BookToxic and messianic politics, misgovernance, corruption, xenophobia, extremism, ethnic strife, poverty and inequality... most of our world doesn't seem a very positive place, as media reports regularly tell us. Are there any solutions to these maladies? Yes, and they can be seen in some unexpected places.

There are American, Asian and African countries, ranging from some of the world's biggest to a city state, and even a city, that have successfully dealt with one or more of these problems and can serve as model to many others -- provided we know about them.

And this is where this book comes in.

"This is a good news book... a collection of success stories gathered over several years I spent travelling around the world in search of solutions to the great problems of our day -- and the leaders who figured them out," says author Jonathan Tepperman, Managing Editor of the influential 'Foreign Affairs' journal of the New York-based Council on Foreign Affairs.

But before taking us on his "tour of the laboratories, which also happen to be some of the most successful (or at least most interesting countries) on the planet", he first draws a succinct but gloomy picture of the global situation since the 2008 economic crisis to support one of his basic premises that while details of the troubles the world faces may vary "they share an underlying cause -- the failure of politicians to lead". Or rather, more specifically, their failure to adequately address 10 big problems, roughly half political and half economic which "goes a long way towards explaining the mess we are in today".

And these problems, which include inequality, immigration, corruption, energy, Islamic extremism, growth and political gridlock, are not unsolvable as certain analysts hold -- as his examples show, he says. 

After discussing these 10 problems in some detail for "understanding the problems in depth is also the first step towards understanding their solutions", he begins with telling us how Brazil tackled its gaping inequality -- in a way that would horrify any orthodox economist.

Then there is the story of Canada's changing stance on immigration (including the role of the present Prime Minister's father on this issue during his stint in power) and how Mexican leaders achieved a degree of political concord that can teach a thing or two to many older/larger/stable democracies.

The US wins a spot for its business and economic system that made possible energy self-sufficiency, while New York City, victim of the most infamous terror attack, comes in to show how cities, under sufficiently dynamic leadership, can ensure their own safety.

Moving over to Asia, Tepperman chronicles how the world's most populous Muslim country overcame the threat of Islamist extremism, identifies the factors and policies that propelled South Korea's (continuing) economic miracle and the stringent and meticulous ways Singapore tackles corruption -- its policemen have to declare the cash they have when they start work and the amount when they go off. 

In Africa, he shows how a landlocked and impoverished country achieved stability and growth after independence -- and even after discovering mineral riches, didn't fall prey to the infamous "resource curse" that has blighted many developing countries.

In another significant lesson, we learn how Rwanda, which experienced the most horrifying genocide of recent times, achieved a high level of social reconciliation within two decades of it. 

Packed with fascinating facts and personalities, Tepperman's detailed, accessible and balanced account, which also examines the criticisms/shortcomings of the programmes and policies in question, also seeks to be prescriptive.

To this end, he seeks to "weave in leadership lessons and practical advice on problem-solving distilled from their experiences", exemplified -- but not limited to -- five major lessons he lists in conclusion, as some policies may only be specifically effective due to historical, social or geographical factors.

Despite this, there is much to learn in this for concerned citizens -- and rulers -- across the world, and especially in India, where most of these problems are present and fester, our leaders could find it of some benefit despite their infallible belief in their own expertise and capability. IANS

Title: The Fix: How Nations Survive and Thrive in a World in Decline; Author: Jonathan Tepperman; Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; Pages: 320; Price: Rs 499