Leaders and Nations
To be a leader of a nation is to be able to shape its destiny – for better or for worse. The impact leaders leave can stay on for a long time – and in many cases, can be hard to undo even if the impact is negative. Therefore, who the leaders are and the decisions they make become important for us to discuss and understand.
Some leaders have guided their countries to prosperity – the Founding Fathers of the US who set the rules via the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the early decision in the newly created Republic, Emperor Meiji of Japan who led the Meiji Restoration with the adoption of Western ideas and production methods, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore who transformed a small island state into one of the richest in the world, Park Chung-hee who laid the foundation for South Korea’s growth through education and exports, John Cowperthwaite who made Hong Kong into the bastion of economic freedom, Deng Xiaoping who laid the foundations for China’s economic rise.
There are other leaders who had power for a long time, but failed in creating prosperity. On one side are the dictators who caused great harm to their nations – Germany’s Adolf Hitler, China’s Mao Zedong, Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin are three that stand out in the 20th century. On the other side are the leaders who had the opportunity with the power they wielded but left behind bad economic legacies – every country that is not prosperous today has had one or more leaders whose decisions doomed the people.
India is one such nation. India’s first two significant Prime Ministers – Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi – led India for 33 of the first 37 years after 1947. Both had the opportunity and power to make India prosperous, and yet failed. Even as the Indian people blindly worship the leaders, there is limited discussion on their flawed decisions. Their leadership styles were very different, but the choices they made had one thing in common – continuity of the rules that stifled entrepreneurship and limited economic freedom, rules that become harder to undo with each passing year, rules that perpetuated poverty.
The most important responsibility they both had was to undo the legacy of the past that had created the world’s biggest anti-prosperity machine. Neither of them dismantled it. They refused to learn from the economic successes of other nations. In their own way, each of them was an “unfit” leader – for the single most important objective a leader has is the well-being of the people. Popularity and populism do not translate into prosperity. That was true of the past, and that is true today: popularity does not imply prosperity. What matters is rational policy and not the popularity of the person dictating policy.
What did some leaders do differently? Why did India’s leaders fail so miserably? What can we learn about decision-making? What attributes make for good leaders and therefore good decisions? Can India rise to become a great nation? These are some of the questions we will consider in this series.
Tomorrow: Part 4