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World leaders who are actually leading

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Earlier this summer, as I watched the pope attract millions as he toured Brazil, I noticed how rare the scene was. Here was a man in control of an embattled institution, and he had somehow rallied his troops.

By going back to the basics of Catholic belief and embracing humility, supporting the downtrodden, and asking for sacrifice, as well as pushing the envelope with his more progressive stance on homosexuality for example, Pope Francis has begun to rehabilitate the church. It was viable leadership of the kind that motivates, inspires, and unites.

This is becoming increasingly rare. We live in a world where no single country or group of countries can provide dominant, sustainable global leadership, or G-Zero as I call it, and that's in large part because so many countries lack solid leadership at home.

As I look around the world, I see only three leaders of major countries that, like the pope, are managing to squelch opposition, carve out a more impactful role for themselves, and undertake difficult reforms, all while leveraging their popularity and consolidating their strength.

In Japan, Shinzo Abe, the country's former and also new prime minister, has enjoyed extraordinary popularity since reemerging as a national leader last year.

Abe, who had a disappointing stint as prime minister in 2006-2007, has come back with force, promoting a namesake economics plan that has Japan shedding its "lost decades" and inspiring Japanese citizens.

So far, "Abenomics" is producing some impressive results. Profits among major Japanese companies in the second quarter of this year were double the figure a year ago. Private consumption in the same period increased 3.8% on an annualized basis. The Nikkei stock average is up over 30% this year.

Abe is young, charismatic, and his administration's approval rating has hovered in the 60% range throughout most of his term, though it has declined over time. His leadership was given a further vote of confidence in an upper house election this summer when his ruling coalition scored a landslide victory and consolidated its party. For now, Japanese see Abe and his policies as the best shot Japan has had in a long time at getting its mojo back.

Likewise for Xi Jinping, China's president. I've covered his popularity in another column, including his aspirational "Chinese Dream" speeches, the apocryphal urban legend of Xi taking cab rides to talk to commoners, and his charming improvisation with world leaders. Xi's latest legend-burnishing photo op is of him holding his own umbrella with his pant legs rolled up. It's an innocent gesture, with deeper bureaucracy-shaking undertones for his Chinese constituents. With the help of a centralized government, he has the hold of his people through a mix of accessibility and charisma.

In Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto is a leader unlike pretty much any other in the world today. With his leadership, Mexico is on the cusp of becoming the world's third country that has gone from developing to developed in the last 50 years. Taiwan and South Korea are the other two.

Over the past decade, Mexico missed out on the commodity boom that benefited so many other resource-rich emerging markets. No government has really been able to address the main problems in the Mexican economy: fiscal woes, deteriorating competitiveness, and a bloated, increasingly inefficient public energy sector.

After he was elected, Peña Nieto's first move was to form Pacto por Mexico, an agreement between his party and two others to help pass a multi-faceted economic reform agenda. Now, Peña Nieto is pushing tax, labor, and energy reforms.

One might point to the drop off in his approval ratings which are down about 10 points over last 3 months, but voters are still largely in favor of the reform agenda he champions.

Furthermore, the opposition is incredibly weak, and his ruling coalition has a firm hold on power. There was a bit of an economic slowdown in the first quarter of the year but expect the economy to pick up, and Peña Nieto's approval ratings along with it.

Part of Peña Nieto's goal is to strengthen the very nature of the presidency again to increase the role of the state in pushing for progress and economic solutions and to loosen the hold of vested interests. And he's taking on these lofty goals with keen political instincts and sufficient popular support.

And that really is what a leader is meant to do. Unite people if not under one cause, then at least one shared vision, whether it's a Chinese dream, a Pact for Mexico, or the "three arrows" of Abenomics.

In a time of financial scarcity for most, the best way to do that is with humility and a dash of populism in making the right bold bets that everyone can rally behind.

It's a lesson Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, Helmut Kohl, and even the early Tony Blair can teach us as well. More modern leaders would be wise to learn it.

Unfortunately, it's not a skill set that can always be taught, nor can it always be implemented. In a G-Zero world, all too often, political conditions can strip would-be stand-out leaders of the maneuverability needed for breakthrough.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013.

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

11 Comments
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So far, "Abenomics" is producing some impressive results.

The chances of it burning down the entire japanese economy are actually quite big.

Abe is young, ...

What did this guy smoke? I don't consider 58 to be particularly young.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Ian Bremmer is featured on here a lot. He wrongfully paints a positive picture today, and this says it all:

has authored several books, including the national bestseller, "The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?" which details the new global phenomenon of state capitalism and its geopolitical implications.

@Reinaert Albrecht

What did this guy smoke?

He didn't smoke anything, he's been standing over the fiat printing presses too long inhaling the fumes.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I don't this Abe is particularly a "real leader", he was just lucky to be there at the right time and come up with some obvious and almost child-like panacea solution(s) to please the masses. We'll se how long it all lasts.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Politicians are tools. They don't make decisions on their own. They don't think for themselves. They are given marching orders by the secret global puppet masters behind the scenes.

I seriously doubt Abe, when put to the task, could even explain the basic fundamentals of economics, nor could any other politician, for that matter.

Of course, the sheeple are easily conned into thinking they are the genius leaders of the future, because the folks who write cheerleading articles like this ALSO don't have the faintest clue of economics.

They just know if they write glowing articles of their dear leaders, they'll get to spend more time on dear leader's coat tails.

Leading us right down the swirling toilet of global economic destruction.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Raise the cost of living so the 'secret global puppet masters' (thanks gaijinfo) get richer. Breed social discontent so they then have excuses to introduce new legislation to tighten their grip on power, is what most world leaders seem to be doing these days.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

(sorry I meant to write "I don't THINK Abe is")

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Abe? Japanese PM is in the ranking by Reuters? TIME may second it by declaring him "Person of the Year 2013" (!)

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Subjective nonsense.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

[The Abe] administration's approval rating has hovered in the 60% range throughout most of his term, though it has declined over time.

Abe has been in office since the day after Christmas, a little less than 8 months. So, how many months is "most of his term" and for how many months ("over time") has his popularity been in decline? Or is that not an appropriate question?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

The leader of the Catholic Church is the leader of an organisation with a terrible record of hiding child sexual abuse. The leader of China is the leader of a one party state. The leader of Mexico is the leader of a country will thousands dead through drug violence. The leader of Japan is the leader of a party trying to destroy indvidual rights.

It doesn't matter what the leader thinks. What matters is how the organistion acts. The Catholic Church and Mexico may be trying to change things but I see little from the other two.

A true leader doesn't seek to impose his ideas on others. He rather listens to the people around him and makes the RIGHT decisions. Not decisions based on nepotism, greed, and self interest but rather those based on the interests of society as a whole both domestically and overseas.

I don't see how Abe fits into this leader category at all. Only history can tell and right now this article is far to early.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I wonder if Mr. Bremmer ever gets out of his ivory tower and visits the countries he is writing about. Perhaps if he spoke to average people instead of the elites and corporate honchos he might get a different picture of life under these "leaders."

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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