Un­der­stand­ing de­glob­al­iza­tion’s dan­gers

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - OPINION - HAROLD JAMES

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his advisers’ fierce rhetoric on trade and im­mi­gra­tion has led some to won­der if our cur­rent era of glob­al­iza­tion is now at risk. If it is, an even more per­ti­nent ques­tion is whether the end will be ac­com­pa­nied by vi­o­lence.

Stock mar­kets have be­come in­creas­ingly jit­tery, ow­ing to rec­ol­lec­tions of past mo­ments when in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion was thrown into re­verse. New trade wars or mil­i­tary con­flicts could con­ceiv­ably un­ravel the com­plex com­mer­cial in­ter­re­la­tion­ships that have de­liv­ered pros­per­ity since World War II.

In pre­vi­ous episodes of de­glob­al­iza­tion, cat­a­strophic events such as World War I or the fi­nan­cial crash of 1929 dis­rupted the flows of com­merce, fi­nance and peo­ple that had pre­vi­ously linked coun­tries to­gether. One re­sult of th­ese crises was that na­tion­al­ity and cit­i­zen­ship be­came the key com­po­nents of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial life.

The same pat­tern of re­ver­sal and dis­in­te­gra­tion can be found earlier in his­tory: the end of the Ro­man Em­pire and the dis­in­te­gra­tion of China’s East­ern Han Dy­nasty, to name just two. Some his­to­ri­ans even re­gard the Amer­i­can and French rev­o­lu­tions as de­glob­al­iz­ing events. Amer­i­can rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies re­jected for­eign rule and trade and French rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies sun­dered the Bour­bon dy­nasty’s Euro­pean al­liances. In both cases, the rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies as­serted new rules of cit­i­zen­ship.

It would seem that mod­ern po­lit­i­cal so­ci­ety is pre­dis­posed to­ward de­glob­al­iza­tion. His­tor­i­cally, this ten­dency has been trig­gered when the emo­tional bal­ance of a so­ci­ety changes. So­cial tur­moil of­ten gives rise to new lead­ers whose gov­ern­ing men­tal­ity leads to rash, short-sighted, in­con­sis­tent and oth­er­wise bad de­ci­sions. When poor de­ci­sion-mak­ing in one coun­try ad­versely af­fects other coun­tries, it can then trig­ger a vi­cious cir­cle of re­tal­i­a­tion and es­ca­la­tion.

Over the last cen­tury, three re­lated emo­tions, in par­tic­u­lar, have fu­eled back­lashes against glob­al­iza­tion: fear, sus­pi­cion and anomie. Gen­er­ally, wide­spread fear of fi­nan­cial losses or of dan­gers posed by other coun­tries re­flect a so­ci­ety’s deeper anx­i­ety about a con­stantly chang­ing world.

In the 1980s, the fi­nan­cial an­a­lyst James Mon­tier cre­ated a “fear and greed” in­dex, in which mar­ket sen­ti­ment is driven en­tirely by the in­ter­play of greed and fear of loss. Mon­tier’s cen­tral in­sight was that the po­ten­tial for fear in­creases along­side the level of greed on dis­play. Fear is thus the his­tor­i­cally de­ter­mined wages of greed, just as death, in Chris­tian the­ol­ogy, is the wages of sin.

It is worth re­mem­ber­ing that the 20th cen­tury’s ma­jor mil­i­tary con­flicts were all pre­ceded by fi­nan­cial crises, which them­selves were pre­ceded by pe­ri­ods of wild ex­u­ber­ance. The crash of 1907 pre­ceded World War I; and the 1929 crash, the 1931 Euro­pean bank­ing cri­sis and the Great De­pres­sion pre­ceded World War II.

The sec­ond emo­tion driv­ing de­glob­al­iza­tion, sus­pi­cion, can cre­ate a trap. As Elvis Pres­ley put it: “We can’t go on to­gether, With sus­pi­cious minds, And we can’t build our dreams, On sus­pi­cious minds.”

