The best-selling author, economist and Chevron Board member speaks to the Brunswick Review about the future of democracy
Dambisa Moyo received a doctorate in macroeconomics from Oxford University, a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University and an MBA from American University, from which she also received a degree in chemistry.
Yet her credentials as a global economist go beyond her academic achievements. She worked for nearly a decade for Goldman Sachs, and before that for the World Bank. She has visited more than 80 countries, and her own experiences span both the developed and developing world. A resident of New York City and the United Kingdom, she’s a native of Zambia, where she was born and raised.
As an author, she has published three New York Times best-sellers. The first, Dead Aid, is a treatise on the failure of aid to Africa. Next came How the West was Lost, her argument that misguided economic policies have dimmed the futures of developed countries; and a third, Winner Take All, examines the implications of China’s purchase of natural resources around the world.
Ms. Moyo has nearly 1.2 million followers on LinkedIn, and nearly 200,000 on Twitter. Among other accolades, Time magazine once called Ms. Moyo one of the world’s 100 most influential people. She sits on the boards of Barclays, Barrick Gold and Chevron.
One late morning in March, just ahead of a lunch date with Oprah Winfrey, Ms. Moyo sat down at the New York offices of Brunswick to talk about the publication of her fourth book.
Your new book, Edge of Chaos: Why Democracy Is Failing to Deliver Economic Growth and How to Fix It, sounds potentially ominous. What is the worst-case scenario facing Western democracies?
The worst fear is it becomes so dysfunctional it ends up operating at the extremes. And the extremes would be either a plutocratic coterie of very wealthy people controlling not just politics but public policy, or where populism renders government dysfunctional, because it is continually pandering to the populist sentiments or zeitgeist of the moment.
We’re already trending toward those extremes. We’re sitting here the day after the Italian election, which appears to have produced a somewhat dysfunctional government.
With Brexit in the UK, the government is essentially grounded from having any long-term discussions about education or infrastructure or healthcare. Then there’s the US, where during the 2016 elections, 158 families accounted for 50 percent of political contributions. This smells of wealth so correlated with public policy that the idea of one-man/one-vote is not really reflected in the democracy.
Did this book begin before or after the 2016 US election?
Before. The book was borne out of frustration. I’ve worked on Wall Street and in finance all my life, and as an economist I’ve gotten increasingly frustrated by a mismatch between the lens that economists see through and the lens used by public policymakers and politicians. What economists see are long-term, intergenerational, structural problems, such as income quality, the jobless underclass, high debt levels, productivity declines and natural resource scarcity. Politicians facing election every two to four years are treating these problems as short-term.
Short-termism is also a problem in corporations, of course. But what’s most worrisome to me is the short-term focus of governments and public policymakers. Of all the headwinds democracies are facing, the overarching one is myopia.
What are your solutions?
I offer a menu of 10 proposals. One would be to extend political terms. Rather than two-year or four-year election cycles, you could do what you see in Brazil, where it’s a nine-year term for a senator, or Mexico, where it’s a six-year term for the presidency. With that, there could be a capping of terms. You get a longer term, but without the incumbent who hangs around as in an autocracy.
I’d also argue for some kind of a system that binds government to legislation, so you don’t have public policies swinging around after every election. A recent example would be around Obama’s healthcare; it went back and forth through a legislative process and was passed. The last thing you need is a new government coming in a year later and dismantling the whole thing. Obviously, you don’t want to end up in a system with bad policy, but you could take into consideration a grandfathering of public policy so that for 10 years it can’t be totally dismantled. That would stabilize markets and give business and corporations a better sense of the lay of the land.