Saturday, 12 November 2016

The end of the world

Many commentators have greeted the election of Donald Trump as US President as the end of the world. To some extent they are correct, although not in the way they think. I believe Trump’s election is evidence that the post Cold War world order is collapsing. Western political parties must accept and respond to this. Failure to do so could result in them being confined to the past, rather than having a hand in shaping the future.

Politicians in the West must acknowledge the factors that led to Trump’s rise. Donald Trump characterised his campaign as ‘Brexit plus, plus, plus’[1] and he was right to do so. I appreciate why some commentators deny common factors. Without dispassionate analysis the wrong conclusions will be reached though.

Since the end of the Cold War, the West has tried to integrate Russia, China and others into the international order. It was assumed that through commerce a new world order could be created: economic interconnectivity would show the wisdom of the Western way, and opening up in the former Communist world would happen over time. Trade became freer, the world became more connected. There is little sign of property owning democracy developing in Moscow and Beijing however. Rather than creating Western democracies, capitalism has given authoritarian regimes the tools required to sustain themselves post-Cold War. That has also had an impact on the West, which provided those tools.

It is undeniable that many Westerners, not only in Britain and America, feel the globalised system no longer works for them. As our barriers came down, lower labour costs in other places saw the off shoring of jobs. As our barriers came down, mass migration led to rapid cultural change. I am a free marketer by instinct, yet to argue for abstract principles in the face of what’s happening is impractical. A shift has happened in Western society. People have decided that cheap goods from elsewhere are not worth the non-monetary cost here. Pretending otherwise would be burying our heads in the sand.

The system has got to change or it will be torn down. Increasingly Western societies are demanding the governments they fund put them first, and forget about the global system. When Donald Trump talked about bringing back jobs it spoke to peoples’ concerns.[2] When the Brexit campaigners talked about how they could save steel plants, but for EU market rules, it spoke to peoples’ concerns.[3] People appear tired of hearing that obligations to people elsewhere mean things have to change at home. Nowhere is this starker than in the debate about migration. It is no surprise that the chant ‘build the wall’ became a slogan of Trump supporters. [4] It has also been long established that a majority of the British public think migration is too high, and that they want no additional refugees to be admitted to Britain.[5] Western citizens don’t care why people are coming, they don’t want them to.

The emerging picture is of publics that think charity begins at home, and that governments need to look after the interests of the taxpayers that fund them before looking abroad. It seems inevitable that this pressure will roll back the tide of globalisation. Should today’s politicians prove unwilling to be proactive about doing so, Western electorates will find outsiders, like Trump, who will. The French establishment may discover that in 2017.

[1] Donald Trump, Birmingham Mail, 7 November 2016, link
[2] Donald Trump, Politico, 28 June 2016, link
[3] Breitbart, 31 March 2016, link
[4] Daily Mail, 6 September 2016, link
[5] YouGov, 18 November 2015, link