Who would become a politician

(C) arrives for a campaign rally at Adamasingba Stadium in Ibadan, south-west Nigeria, on November 23, 2022, ahead of the 2023 Nigerian presidential election. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP) (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images)AFP via Getty Images

Last year, two specific political interviews struck me as particularly interesting. Emmanuel Macron recently gave an interview to a group of autistic journalists, in which they asked questions not usually asked in everyday press conferences. Macron has to be given credit for being open and honest in a way that is not usually the case in everyday briefings (he tends to talk for too long and always gives the “bonne réponse”).

The other interview that caught my attention was Micheál Martin, until recently Ireland’s Prime Minister (Taoiseach) under the Fianna Fail/Fine Gael-led coalition. When he became Taoiseach, it is fair to say that Martin did not have a strong public figure in Ireland and many found his interventions too gentle and often controlled.

However, in February of last year, he gave a lengthy interview to the Two Norries podcast. This is one of my favorite podcasts for its utter honesty, the color it brings to the complexities of social issues and mental health, and of course the strong flavor of the city of Cork.

In short, Martin’s interview in an atypical setting, in contrast to his much more stilted public briefings, gave a highly personal insight into his family life, background and political beliefs. My feeling from listening to the podcast was that the first part of Martin’s premiership would have gone more smoothly if he had conducted such an interview sooner and given the public a chance to “get to know him better”.

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Macron and Martin’s interviews are revealing of the way politicians live, behave and are treated by the media and the public. You speak to a political class that, for a variety of reasons, sees the media as both an enemy and part of the arsenal of the political craft, as well as the growing psychological burden of politicians.

This point was made clear with the resignations of Jacinda Ardern and Nicola Sturgeon as Prime Minister/First Minister of New Zealand and Scotland respectively. Both are accomplished leaders, and as women have had to endure troubling levels of sexism and abusive comments about their personal lives in a political climate that has simultaneously long seemed immune to the appalling personal behavior of the likes of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump.

That both Sturgeon and Ardern were pioneers of “wellbeing economy governments,” which attempt to measure a country’s progress through a broader range of measures than GDP, suggests that they had a more balanced vision of society, the economy, and politics – which they may have had difficulty implementing. Unfortunately, the halt to her political career suggests the opposite – that politics is becoming a blood sport in which only the very hard and singular can participate (especially in parliamentary systems). The media treatment of Kate Forbes’ candidacy for leadership of the SNP may be a test of that. She is an atypical candidate, educated in India and then through Gaelic in Scotland, and unconventionally openly religious.

More broadly, the political climate now is not unlike that of professional sports, where politicians must practice their art to the exclusion of all others. I had marked this in The Leveling

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“Politicians’ personal characteristics have become less traditional, less family-centric…suggesting that the intensity (and perhaps ferocity) of the political game is making it increasingly difficult to enjoy both family life and a political career.”

It would be naïve to suggest that life used to be rosier for politicians, but the intensity that television and now social media have brought to politics is becoming increasingly crippling, not just for the time it takes, but for the bad behavior it inspires. This development risks creating an environment in which bad actors can thrive – and to some extent the rise of “strong” politicians has been enabled by social media and by an environment that is intensely competitive (note the current debate about American rights regarding a ‘national divorce’).

This trend is consistent with last week’s comment on the need to forcefully end the Democratic recession. There is an opportunity for (effectively centrist) politicians to reduce the influence of social media on politics, make better use of deliberative democracy and transfer power to more local levels. Switzerland is a good example here – albeit admittedly difficult to replicate. This creates platforms that are less time-consuming and emotionally demanding to get involved politically.

If the public service must come with the caveat of “abandoning all hope that ye entertain here,” to quote Dante, then the public will suffer the consequences. Brexit is an example. Another contemporary one is Peter Obi’s entry into the Nigerian presidential election (the first round is taking place as I air this). He is an atypical candidate compared to Bolu Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar and Muhammadu Buhari in what will be a highly consequential election for Nigeria and Africa in general. Let’s see how he is.

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have a nice week


I am the author of a book called The Leveling, which points to the post-globalization future and offers constructive ideas on how an increasingly fragmented world can evolve positively and constructively. The book mixes economics, history, politics, finance and geopolitics. Markets are the best place to observe and test how the world is developing. I have spent most of my career in investment management, the last 12 years at Credit Suisse where I was Chief Investment Officer in the International Wealth Management Division. I began my academic career at Oxford and Princeton.

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