Asia Economy

Lack of Leadership Creates Reagan and Thatcher Nostalgia at Summer Davos

Deepanshu Bagchee|Supervising Digital Editor, CNBC Asia

The global crisis and a perceived lack of leadership in the West seem to be creating nostalgia for two previous leaders who radically reformed their countries, albeit with plenty of controversy.

A flower bouquet made up of 36,000 red roses and 4,000 white roses is placed at the entrance of Shangri-La Hotel to welcome participants on September 13, 2011 in Dalian, Liaoning Province of China. The three-day 2011 Summer Davos Forum will open on September 14 in Dalian with the theme of "Mastering Quality Growth".
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But what’s even more striking about this sense of déjà vu, is that the names of American President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - two leaders, who fought for freedom and rallied the West against Communist rule - were being invoked by a senior Chinese policymaker at the summer Davos in Dalian, China.

“The U.S. economy needs fundamental reforms, bigger reforms, bigger policy changes than President Reagan, Mrs. Thatcher. So these are fundamental things that people all over the world are looking for and so far unfortunately we don’t see it happening,” Li Daokui, an advisor to China’s central bank and a member of its monetary policy committee said at the meeting of business leaders and policymakers in China.

Daokui wasn’t alone in his praise. Some CEOs are also beginning to hark back to the bold reforms of the 1980s.

“We were in a similar position in the 80s when Japan was the force that everybody was talking about taking over from America,” Martin Sorrell, the CEO of WPP Group said referring to China’s current rise.

“If you look at what happened we had two leaders - one was President Reagan who literally rode to the rescue - and then we had Mrs. Thatcher in the UK, again controversial in terms of style and direction, but very firm leadership,” he added.

Thatcher’s “this lady’s not for turning” policies privatized large parts of Britain’s economy in the face of strong opposition from the unions. Reagan, too, famously took on air traffic controllers and began a long period of deregulation of industry and finance.

The yearning for Reagan-type solutions is unlikely to find universal appeal among Democrats who argue the government must do more to stimulate job creation with the unemployment rate at 9.1 percent. But Jim Bacchus, the former House Democrat who also worked at the World Trade Organization (WTO), finds the humor in the situation.

“I find it positive whenever anyone, anywhere in the world wants to talk positively about anything in America,” Bacchus told CNBC in Dalian.

“Although, I knew President Reagan a little bit, he was a very nice man. He understood some basic things very, very well. He understood free trade and freedom.”