Barack Obama : 4 years later...

Four years ago, the day after Barack Obama’s election as president, Niall Ferguson wrote:  “four decades is not an especially long time. Yet in that brief period America has gone from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. to the apotheosis of Barack Obama. You would not be human if you failed to acknowledge this as a cause for great rejoicing.”

That day, four years ago, was unreal, awesome, unique and historical at the same time, the first black man elected president of the first democracy in the world, it was one of these days most people will never forget and remember as : “I was there, when Barack ….”

Unfortunately, the question confronting America nearly four years later is not who was the better candidate four years ago. It is whether if the winner has delivered on his promises.

In his inaugural address, Obama promised “not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.” He promised to “build the roads and bridges, the electric grids, and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.” He promised to “restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.” And he promised to “transform schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.”

Today, America is suffering: the total number of private-sector jobs is still 4.3 million below the January 2008 peak. Meanwhile, a staggering 3.6 million Americans have been added to Social Security’s disability insurance program. Unemployment has averaged 8.2%t this year so far, and the annual household income has dropped more than 5% since June 2009. Today, over 110 million individuals received a welfare benefit in, mostly Medicaid or food stamps. This is one of many ways unemployment is being concealed.

Meanwhile, the public debt is growing dramatically, according to the Congressional Budget Office: it will reach 70% of GDP by the end of this year. These figures significantly understate the debt problem, however. The ratio that matters is debt to revenue. That number has leapt upward from 165% in 2008 to 262% this year, according to figures from the International Monetary Fund. Among developed economies, only Ireland and Spain have seen a bigger deterioration.

It is now five years since the financial crisis began, but the US central problems—excessive financial concentration and excessive financial leverage—have not been addressed by the Obama administration.

The failures of leadership on economic and fiscal policy over the past four years have had geopolitical consequences. The World Bank expects the US to grow by just 2% this year. China will grow four times faster than that; India three times faster.

By 2017, the International Monetary Fund predicts:  the GDP of China will overtake that of the United States.

Meanwhile, the fiscal train wreck has already initiated a process of steep cuts in the defence budget, quite a worry for the conservative part of the US population, but more importantly, the cut on foreign help and specifically the US investment in Africa, has to be a concern for the great continent, at a time when it is very far from clear that the world has become a safer place (Middle East & North Africa) and where poverty, health and education is still a huge problem for millions of people in Africa.

For me, Obama’s greatest failure has been not to think through the implications of all the challenges ahead. Far from developing a coherent strategy, he believed [perhaps encouraged by the premature award of the Nobel Peace Prize] that all he needed to do was to make great speeches around the world explaining to most people that he was not George W. Bush.

Believing it was his role to repudiate neo-conservatism, Obama completely missed the revolutionary wave of Middle Eastern and Maghreb (North Africa) democracy. When revolution broke out—first in Iran, then in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria— the US president faced stark alternatives. He could try to catch the wave by lending his support to the youthful revolutionaries and trying to ride it in a direction advantageous to American interests. Or he could do nothing and let the forces of reaction prevail.

And unfortunately, he was “caught by surprise”…

For most American, Mitt Romney is not the best candidate for the presidency, but they believe that he was clearly the best of the Republican contenders for the nomination. He brings to the presidency precisely the kind of experience —both in the business world and in executive office— that Barack Obama manifestly lacked four years ago.

In a few months, voters in the US will face a tough choice. They can let Barack Obama’s rambling, solipsistic narrative continue until they find themselves living in some American version of Europe, with low growth, high unemployment, even higher debt and real geopolitical decline (Spain, England, France…).

Or they can go for real change: the kind of change that will end four years of economic underperformance, stop the terrifying accumulation of debt, and re-establish a secure fiscal foundation for American national security.

What do you think, is Niall Ferguson assessment of Barack Obama correct?