The world’s ins and outs

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

As the United King­dom’s de­bate about whether to with­draw from the Euro­pean Union has heated up, “in” and “out” have come to de­fine the stark choice fac­ing vot­ers in next week’s “Brexit” ref­er­en­dum. The Bri­tish are not alone: the world is in­creas­ingly di­vided be­tween the men­tal­i­ties un­der­pin­ning sup­port for the “Leave” and “Re­main” cam­paigns. Do cit­i­zens and their lead­ers want to work with oth­ers to­ward greater se­cu­rity and pros­per­ity, or do they think that they are bet­ter served by iso­lat­ing themselves be­hind real or vir­tual walls?

Those with an “out” mind­set view the world through a Hobbe­sian lens, see­ing ev­ery­where the dan­ger of peo­ple with un­reg­u­lated pas­sions, driven to do them harm. Only an om­nipo­tent Le­viathan can en­sure or­der and se­cu­rity. This is es­sen­tially the world­view of Aus­tria’s Free­dom Party, Greece’s Golden Dawn, the UK In­de­pen­dence Party, Hun­gary’s rul­ing Fidesz party, and sim­i­lar forces through­out Europe and the West, not to men­tion the world’s au­toc­ra­cies and out­right dic­ta­tor­ships. Theirs is a pol­i­tics of fear and dog-whis­tle in­cite­ment of the ex­trem­ist forces that ex­ist in ev­ery so­ci­ety.

And, as we’ve seen in both the UK’s Brexit de­bate and the United States’ pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign, nei­ther facts nor rea­son will dis­suade vot­ers with an “out” mind­set. As the No­bel lau­re­ate econ­o­mist Daniel Kah­ne­man re­cently ob­served of Bri­tain’s Leave camp, “The ar­gu­ments look odd: they look short-term and based on ir­ri­ta­tion and anger.” And yet they work.

In the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the choice be­tween Hil­lary Clin­ton, the pre­sump­tive Demo­cratic nom­i­nee, and her Repub­li­can coun­ter­part, Don­ald Trump, re­flects an un­am­bigu­ous bat­tle be­tween “in” and “out.” In re­sponse to the re­cent mass shoot­ing at an LGBT night­club in Or­lando, Trump boasted that he had been right all along about the threat posed by “rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ism.” Clin­ton, by con­trast, of­fered words of sup­port – in English and Span­ish – to the vic­tims, and fo­cused on the com­mu­nity and on the need for gun control.

With his xeno­pho­bic rhetoric and fond­ness for despots like Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin (a dem­a­gogue who bul­lies the neigh­bours he doesn’t in­vade), Trump epit­o­mises the “out” mind­set: hy­per­bolic, ma­li­cious, pompous, and hos­tile to all who defy or dis­agree with him (be it the press, which he be­rates and tries to block, or judges who pre­side over his law­suits).

Some se­nior Repub­li­cans, to their credit, have dis­avowed this Pied Piper’s ef­fort to lead Amer­i­cans over a cliff of iso­la­tion and big­otry. But many oth­ers, con­fronted with his steady stream of in­sults di­rected at Lati­nos, Mus­lims, and women, seem to have walled off their con­sciences. Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, has called Trump’s com­ments racist, but con­tin­ues to en­dorse him. So does Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell and, per­haps most re­mark­ably, John McCain, the party’s 2008 pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, whose mil­i­tary ser­vice Trump den­i­grated, say­ing that McCain re­turned from Viet­nam “a war hero” only “be­cause he was cap­tured,” adding, “I like peo­ple who weren’t cap­tured.”

Clin­ton, on the other hand, though widely per­ceived as a for­eign-pol­icy “hawk,” is still of the “in” mind­set – some­one who knows the value of trade, dis­cus­sion, and com­pro­mise. She also un­der­stands the value of “smart power” – that bombs aren’t al­ways the most valu­able tools to use in pur­suit of one’s goals. She would pre­sum­ably seek to ad­vance the legacy es­tab­lished by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, whose trips to Viet­nam, Cuba, and Ja­pan this year fo­cused on mov­ing on from a very dif­fi­cult past to a new, more hope­ful fu­ture.

This “in” mind­set has proved its worth time and again. The world ben­e­fits from en­ter­ing into treaties and em­brac­ing co­op­er­a­tive ar­range­ments. By work­ing in con­cert with other coun­tries and through global in­sti­tu­tions, coun­tries be­come safer and more pros­per­ous. A vic­tory for the “out” mind­set – which seems to re­gard com­pas­sion, truth, and in­tegrity as if they were ves­ti­gial limbs – would be Pyrrhic, at best. Economies would whither, vi­o­lent con­flict would in­crease, and women, mi­nori­ties, and jour­nal­ists would suf­fer as “out” move­ments use scare tac­tics that en­cour­age the ex­treme among them.

The irony is that all of this is com­ing at a time when tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies in Sil­i­con Val­ley and be­yond, long crit­i­cised as in­ward­look­ing, iso­la­tion­ist, and self-ob­sessed, are mov­ing as fast as they can to be “in.” That’s why Tim Cook in May be­came Ap­ple’s first CEO to jour­ney to In­dia, and a trip by Mi­crosoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, fol­lowed. Like­wise, Face­book’s CEO, Mark Zucker­berg, de­voted con­sid­er­able ef­fort to learning Man­darin ahead of his trip to China in March. Com­pa­nies are in­vest­ing in build­ing more efficient translation soft­ware to make work­ing any­where, with any­one, sim­ple and seam­less. Multi­na­tion­als world­wide know that, to grow and thrive, they must look to mar­kets and re­la­tion­ships be­yond their own home coun­tries’ bor­ders. And what is true of global com­pa­nies ap­plies to coun­tries: those that are not “in” will inevitably be left out.

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