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Globalism is dead

Long live populism

21 February 2020

10:00 PM

21 February 2020

10:00 PM

‘Globalism is dead. Long live globalisation’. For Mr Lee Howell, managing director of the elitist World Economic Forum, this is a desirable proposition. However, he concedes that ‘In recent years, there has been an intensifying backlash against international co-operation, rooted partly in fears – stoked by populist political leaders in many countries – that transnational “elites” are trying to impose globalism: an “ideology” that prioritises the neoliberal global order over national interests.’

This concern reflects WEF founder, Professor Klaus Schwab’s lament that ‘populist discourse eludes – and, often confounds – the substantive distinctions between two concepts: globalisation and globalism’.

No wonder. Proponents of both have so conflated them, that in the public’s eye the differences are marginal. This makes the realisation of Professor Schwab’s new ‘global-governance architecture’ unlikely. If anything, new ‘populist political leaders’ are likely to follow the lead of Brexit party leader, Nigel Farage, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Donald Trump.

Brexit is a slap in the face to globalism and globalisation. So too, America’s withdrawal from the UN Paris climate agreement and its recent bi-lateral trade negotiations.

Disparaged they may be, but these leaders are simply dancing to the tune of those they represent. It is the lived experience of their rank and file constituents which is producing the ‘intensifying backlash’. It is the realisation that multilateral bodies have been captured by powerful vested interests. Participating nations may fund them and local politicians may pretend they control domestic policy. But the appearance is misleading. Like cuckoos in the nest, multilateral agencies increasingly threaten the sovereignty and welfare of the many for the benefit of a few.

Take China. While it provides just eight per cent of the UN’s overall budget, Beijing’s power is totally disproportionate to its financial contribution. Chinese officials run four of the UN’s 15 specialised agencies. Washington, which contributes three times more than China and, more than 185 member states combined, leads just one.

Like so many globalists, Beijing may preach multilateralism, but President Xi Jinping is a unilateralist at heart and, like Donald Trump’s American ambitions, is committed to ‘Make China Great Again’.

Take climate change. While ‘developed’ economies sacrifice growth to meet their multilateral Paris emission targets, China, which, at the UN, self-declares as a ‘developing country’, exploits this privilege to maximum advantage. Its ‘greenhouse’ gas emissions are rising at the fastest pace in seven years. It has plans, before 2030, to build 300 to 500 new coal-fired power stations and to open another 17 coal mines. So much for international co-operation.

Then there are accusations that the World Health Organisation is bending to Chinese influence over the coronavirus epidemic. Earlier calls from international public-health experts to declare an official global emergency were dismissed. When finally announced, it was accompanied by obsequious congratulations from WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom, an Ethiopian whose country is desperately indebted to Beijing. He praised China’s work in containing the virus and for its transparency, notwithstanding eight Wuhan doctors were forced to confess to spreading false rumours after earlier trying to alert the public to the virus.

There is nothing neoliberal about these realities. They are a graphic illustration of how the visible hand of political power can capture the system. President Xi may publicly vow to play a role in defending multilateralism and receive strong support from Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. But Xi and Putin are ruthless authoritarians who, like good crony capitalists, favour open markets for everyone but themselves.

While it has taken time to surface, the growing backlash against the neoliberal hoax is not surprising. The question is whether the latest pushback is an aberration or something more profound.

Clearly, political polarisation and dissatisfaction among the 27 European Union members have intensified. Brexit is the most obvious manifestation. But there are other countries who are potential leavers like Poland, Italy and Denmark. Still others like Hungary, Austria and Slovenia have taken the European Commission to court in protest against its dictatorial impositions. There is a deep sense that bureaucrats in Brussels have captured the agenda and smaller nations are losing control over their policies and destiny.

Arch globalist and billionaire George Soros, worries ‘Europe is sleepwalking into oblivion … Neither our leaders nor ordinary citizens seem to understand that we are experiencing a revolutionary moment…’.

Globalists like Mr Soros may sell their mission as noble and having a higher purpose. They may argue that only a common multilateral approach can achieve true diversity, inclusiveness, social justice and wealth and income equality. Yet, even though rates vary between nations, inequality has rapidly accelerated since the 1980s.

In fact, there is a strong case to argue that international co-operation’s one-size-fits-all approach impedes democratic governments’ ability to address their own societies’ needs. Worse, co-ordinated policymaking by multilateral organisations like the World Trade Organisation, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Bank for International Settlements and the International Organisation of Securities Commissions has concentrated financial risk, overemphasised consumer protection, stifled innovation, slowed economic growth and encouraged wealth inequality.

These outcomes are not lost on rank- and-file voters. To them globalism and globalisation are the same. They have suffered the downside of factory closures and job losses without visible upside benefits. Their living standards are falling and they are drowning in debt. They see double standards at play. They feel they are being bullied and exploited and have a growing sense of disenfranchisement.

As Farage puts it, ‘There is a battle going on, in the West and elsewhere. It is globalism against populism. And you may loathe populism, but I’ll tell you a funny thing, it’s becoming very popular.’

Leaders of the free world have been warned. Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have listened. Who will join them?

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