Western leaders must openly prepare for a wartime economy
Its wording is bad and its content even worse, but “Ukrainian fatigue” is a real danger in Western democracies. Their citizens are repelled by Vladimir Putin’s fight against gratuitous aggression and are filled with sympathy for the Ukrainian people. Their leaders have surprised themselves with the strength of their support for Kyiv. But as things drag on, challenges close to home can increasingly steal their attention.
The cost of living crisis, compounded by wars and difficult supply chains, is easily discernible, and perhaps ordered cold on requestcould erode Western leaders’ focus on Ukraine.
For this to happen would be an error and a failure. A mistake, because inflation in the West is to a considerable extent carried out in Moscow. A failure, because it means that political leaders have neglected their primary task of preparing the public for the inevitable difficult choices to come.
Western politicians must explain to their constituents that the cost of living crisis is likely to get worse, and why. Here’s the kind of speech they might give:
“The past few years have been difficult. The pandemic brings disease and death, heartbreak and loneliness, and threatens the livelihoods and businesses of millions of you. Even as we were opening up our economy and thinking the worst was behind us, we were hit by rising inflation and more expensive energy.
“Since February 24, we have watched the horrors of war fall over Europe, decades after we vowed ‘never again’. We stand with Ukraine against the unjustified attack on Russia by Vladimir Putin. Our soldiers will not join the battle; We will not join a third world war unless Russia attacks us. But we will do everything to help the brave people of Ukraine defend themselves and weaken Putin’s capacity to unleash violence in the world.
“If we ourselves had not had war, the consequences of war would have been with us long ago. The price of freedom in Europe is first of all to be paid by the Ukrainians, but there are also many of you who worry how to keep the lights on and keep warm and buy healthy meals for them. children or maintain their own business.
“Let’s be clear: energy costs have skyrocketed because Russia’s dictator has turned oil and gas into weapons. Food prices are soaring because he is dumping waste into Europe’s most productive farmland. And our sanctions against Russia certainly involve economic sacrifices from ourselves.
“I wish I could tell you that things will get better soon. But the truth is they have the potential to get worse. Prices for energy, food and commodities could rise further. Our economic growth and income could slow. It is essential that we face this reality and that we work together to face the challenges to come.
“We cannot deny that higher import prices make our economy poorer. Our central banks cannot salvage a lost Ukrainian harvest or repair global supply chains by raising the cost of credit. And if Putin cuts off more of Russia’s gas supplies overnight, we can’t pretend we won’t be harmed.
“Something like a wartime economy is being imposed on us – not by our choosing, but we must not shrink because of it. That requires us all to put the common good first.
“Those with broad shoulders must be prepared to contribute more in taxes. Those most exposed to inflation should expect more help but also accept that help cannot take away the need for adaptation.
“We may have to allocate some essential items. People have to be patient with public finances being more indebted. And we have to help countries that are in a worse situation than we are, or their problems will soon be ours.
“It’s tempting to close your eyes to what’s right and go with what seems comfortable. But the path of least resistance is both wrong and unwise. Backing Putin for some short respite in commodity prices will only make us more sympathetic to him.
“And let’s be honest, this crisis forces us to take steps we should have taken a long time ago for the sake of our grandchildren. The future health of their planet requires an end to fossil energy. Today, our immediate geopolitical security requires the same – starting with Russian fuel.
“Our mission is to invest in an energy system that is both clean and safe from the enemies of democracies. Jobs can be lost and consumption is limited in the process. But like war, this is a duty that our generation must carry out for the benefit of the next generation.”
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