Trump-May: coun­try first, world sec­ond

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Den­sil Wil­liams Den­sil A. Wil­liams is pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional busi­ness and pro vice-chan­cel­lor of plan­ning at the UWI. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

SO THE im­prob­a­ble happened, Don­ald Trump won the US pres­i­dency, and based on the Elec­toral Col­lege votes, he won hand­somely as well.

There is no doubt that he stunned al­most all pun­dits across the globe as by and large, fol­low­ing nor­mal logic, a can­di­date who has com­mit­ted so many ills would not have a chance of win­ning any­thing, any­where.

From the in­hu­mane com­ments to­wards per­sons of dif­fer­ent races, class, abil­i­ties, and so­cial up­bring­ing, to the un­wel­come ad­vances to­wards women, these ac­tions would lead to to­tal oblit­er­a­tion of any­one run­ning for ar­guably the most pow­er­ful of­fice in the land. That logic was turned on its head shortly af­ter mid­night on Novem­ber 8 when it was de­clared that Don­ald J. Trump would be the 45th pres­i­dent of the United States.

By the time most per­sons woke up on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, they were stunned by the news. One could feel a sense of anger, shock, and dis­ap­point­ment. My sense is that per­sons were not dis­ap­pointed be­cause of Trump’s pol­icy po­si­tions which, in any case, were never al­ways clear, given the mer­cu­rial na­ture of the man.

I think the anger was more di­rected at the in­hu­mane things he said on the cam­paign trial. If Trump had run an is­sues-based cam­paign and won, I do not think we would be see­ing the high num­ber of demon­stra­tions since his vic­tory.

How­ever, while we await fur­ther de­tails on the Trump pres­i­dency, an­a­lysts have been try­ing to pre­dict what will hap­pen to the global econ­omy over the next four years, at least.

I think it is risky busi­ness to pre­dict what a Pres­i­dent Trump will do. He is not an or­di­nary man. While I cau­tion com­men­ta­tors to be care­ful about pro­nounce­ments on the future, I am pre­pared to say that some­thing big – I don’t know what ex­actly – is go­ing to hap­pen.

RISE OF NEO-LIB­ER­AL­ISM

It is ab­so­lutely clear that this wave of the global neo-lib­eral project – in­volv­ing pri­vati­sa­tion, dereg­u­la­tion, and an unbridled ap­proach to cap­i­tal ac­cu­mu­la­tion – took shape around the early 1980s when Mar­garet Thatcher and Ron­ald Rea­gan were both key play­ers on the global political stage as prime min­is­ter of the United King­dom and pres­i­dent of the United States, re­spec­tively.

The close re­la­tion­ship be­tween Thatcher and Rea­gan led to the de­vel­op­ment and ex­e­cu­tion of one of the most far­reach­ing projects to hit the world over the last three decades, neo-lib­er­al­ism. This project has had the most sig­nif­i­cant impact on in­dus­try struc­ture, busi­ness strat­egy, economic man­age­ment, and so­cial re­al­i­ties the world has ever seen.

The op­po­si­tion to neo-lib­er­al­ism posits that it has led to a small elite be­com­ing wealth­ier, while the vast ma­jor­ity of per­sons have ei­ther be­come poorer, and in some cases, caused se­ri­ous so­cial dis­lo­ca­tions, lead­ing to the ru­in­ing of fam­ily life, in­creased crime and violence, and a down­right sense of de­spair for many. Put dif­fer­ently, the ma­jor­ity of per­sons feel this project has wrecked their lives.

Those who sup­port the project ar­gue that it has led to the great­est re­duc­tion in global poverty since the 19th cen­tury, with the num­ber of per­sons liv­ing on less than US$1 a day sig­nif­i­cantly de­clin­ing com­pared to 10 decades ago. A good pa­per to ref­er­ence on the sub­ject is an ar­ti­cle in Finance and De­vel­op­ment pub­lished in June 2016 ti­tled ‘Neo-lib­er­al­ism Over­sold?’, writ­ten by Jonathan Ostry, Prakash Loun­gani, and Da­vide Furceri.

