We have reached the stage where we actually have no idea of what is going to happen. Here’s a list of questions to get us in the mood for a more serious kind of discussion. Some are cheeky, but they need to be asked regardless.
- Is free trade ever going to be as great as past leaders and economists told us it would be?
- Will the Trump Doctrine, or lack of it, blow up the rest of the world?
- Can Canada keep its delicate federalism in place when the inevitable threats of separation arise?
- Will good paying jobs ever come back?
- Do the terms “post-democracy” or “post-capitalist” mean that both of those systems are about to be relegated to the history books?
- Are citizens actually capable enough to have civil society take on the political/economic debacle?
Whether we like to admit it or not, we as average citizens helped to create such queries the moment we wanted cheap “everything.” When globalization emerged, we weren’t quite sure what to think of it. We were coddled into believing that a world of free-flowing cheap goods would be ours if we just permitted the deregulations and free trade deals to sail through legislatures. The reward for such blind support would be rising standards of living as the world bought our products and we bought theirs.
A market flooded with cheap stuff literally came true and our houses are full of objects we would have had trouble affording two decades ago. But there was a trade-off that we were conveniently never told about. As cheaper merchandise came here from the developing world, our jobs would go over there. The wealth that we believed would accrue to our Western nations did arrive, but it was unreachable and eventually unaccountable. Our natural environment ended up taking a beating, as did our hopes for a better way of life.
Globalization is a remarkably complex term crammed with cause and effects that most experts couldn’t easily comprehend. They thought it would be like chess, where nations competed with one another and everyone got richer, but instead it has been like pool, where one object struck another, or more, leading to consequences to impossible to calculate..
The result has been predictable. Citizens no longer trust their institutions. Politics has become all about identity. Democracy has seen the rise of extremist groups it thought it had bested. And average families find that the only we they can afford the good life is to borrow to keep up.
The financial engineers who meet annually for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to map out what the world’s economy will look like for the foreseeable future are now scratching their heads. Through the process of Brexit, Britain is committed to pull out of the world’s largest trading block. Donald Trump … well, we know all about that and the numerous trade deals now at risk of cancellation. In numerous European countries, including Sweden this past week, ultra-right-wing conservative parties are rising and basing much of their popularity on cancelling trade deals with other nations. Economist Dambisa Moyo informed Davos this past February: “There have been significant losses from globalization. It is not clear to me that we are going to be able to remedy them under the current infrastructure.” That same week, the head of the International Monetary Fund wondered if the time hadn’t come for “redistributing” more of the wealth to average people.
The financial elites might be seeing and conferring on this now, but his is where average citizens of Western nations have been for the last 5-10 years, depending on the country. This was ever the Davos way: promote globalization and incentivize populations to go along with it. But now, with ongoing job losses, stagnating wages, increased debt and democracies around the world proving more and more reticent to play ball with the new expanding form of wealth control, all bets are off. Times have changed.
Remember three decades ago being informed that globalization was unstoppable and that only those nations that got onboard stood to benefit?” Well we did, and now we don’t. We have come to understand that it wasn’t the nations the benefitted but the ultra-wealthy. When journalist George Packer reminded us that rejecting globalization was like the “rejecting the sunrise,” it all just seemed so pre-determined. But now millions of people are in the process, sometimes violently so, of rejecting the very thing they were prompted to accept only a few years ago and the talk is now of sunsets.
After years of being told that we would have to accept lower wages, no benefits, added hours, poorer labour standards, and a blighted natural environment, we are realizing that the time has come to push back – hard. The only question is whether it might be a revolution or a dedicated reform of our democratic and economic systems. If the latter isn’t implemented, the former is inevitable.