We don’t know for certain what may have led to the IOC snub of Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics. Chicago’s stunning fourth place finish with only 18 votes trailed even Tokyo’s lackluster bid. One clue may be have come from Syed Shahid Ali, an I.O.C. member from Pakistan, who asked the toughest question after the Chicago presentation. He wondered how smooth it would be for foreigners to enter the United States for the Games because doing so can sometimes, he said, be “a rather harrowing experience.”
I suspect it was a combination of factors not least of which was an opportunity to snub the United States for its hubris. Most likely, the opportunity to award the games to Brazil, a nation that has emerged as a world leader after over a Century of instability, and to place the games in South America for the first time, was the too compelling for most of the IOC members.
In contrast to Brazil, a hyper-partisan United States, obsessed with birth certificates and where someone like Glenn Beck is considered a responsible media personality can hardly seem like a picture of stability. THe world is simply tired of us, no longer values our “leadership,” and is ready to move on.
Brazil’s story is compelling. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, a former Union leader and one time revolutionary Marxist, has reoriented his nation and his party, the Brazil Workers Party toward a Western European social-democratic mixed market model. Brazil’s economy has responded by rising to the eight largest in the world according to the International Monetary Fund, and 10th according to the CIA World Fact Book.
Lula has been among the most outspoken critics of the Hayek-Friedman model of economics championed by the United States. In Brazil, against the protests of U.S. market leaders, he moved to build strong public education and health care systems and implemented environmental protection and community-based micro-economic investment. Lula’s brand of socialism has paid off. In 2005, the government paid off its debt to the IMF in full, two years ahead of schedule, and in 2008 Brazil became, for the first time in its history, a creditor nation, loaning more money than it receives from beyond its borders.
At the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh in September, Lula told a reporter from Business Week Magazine, “We have an opportunity to do things we haven’t done in the past. There was a time when the world started to believe that the markets didn’t need any kind of regulation. Anyone could invest money as they wished. The banks could do whatever they wished.” As he often does, he took the opportunity to criticize the American economic model, “Thank God, in Brazil we have a financial system that is highly regulated,” Lula said. “In Brazil you can only leverage 10% of your net worth. So when the crisis came, Brazil had sound and strong institutions to confront it.”
Lula and Brazil have become the de-facto leaders and model for Latin America as the nations of Central and South America turn away from North American leadership.
Last spring, as the American economy sank, President Lula made it plain that he would no longer accept criticism from the financial leaders of the United States. “It is a crisis caused and encouraged by the irrational behavior of white people with blue eyes,” the president said, “who before the crisis appeared to know everything, but are now showing that they know nothing.” This may be hardly a politic statement, but it is what the Southern Hemisphere is unanimously thinking.
Well, not just the Southern Hemisphere. Japan’s recently elected Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama has declared the U.S.-led globalization to be at an end. Hatoyama is highly critical of American economic theory. He warns that under “immoral” financial capitalism, human dignity has been lost and people turned into accounting entries. The era of U.S. unilateralism is coming to an end, Hatoyama say, “as a result of the failure of the Iraq war and the financial crisis.” The new prime minister is pulling back from the dollar as the global reserve currency and advocating an Asian currency bloc currency.
North of our border, Canadians, both French and English speaking have begun to sail out of the American orbit. Quebec separatists in Canada once saw in NAFTA and other free trade agreements as an economic path out of the Canadian Federation that would have Quebec’s economy closely tied to the United States. Conservative rule in the United States and attack on the social service infrastructures of conservatives not only within the United States, but those of Canada and Quebec have soured Quebeccers on the United States and free trade. The separatist Bloc Quebecois now trails even the Green Party in Canadian polls. Quebec has re-embraced union with English speaking Canada.
Early in September, French President Nicolas Sarkozy unilaterally announced a carbon tax, that will among other things, penalize American goods with what amounts to a carbon tariff. The European Union is likely to follow France’s lead. The United States with 4% of the world’s population produces over 25% of the world’s carbon, and Europe, threatened severely by global warming has had enough of American foot-dragging on the issue.
Earlier this year Sarkozy went to Brazil to build new trade relations between the two nations. He promised to lobby for awarding the Olympics to Rio de Janeiro. No doubt much of the world was planning to do in private what Sarkozy announced in public.
I also wonder how much the continued insults of the American right toward our closest allies in the health care debate may have played a factor. Fox News and the American right has painted Canada, France and even Britain with their single-payer and national health care systems as some sort of Stalinist throwback to the Soviet Union. I’m sure most of the people in the world are simply tired of it all.
One thing is certain, the era of American hegemony over the world’s economy and politics has ended. It is time we accept the fact and get our own house in order, starting with health care.