An African-American president would be welcome. Barack Obama, however, is more about African politics than diversity in American politics. Shorn of the apparent sophistication, Obama sounds so familiar to me--a leftist populist. Having lived in India in the 1970s and 1980s, I know what populism means and implies for the lives of ordinary people--needless suffering of the worst kind. As it turned out, the Indian intelligentia, its civil servants and politicians, including one of the worst populists of that era, actually learned from the Reagan Revolution and took a more rational path that has resulted in an economic boom in that country. I spent my youth watching the transition happen over nearly two decades as an economist and as an editorial writer for business newspapers. Laffer curve was frequently debated by economists as much as benefits of free trade.
Leadership in India learned to take an increasingly bottomline approach. Many Americans may not know this but the word bottomline till then was not used commonly in Indian English. It became popular because it is so descriptive of a mindset that uses common sense to distinguish between a promise and the real thing. Tax rates for the rich is just one of the favorites of populists and Obama is no exception. Lower taxes for the rich are actually beneficial for the larger community because they will be more willing to disclose their actual income and not evade their tax liability. This can help finance social programs for the less fortunate. In addition, lower taxes have always raised economic growth rates.
The worst populist of that era, Laloo Prasad, presided over the ruin of the poorest state in India--Bihar--over decades. Laloo Prasad Yadav is charming. Eventhough he speaks only a smattering of English, he can entertain even a business audience enough for them to roar into laughter. These days he is the minister supervising the railways--the most important means of transportation in India. After years of decline, the railways these days are booming--one of the few success stories in the Indian infrastructure industry. Laloo Prasad Yadav retains his charm but these days he uses it to implement modern management methods in the railways industry.
My life in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the last three years in San Francisco city, has prepared me adequetely to see through the rhetoric coming from the Obama camp. I was not surprised in the least when Michelle Obama announced that it is only now that she is a proud to be an American. Left liberals out here spout anti-US rhetoric whenever they open their mouth. Not since my days in India in the early 1980s, I have heard so much of senseless political rhetoric. Michelle Obama's proverbial slip is rooted in her habits of thinking.
In India, it was understandable why ordinary folks fell for the mesmerizing oratory of politicians. Many of them were illiterate and poor. Hope for them was a compulsive desire--a chance to liberate themselves. It comes as a shock to me that Barack Obama can influence an educated electorate with such empty rhetoric. Chris Mathews of NBC recently interviewed Kirk Watson, a strong supporter of Obama, and asked him if he could list a single legislative accomplishment of Barack Obama. You have to see this video because I have never seen anyone fumble like Kirk Watson did--it was hilarious. He could not list a SINGLE accomplishment of the politician he admires.
The third world got rid of its populists. These days emerging economies is the term used to describe the former third world. These economies are now managed by econocrats. Common sense rules in these countries.
Obama, the ghost of the third world populists, has managed to find an audience in America! This is so surreal. I shake my head when I listen to him. I can't believe it is happening here.
In these troubled times in the USA, it is important to remain cool-headed--the traditional American mindset. There is no question that choices have to be made. The world economy is a lot more competitive than just a few years back. India and China pose real challenges--no question about it. Ballooning health costs are a drag on the American economy. Social security costs can rise enough to ruin America's credit rating in the world.
While daunting, none of these problems are insurmountable. America's innovation engine is alive and kicking. A revolution in biotech, clean energy and nanotech is not far away. Health care costs can be lowered by providing incentives for people to take care of their health. Universal health care cannot be a cure for obesity or smoking or risky sexual behaviour which account for much of the increased costs. Financial education can help ordinary folks invest their money profitably rather than depend on the government.