Trump, some will say, one of the ma­jor bene­fac­tors of the neo-lib­eral project, has sided with the op­po­si­tion to it and used that to his ad­van­tage to ad­vance to the pres­i­dency of the United States. He ran on a ticket line that says that glob­al­i­sa­tion (neo-lib­er­al­ism) has led to US jobs go­ing to China and Mex­ico. The US needs to take back its jobs, and I, Don­ald J. Trump, will be the one to re­verse this trend in the global cap­i­tal­ist project to make Amer­ica great again. The peo­ple bought it and he is now pres­i­dent-elect.

It is dif­fi­cult to dis­cuss the US elec­tion with­out jux­ta­pos­ing the Brexit out­come as well. Theresa May came to power in the United King­dom af­ter the res­ig­na­tion of David Cameron, the con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter who, again, it can be said, is a strong pro­po­nent of the neo-lib­eral project. He lost the prime min­is­ter­ship when his party called a ref­er­en­dum on whether the United King­dom should re­main in the Euro­pean Union (EU).

The sum­mary result is that the Bri­tish pub­lic de­cided to leave the EU be­cause like the cit­i­zens of the US, they be­lieve that ne­olib­er­al­ism has led to their jobs be­ing re­lo­cated to other coun­tries and they need to get back their jobs. Again, the ma­jor­ity of Bri­tish peo­ple do not think they have ben­e­fited from the neo-lib­eral glob­al­i­sa­tion that took deeper roots since the 1980s.

So, Mrs May and Mr Trump have a clear man­date from their var­i­ous con­stituen­cies to re­turn economic in­clu­sion to their re­spec­tive coun­tries by tak­ing a hard look at this neo-lib­eral project and its prog­eny, glob­al­i­sa­tion. In sum­mary, the man­date given to them by their cit­i­zens is, coun­try first, the world next. This is in com­plete con­trast to the neo-lib­eral project that is world first, coun­try next.

THE NEXT BIG THING: NA­TION­AL­ISM VS GLOB­AL­ISM?

So, with this new thrust to­wards national ver­sus global think­ing, the big ques­tion is: Can the cur­rent wave of the neo-lib­eral project con­tinue as is struc­tured, or will Mrs May and Mr Trump, like Mrs Thatcher and Mr Rea­gan, find a new wave to re­struc­ture the project so that it be­comes more mean­ing­ful to the com­mon man?

It is clear to me that some­thing dif­fer­ent will be done in this re­gard as both lead­ers have sim­i­lar man­dates from their cit­i­zens. Im­por­tantly, they are well po­si­tioned to come with some­thing new that will have an­other sig­nif­i­cant im­pli­ca­tions over the next three to four decades.

The next big idea seems to be head­ing in a di­rec­tion that says coun­try first, in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity next. This is in op­po­si­tion to the cur­rent neo-lib­eral project. If this is the di­rec­tion, gov­ern­ments, espe­cially those in small economies like Ja­maica’s, need to start re­cal­i­brat­ing their in­ter­na­tional trade strate­gies.

Firms must make their op­er­at­ing sys­tems more flex­i­ble to re­spond to changes in reg­u­la­tion and poli­cies that af­fect the move­ment of labour and cap­i­tal. Sim­i­larly, cit­i­zens will have to in­vest in them­selves to be­come more com­pet­i­tive in or­der to func­tion ef­fec­tively in a new par­a­digm. These are some of the is­sues that we will have to con­tend with in this new dis­pen­sa­tion of May-Trump lead­er­ship on the world stage.

It should not be lost on us that the last time we saw this transat­lantic part­ner­ship, where a con­ser­va­tive fe­male prime min­is­ter led the United King­dom and a male Repub­li­can led the United States, we got neo-lib­er­al­ism in its most unbridled form. Three decades on, we have a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion, but un­der dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment con­di­tions.

The man­date is coun­try first, the world next. Will the man­date given to these two lead­ers lead to new think­ing on neo-lib­er­al­ism/glob­al­i­sa­tion? While we await the out­comes, we have to po­si­tion our economic sys­tems, firms, and in­dus­tries to take ad­van­tage of what is to come.

UK Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May.

GUEST COLUM­NIST

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