The inadequacy of the political and economic leadership in the advanced world is truly staggering. Japan is observing twenty years of failure to repair the damage of its bubble economy by failing to cope with the aftermath of the spring tsunami. The European Union is still struggling to respond to the Greek financial meltdown as its latest (inadequate and poorly conceived) fudge threatens to fall apart. Again. And in the US, collapsing consumer confidence following poor leadership from both the President and the Congress could be the factor that pushes the US into a double dip recession.Watching so many second class talents struggle against first class problems is a dispiriting exercise, especially when one reflects on the costs of failure.It is no secret anywhere that our leaders are failing. The Europeans know their political class is floundering; the Japanese have despaired of their politicians for almost a generation; in the US the only people less popular than President Obama are his Democratic allies and Republican adversaries in the US Congress.It is not just that our leaders are small, however. It is that the problems are big. Europe, the US and Japan are each in different ways facing up to a similar set of problems: the guiding assumptions of economic and social policy in the western world no longer make sense. Demographic changes mean that all welfare states have turned from social insurance programs into Ponzi schemes; economic and technological changes mean that the stable postwar political and economic institutions and practices of the rich world no longer work; cultural changes mean that the citizens of these countries demand more from their leaders — and are less prepared to defer to or to trust them.The economic crisis has brought all these problems to a head, largely because the combination of short term budget deficits due to the crisis and the unsustainable trend of future spending changed the rules of the game. In countries like Greece and Spain the bond markets are delivering this message; in countries like Germany and the US it is public opinion that is no longer willing to accept the costs and debts associated with the old way of doing things.Malvolio, the penny pinching, pleasure-grudging steward in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night read what he thought was a love letter from the aristocrat who employed him: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them.” This is true, but as Malvolio discovered, there are also those whom greatness passes by.The rich world needs greatness now among its leaders more than at any time since World War Two; we shall see if the demand creates a supply.