Dur­ing the reck­on­ing after a fi­nan­cial cri­sis, those who have come out on top are also of­ten be­lieved to be the cul­prits. In some cases, the pub­lic di­rects its ire at an­other coun­try; in other cases, it tar­gets eth­nic mi­nori­ties or so­cial groups such as fi­nan­cial elites. In the first half of the 20th cen­tury, Jews were the most fre­quently tar­geted group, whereas in the 1997 Asian fi­nan­cial cri­sis, Chi­nese traders in the Philip­pines, Malaysia and In­done­sia were sin­gled out.

Sus­pi­cions can also be height­ened by se­cu­rity con­cerns. Be­fore WWI, many Lon­don­ers wor­ried that Ger­man restau­rant wait­ers were spies, as a few doubt­less were. And today, many Euro­peans have fears about refugees and rad­i­cal­iza­tion in Is­lamic com­mu­ni­ties that are dis­pro­por­tion­ate to the ac­tual threat.

Fear and sus­pi­cion thrive when the pro­cesses of glob­al­iza­tion erode core val­ues, sources of mean­ing – such as tra­di­tional oc­cu­pa­tions – and ways of life. In ad­vanced in­dus­trial coun­tries, the back­lash against mi­gra­tion and trade is of­ten framed as a mat­ter of ei­ther “sav­ing” jobs or com­pen­sat­ing glob­al­iza­tion’s “losers.” But in both cases, the re­sponse ig­nores the fact that there are no new de­cent jobs to pro­vide sources of mean­ing and iden­tity.

This has been a prob­lem at least since mass in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion be­gan to ac­cel­er­ate in the 19th cen­tury. Fy­o­dor Dos­toyevsky opened his clas­sic 1862 ac­count of prison life “The House of the Dead,” with a paean to the im­por­tance of work – even for those in Siberian pe­nal colonies.

Or­di­nary ac­tiv­i­ties like cre­at­ing an ob­ject or even clean­ing a room can con­fer a sense of self-worth, he ob­served. But the point­less toil as­signed to pris­on­ers – such as dig­ging and then re­fill­ing holes – did the op­po­site: It was meant to de­stroy their dig­nity and an­ni­hi­late their sense of self.

His­tory shows that tack­ling the emo­tional roots of de­glob­al­iza­tion will re­quire an enor­mous feat of so­cial imag­i­na­tion. The task be­fore us is noth­ing less than to re-es­tab­lish a uni­ver­sal sense of hu­man dig­nity and pur­pose.

Fi­nan­cial flows today are smaller than be­fore the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis and since 2014, in­ter­na­tional trade has grown at a slower rate than pro­duc­tion for the first time since WWII.

De­spite ef­forts such as China’s “Belt and Road” ini­tia­tive, which aims to unite Eura­sia through in­fra­struc­ture and in­vest­ment, it is con­ceiv­able that the world has reached “peak fi­nance” and “peak trade” and pos­si­bly “peak glob­al­iza­tion.”

Still, there is one ma­jor area of in­ter­na­tional con­nec­tiv­ity that shows no sign of de­clin­ing: the ex­change of in­for­ma­tion. Global data flows will con­tinue to in­crease, con­sti­tut­ing a grow­ing share of eco­nomic value.

But can dig­i­tal glob­al­iza­tion also cre­ate new sources of mean­ing? Ex­per­i­men­tal artists and so­cial-me­dia ex­perts would say that it can.

But if the new in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity has the para­dox­i­cal ef­fect of mak­ing peo­ple feel more iso­lated and adrift, those peo­ple will pick old imag­ined cer­tain­ties over glob­al­iza­tion any day.

Fear and sus­pi­cion thrive when core val­ues are eroded by glob­al­iza­tion

Harold James is pro­fes­sor of his­tory and in­ter­na­tional af­fairs at Prince­ton Univer­sity and a se­nior fel­low at the Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Gov­er­nance In­no­va­tion. This com­men­tary is pub­lished by THE DAILY STAR in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Project Syn­di­cate (www.project-syn­di­cate.org).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lebanon

© PressReader. All rights reserved.