AFTER ELECTIONS this month—one internal party contest and two parliamentary polls—as many as three G7 countries could end up with new leaders. Two are sure to. Japan’s unpopular, uninspiring prime minister, Suga Yoshihide, will not stand for re-election when the governing Liberal Democratic Party chooses its president on September 29th. In Germany, where Angela Merkel, the chancellor, is standing down, a bewildering array of coalitions looks possible after the voters elect a new Bundestag on September 26th. A rare three-party federal government looks likely. The centre-left Social Democrats’ chances of leading it have been rising rapidly: our election model puts the probability of their being the largest party at about two-thirds. Mrs Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats (and their Bavarian allies) are flagging, thanks in part to the lacklustre performance of their chancellor-candidate, Armin Laschet. And the possible third? Canada, where Justin Trudeau last month called a snap election for September 20th. He expected a whopping majority, but polls show Erin O’Toole’s Conservative Party within striking distance of the prime minister’s Liberals.
Joe Biden is in no danger of losing his job this month. But the mishandling of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan has hurt the president’s popularity. According to The Economist’s poll of polls, between August 16th and 30th Mr Biden’s net approval rating suffered a steeper decline than in 92% of all the fortnights since Richard Nixon’s inauguration in 1969. And despite its departure America will still have to engage, albeit cautiously, with the Taliban. But Mr Biden hopes to shift attention to his domestic agenda, notably his plans to splurge on infrastructure and expand the social safety-net. He had plenty else on his mind at home this week, as Hurricane Ida struck Louisiana (and rekindled arguments over climate change). If Ida did less damage and claimed fewer lives there than many feared, floods farther north brought tragedy, killing more than 40.
Mr Biden had stern words for the Supreme Court after it declined to block a Texan law that all but bans abortion. That law, argues our cover leader, is one example of the threat to liberalism in America. Though the threat from the right is greater, we focus this week on the threat from the illiberal left. A new style of politics has spread from university campuses to schools, the media, business and the broader political world. Its adherents are obsessed with a narrow vision of justice for oppressed groups. To enforce ideological purity, opponents are de-platformed and doubters shunned. This carries echoes of the confessional state that dominated Europe before classical liberalism put down roots more than 200 years ago.
The pandemic’s effects on the world economy are shifting. Once a straightforward, if heavy, blow to growth, it has become a stagflationary force. As demand runs ahead of supply, resulting in shortages and a burst of inflation, this is posing problems for Western central bankers. China, which has weathered the virus and its economic side-effects better than most, has its own acute troubles, with origins predating the pandemic. The burden of corporate debt is staggering: Huarong, a financial conglomerate, and Evergrande, the country’s biggest housebuilder, together owe $540bn. China’s policymakers are meanwhile trying to stabilise a hot property market. That is not only pushing Evergrande to the brink, but risks harming the wider economy.
More than 1.1m people in southern Madagascar are going hungry, estimates the UN. More than 500,000 children are at risk of severe malnourishment. Some families are so desperate, says an official from the UN’s children’s agency, that they are selling their daughters. As we report this week, with the next harvest months away, suffering will only worsen in the “hungry months” ahead. Madagascar has been struck by two scourges: the pandemic and climate change. The government has all but sealed the island country: tourists, its main source of hard currency, cannot come. Drought is common in Madagascar, but today’s is the worst in 40 years. The cassava crop may be 60-90% below normal. On top of this, the country has long been badly governed. The president, Andry Rajoelina, is not the worst to have held that office, but has promoted herbal “treatment” for covid-19 and has been slow to roll out vaccines.