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A second American revolution
Although this article by Mikhail Gorbachev, the last general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (he now heads the Moscow-based think tank International Foundation for Socio-Economic and Political Studies), has been widely published, I agree with Anthony Nolan that it is well worth putting up on Webdiary. Thanks for the suggestion, Anthony.
Years ago, as the Cold War was coming to an end, I said to my fellow leaders around the globe: the world is on the cusp of great events, and in the face of new challenges all of us will have to change, you as well as we. For the most part, the reaction was polite but sceptical silence.
In recent years, I have often told listeners that I feel Americans need their own change - a perestroika, not like the one in my country, but an American perestroika - and the reaction has been markedly different. Halls filled with thousands of people have responded with applause.
Some have reacted with understanding. Others have objected, sometimes sarcastically, suggesting that I want the
Our perestroika signalled the need for change in the Soviet Union, but it was not meant to suggest a capitulation to the
The need for change in the
We opted for free elections, political pluralism, freedom of religion and an economy with competition and private property. We sought to effect these changes in an evolutionary way and without bloodshed. We made mistakes. Important decisions were made too late, and we were unable to complete our perestroika. Nevertheless, perestroika won, because it brought the country to a point from which there could be no return to the past.
In the West, the break-up of the
But then came the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, and it became clear that the new Western model was an illusion that benefited chiefly the very rich. Statistics show that the poor and the middle class saw little or no benefit from the economic growth of the past decades.
The global crisis demonstrates that the leaders of major powers had missed the signals that called for a perestroika. The result is a crisis that is not just financial and economic. It is political, too.
The model that emerged during the late 20th century has turned out to be unsustainable. It was based on a drive for super-profits and hyper-consumption for a few, on unrestrained exploitation of resources and on social and environmental irresponsibility.
But if all the proposed solutions and action now come down to a mere rebranding of the old system, we are bound to see another, perhaps even greater upheaval down the road. The current model does not need adjusting; it needs replacing. I have no ready-made prescriptions. But I am convinced that a new model will emerge, one that will emphasise public needs and public good, such as a cleaner environment, well-functioning infrastructure and public transport, sound education and health systems and affordable housing.
Elements of such a model already exist in some nations. Countries such as
The time has come to strike the right balance between the government and the market, for integrating social and environmental factors and demilitarising the economy.
However different the problems that the Soviet Union confronted during our perestroika and the challenges now facing the United States, the need for new thinking makes these two eras similar. In our time, we faced up to the main tasks of putting an end to the division of the world, winding down the nuclear arms race and defusing conflicts. We will cope with the new global challenges as well, but only if everyone understands the need for real, cardinal change - for a global perestroika.