Workers' Party. A former shoe shiner, metalworker and union leader, Lula was himself a member of Brazil's lower class. His first wife and their unborn child died because the family couldn't afford necessary medical care. In 2003, as president, he traveled first to meet the world's economic leaders in Davos, Switzerland, then a couple days later to participate in the World Social Forum, an alternative counter-initiative held in Porto Alegre, Brazil. "At both gatherings," he later reflected proudly, "I gave the same speech on hunger and how to combat it."
Lula succeeded in easing the desperate situation of the underprivileged in his country with welfare programs such as Fome Zero ("Zero Hunger"), which he implemented against the express advice of his own advisors, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He was accused of "assistencialism," a form of poverty relief that's limited to handouts with little potential to make long-term change. Yet Lula was successful. More than 20 million people made the leap from lower to middle class under his watch, and the proportion of Brazilians living in absolute poverty decreased by 50 percent.
The answer, in my view, is "Yes". If the citizens and politicians in the West, particularly in the United States and my own country Canada, are to have any hope of alleviating the economic, social, and environmental pressures now plaguing them, it will be necessary for them set aside the arrogance, hubris, and chauvinism--and even racial prejudice--and show the wisdom to learn lessons from countries that have demonstrated better governance.Western democracies consider themselves to be efficient, farsighted and just -- in other words, prime examples of "good governance." But in recent years, the euro and debt crises, along with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have shattered faith in the reliability of western institutions. Disconcerted Europeans are casting a worried eye at newly industrialized nations like China and Brazil. Can the West learn something from countries that for so long sought its advice?