A Global Market for Leaders?

The general election in the UK got us thinking about whether there should be a global market for leaders.  Why do voters have to make choices that are constrained by nationality or location of the individual?  Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Lula, or Kofi Annan could probably run for and win elections in many countries.  Last month, amidst rumors that former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg might be interested in becoming the Mayor of London, there was serious discussion about whether or not he would be a viable candidate.

After all, companies typically hire the best possible person for the job, no matter their nationality.  For example, Tidjane Thiam, who was born in Cote d’Ivoire and raised in Morocco, has been a hugely successful CEO of companies in Europe. The announcement a few weeks ago that he was leaving Prudential to become the CEO of Credit Suisse was accompanied by a fall in the price of Pru stock and a rise in the price of Credit Suisse stock that valued his leadership skills at a whopping $3.4 billion.

In the US, political leaders often tout their business acumen and global corporate leadership skills as a reason to elect them to national office. Increasingly, governing a nation is as much about running the country’s domestic interests as it is about ensuring its success on a world stage. So why not choose a leader who has the right skill set, without limiting yourself to the domestic talent pool?

Our idea is not new.  In a 2011 CGD working paper, Raghuram Rajan (now the governor of the Reserve Bank of India) argued that in failed states, economic growth leading to empowered citizenry is more likely if a neutral party presides. He proposed to allow the electorate to choose a foreigner, who would govern for a fixed term. Candidates would campaign on a platform to build the basic foundations of government. 

Why restrict this only to fragile states?  As we ponder the choices in the UK, US and other upcoming elections, we would like hear our readers’ views on the idea of a global market for leaders.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.