Tonight at 9 o’clock, President Barack Obama will tell Americans how the country is coping with the challenges the Bush administration left behind. He will defend his stewardship so far, and explain his plans to revive the economy.
Whatever he says, he will be criticized by some and praised by others.
But I wonder whether any of his listeners envy his task.
I know I know, there are ambitious people out there who fantasize about sitting in the Oval Office and flying about on Air Force One. But I doubt that they want the U.S. president’s job; it’s the glory they lust for.
As far as I’m concerned, they’re welcome to it.
I wouldn’t want to be “the leader of the free world” in 2011.
The free world is a mess.
And I doubt that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can put it together again. Gloomy forecasts abound in my morning mail. Choosing one at random – “The Year of Living Dangerously” by Michael T. Klare – I came up with this passage:
Put simply, global consumption patterns are now beginning to challenge the planet’s natural resource limits. Populations are still on the rise, and from Brazil to India, Turkey to China, new powers are rising as well. With them goes an urge for a more American-style life. Not surprisingly, the demand for basic commodities is significantly on the rise, even as supplies in many instances are shrinking. At the same time, climate change, itself a product of unbridled energy use, is adding to the pressure on supplies, and speculators are betting on a situation trending progressively worse. Add these together and the road ahead appears increasingly rocky.
Soaring food prices are being driven as well by speculative investments and the rising price of oil. Partly in response to the diminishing value of the dollar, some investors are sinking their money into food futures (along with gold and silver) as a speculative hedge. At the same time, the price of oil is edging toward the $100 mark, making it increasingly profitable for farmers to switch from growing corn for human consumption to growing it for the manufacture of ethanol, which in turn reduces the amount of farm acreage devoted to staples. Oil would have to fall below $50 per barrel to make the cultivation of corn as a food product competitive with ethanol production — and that’s not likely to happen. So even if more corn is produced this year, less will be available for food purposes and the price of what remains is bound to rise.
The precipitous rise in oil prices has startled the experts. Not so long ago, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) was projecting a price range of $70-$80 per barrel in 2011, but as the year began oil was already trading above $90 a barrel and some analysts predict that it will reach $100 before the year is out. A few are even talking about the $150 a barrel and gas prices at the pump of $4 or more. If prices climb above $100, global consumer spending could take another nosedive.
Look, I don’t know how reliable this guy Klare is. He’s a college professor and author. And it seems the way to sell books these days is to predict come kind of apocalypse. But he is not the only latter-day Jeremiah. Cries of impending doom are heard on every hand.
World Business Academy Fellow Lester Brown, for example, sees the world teetering on the edge of the abyss (illustration above).
“We now have an economy that is destroying its natural support systems. … We are liquidating the earth’s natural assets to fuel our consumption,” he declares. “If we continue with business as usual, civilizational collapse is no longer a matter of whether but when — a time period more likely measured in years than decades.”
You probably know how America is doing – unemployment around 10 percent, 14 trillion dollars in debt, a deficit that apparently can’t be tamed, endless war and threats of war, social programs on the chopping block, etc. etc.
Obama will have his hands full trying to straighten that out. And the task is devilishly complicated by all the conflicting special interests competing for their slice of the pie.
But that’s the easy part.
The American president has a large part of the world’s population to think about, too.