Presidents Day, Our Way

Presidents Day, Our Way

Why you should care

You’re not the only one who isn’t sure what this holiday is about. 

It’s never been quite clear what the American holiday known as “Presidents Day” celebrates. The federal government still calls it “Washington’s Birthday,” though George was born on February 22, not on the, um, third Monday in February. Most of the rest of us call it Presidents Day, and there is some confusion as to whether it celebrates only George Washington, Washington and Abraham Lincoln or all presidents of the United States — from Calvin Coolidge to Ronald Reagan to Barry himself. Why would the leader of the free world need his own day? (Please, tell us it’s about more than three-day holiday sales.)

Few other countries have something like a Presidents Day. Botswana does. Its president, Ian Khama, was reelected this past October, but well before then, OZY board member Laurene Powell Jobs singled him out for his innovative environmental approach; it seeks to measure natural capital — from fresh water to biodiversity to natural resources — and integrate that value into government planning and accounting. Should the approach gain purchase, it could revolutionize how we think about a country’s GDP and its environmental resources.

North of Botswana, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria has delayed elections, originally scheduled for today, by six weeks. Not a great sign. Assuming the elections are held, Jonathan will face Muhammadu Buhari, a former military general with an awful record on human rights but who has garnered surprising support. A lot is at stake, from the future of democracy in Africa’s biggest economy to, of course, the growing threat of Boko Haram. Last week, OZY senior editor Sean Braswell outlined a few of those issues — and chronicled Jonathan’s rise to power.

Speaking of unpalatable trade-offs, China’s President Xi Jinping is facing some in 2015, according to OZY senior contributor John McLaughlin. He’ll have to get his own house in order, including tackling corruption, while stoking growth: After all, China’s long boom provided the jobs and prosperity that justified decades of one-party rule. But now wages are higher and so are manufacturing costs — making exports less competitive.

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