A pessimist confronts good news in a bad year


Temperamentally, I’m closer to Cassandra than Pollyanna. For example, I’ve always thought of the eponymous American aerospace engineer Edward Murphy as a ruthless optimist. His famous law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Not correct? Try disastrously.

With that out of the way, this month I’m surprising myself with uplifting feelings. The world is a terrible mess. But there are signs that we are beginning to put things in order. A lot could actually get better or at least stop getting worse.

Begin Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine. It is linked to many of our other global crises – from the food shortages in poor countries, to the energy crisis and refugee tragedies in Europe, to the global clash between autocrats and democrats, between haters and lovers of freedom.

As this week’s missile attack on NATO member Poland reminded us, this war could escalate and expand at any moment, theoretically even turning into World War III or culminating in nuclear detonations. But it hasn’t, and probably won’t. (That stray missile in Poland apparently was not a Russian attack and will therefore not attract NATO retaliation.)

Instead, Putin is increasingly isolating himself at home and abroad, and even his few remaining partners, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping, are turning their backs on him. In talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US President Joe Biden and other world leaders, Xi has indicated that he will neither condone nor tolerate Russia’s use of nuclear weapons. Almost all the leaders of the G20 countries meeting in Bali this week condemned the war and called for its end. In fact, Russia is almost alone.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine itself, the war has repeatedly turned against Putin. The Ukrainians have liberated Kherson and appear to either parry or defeat the Russians overall. Healing from the trauma inflicted by Putin’s troops will take a lifetime – just think of the mass deportations of Ukrainian women and children to Russia. Despite this, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is now confidently speaking of a “turnaround” in the war, comparable to D-Day.

We should also be cautiously optimistic on two related crises. One is the food shortage. Because Russia stopped grain exports from Ukraine earlier this year, people in Africa and elsewhere have been starving. But on the initiative of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it was agreed that grain ships would be allowed to sail again. With any luck, we can extend this agreement further and avoid further starvation.

The other disaster averted is the Western energy crisis that Putin tried to create. Despite shutting off Russian natural gas that used to flow through pipelines to the European Union, Germany’s gas storage facilities are full. And the weather is playing along, being unusually mild so far and requiring little heating. Consumers and factories save energy in other ways. And new energy plants are coming online, including ports in Germany that can handle ships using liquefied natural gas. If Putin thought he could blackmail Europe into stopping its support for Ukraine, he was wrong.

There was also good news in the broader struggle between authoritarianism and democracy. In Brazil, populist President Jair Bolsonaro recently narrowly lost to his challenger Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. But instead of contesting the election, he committed himself to the constitution and initiated the orderly transfer of power.

Also, in America’s midterms, the “red wave” promised by former President Donald Trump was more of a purple swirl. Notably, the losing candidates included many MAGA Republicans who had been supported by Trump. The biggest loser – besides Trump and his hopes for 2024 – was the big lie he spread that 2020 was “stolen”. Americans can go left or right until the next presidential election. But they seem committed to keeping the process peaceful, legitimate and democratic.

Admittedly, in the fight against climate change, Putin’s war this year is a major distraction. But the roughly 35,000 delegates from 190 countries who just met at the United Nations COP27 in Egypt have vowed to renew their collective efforts.

For the global economy, too, the worst is now behind us. US inflation appears to have peaked based on new price data. That takes some pressure off the Fed to raise rates just as much in the future. That, in turn, should prevent the dollar from becoming even more expensive and causing even more problems for economies around the world.

So much cheering makes Cassandras, like me, suspicious. What have I missed? On the other hand, I may need to update my judgment on Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong will still go wrong. But occasionally things that can go right actually do. I’m not saying everything is fine, just that it’s not getting worse, at least temporarily. Also high time.

More from the Bloomberg Opinion:

Borgen shows the USA and Great Britain how to do democracy properly: Andreas Kluth

The challenge now begins for Brazil’s comeback kid: Clara Ferreira Marques

Trumpism is a Dish Republicans Can Serve Without Trump: Timothy L. O’Brien

This column does not necessarily represent the opinion of the editors or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Andreas Kluth is a columnist for the Bloomberg Opinion and reports on European politics. The former editor-in-chief of Handelsblatt Global and author of The Economist is the author of “Hannibal and Me”.

For more stories like this, visit bloomberg.com/opinion


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