Azim Premji, the chairman of Wipro, one of India's premier technology companies, did not mince words about the future when he announced his company's earnings two weeks ago: "There is a complete absence of decision-making among leaders in the government. If prompt action is not taken, the country will face a setback. You must appreciate how serious it is."
Sound familiar? Premji could have been speaking about the European Union or the United States. No leaders want to take hard decisions anymore, except when forced to. Everyone - even China's leaders - seems more afraid of their own people than ever. One wonders whether the Internet, blogging, Twitter, texting and micro-blogging, as in China's case, has made participatory democracy and autocracy so participatory, and leaders so finely attuned to every nuance of public opinion, that they find it hard to make any big decision that requires sacrifice. They have too many voices in their heads other than their own.
Here we are in America again on the eve of a major budgetary decision by yet another bipartisan "supercommittee," and does anyone know what President Obama's preferred outcome is? Exactly which taxes does he want raised, and which spending does he want cut? The president's politics on this issue seems to be a bowl of poll-tested mush.
At a time when, from India to America, democracies have never had more big decisions to make, if they want to deliver better living standards for their people, this epidemic of not deciding is a troubling trend. It means that we are abdicating more and more leadership to technocrats or supercommittees - or just letting the market and Mother Nature impose on us decisions that we cannot make ourselves. The latter rarely yields optimal outcomes.
The European Union has a particularly acute version of leaders-who-will-not-lead, which is why both Greece and Italy have now turned to unelected technocrats to run their governments.
David Fuller's view Nature abhors a vacuum', as Aristotle and many other luminaries are alleged to have said. You may have noticed that there are an increasing number of political vacuums, either because the problems seem too complex or our leaders are preoccupied with everything from the next election to 'bunga-bunga', pork barrelling, or cultivating a post-political career as a marketing flunky at Goldman Sachs.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of farsighted economic decisions are taken by the corporate Autonomies - my moniker for the quasi-autonomous, mobile principalities which are the primary advancers and beneficiaries of globalisation. These companies are the antithesis of their often debt-ridden and inefficient home governments, in that they have strong balance sheets, earnings growth and pay increasing dividends.
The leading Autonomies have outgrown their home country governments and are truly global players. Some are household names while others are rapidly following a similar path. The leading Autonomies merit a weighting in your investment portfolios. Eoin reviews more of them below.