I hope you will forgive me for not writing about personal finance today, although this post does certainly impact the global financial markets and our individual portfolios. When I started this blog about 2 1/2 years ago I did say that I would be tracking my personal finance progress, offer articles about tips regarding personal finance, and I would throw in a political blog post every now and then.
For the most part, 99% of my posts have been about personal finance. For whatever reason, I have not wanted to comment on this blog about politics as much, even though it is part of what I do as an academician. I love politics. I love discussing strategy, language use, what the future will hold, etc. Maybe the reason I have posted more is because most people hate talking about politics, even though it is part of our lives all of the time. We can’t escape politics. As Aristotle put it (and I am paraphrasing), politics is the master art and rhetoric is the ethical branch of that art. Considering I study rhetoric and politics I feel like I study the most important subjects out there.
So why this political post today? Well, I have wanted to write this for a while, but as I was listening to NPR this morning and thinking about the upcoming elections in France, the events that have transpired in the U.S. and Europe over the past 18 months it got me thinking more and more about the direction of the planet. The direction of politics, particularly as it relates to issues of nationalism vs. globalism.
If you have read the news over the past 18 months you would think, in some respects, that the world is going to hell and a hand basket. Spectres of the past–fascism, xenophobia, nationalist ideologies, exclusionary rhetoric–seems to be on the rise.
For example, the British vote to exit the European Union kicked off this phenomenon. Then you have the election of Donald Trump with his message of “Make America Great Again” which means protectionism, restrictions on immigration, etc. The Syrian refugee crisis certainly exacerbated this issue. Countries like Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Serbia, and others are attempting restrict the flow of migrants to its borders. There have been high profile terrorist attacks in Europe over the past 18 months that some attribute to the rise of this migrant population. Because of this political leaders like Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France, who both are leaders of highly nationalist organizations, have done well politically over the past year. Nationalist movements have also spilled over into other European countries. And authoritarianism seems to be growing in Turkey, Venezuela, and other nations.
The turn toward greater globalism, openness of borders, trade, and the like seems to be have stopped dead in its tracks.
Some of this is understandable. Since the end of the Cold War, particularly in the United States, wages have been stagnant for many middle-class workers. Wealth exacerbation between the classes is at an all time high. However, this isn’t a unique American phenomenon. Most developed economies seems to be grappling with this exacerbation of wealth, which explains the rise of national, populist movements in France where the economy has stagnated for the past 20 years.
People naturally look for a scapegoat. That scapegoat is often immigrants who are taking “American” or “French” or whatever jobs. The rise of terrorism over the past two decades does nothing to help the situation.
Thus, the conclusion is that the forces of populism, nationalism, etc are on the march and those that believe in greater integration, greater openness are on the retreat.
That may be the case.
However, I have seen this movie before.
I have lived long enough and study global politics enough to say that the parallels to the past are often striking.
For example, in the early 1990s after the end of the Cold War, nationalist forces were unleashed onto the world. Francis Fukuyama called this era the “end of history” because he argued that free markets and democracy had won and all ideologies would eventually fall on that dustbin of history.
However, that wasn’t the case. The forces of populism and nationalism were unleashed and led to a ton of intranational conflict. The civil wars of Yugoslavia, the Rwandan Genocide, the destruction of the governments in Somalia and Haiti were some of the victims of the unleashing of these forces.
Moreover, you had the economic doldrums of countries like Russia where the 1990s were an extremely difficult time economically. That was true not only in Russia, but across various parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It led to more migration from those economies to various parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia.
I remember specifically that when a Russian politician, Vladamir Zhirinovsky, his party won 23% of the parliamentary vote in Russia in 1993 that people were panicked. Zhirinovsky was called the next Russian Hitler and in the 1996 presidential election, which he was supposed to win he finished fourth. Joerg Haider was a nationalist leader in Austria who rose to prominence in the 1990s in Austria. Jean Marie Le Pen in France obtained more and more popularity as the 1990s went along. Even in Germany, considered to be the most stable European nation today, was experiencing a good deal of dislocation as West and East Germany were integrating into a larger German Republic again. In the United States we had the rise of right-wing militias, terrorist attacks on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the Atlanta Olympics caused by anti-government individuals.
The end of the Cold War, which brought so much hope, also brought huge amounts of dislocation because people were thrown out of their jobs as their governments and economies collapsed. The forces of globalization, which brought about a great deal of opportunity caused a huge amount of problems. Because of the destruction of the old order (e.g. Cold War), the unleashing of globalization and the dislocation it caused, the forces of nationalism and populism
From about 1991-1995/6 it seemed like the world was falling apart. It seemed like those forces of nationalism and populism were going to burn the world order down.
Like populist movements of the past these nationalist forces eventually receded. They eventually retreated to wait until another time until they can live again.
The global economic collapse of 2007-09 have allowed those forces to come to the fore again. The Arab Spring and the civil war in Syria, caused a huge migration crisis (but many of the migrants are from Africa) has also contributed to this. And because of this they have had significant results. Nationalists have won victories in Britain, the United States, Turkey, and different European countries. They might have another victory in the upcoming French elections over the next two weeks.
However, but these patterns of dislocation and the like have been seen by the world before. They always (and I know that is hyperbolic) seem to pop up for a small time period every generation. And then those forces recede.
And nationalism, by itself, is not necessarily a negative thing. However, nationalists funneled their frustrations on blaming immigrants, minorities, and GLBTQ communities for their lot in life. They are responsible for the economic stagnation, the migrant crisis, the dislocation caused by globalization and trade. It is the rising rhetoric of xenophobia and racism that people should be worried about. And there is a good deal to worry about.
Yet we might have seen the high tide of these forces. The nationalist voices that gained popularity may be waning. Recently, Austria voted for a pro-European candidate for its president against a candidate decidedly anti-European. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders lost his bid to become prime minister. In France, Marine Le Pen might win the first round of the French presidential elections, but is widely believed to lose the 2nd round. Scotland, whose population largely voted to stay in the European Union, wants to declare themselves independent and stay in the EU.
In the United States just because Donald Trump won the presidency doesn’t mean that this nationalist discourse will succeed in perpetuity. Trump LOST the popular vote, but won the electoral college. He has an uneasy alliance with Republicans who are largely free-traders and internationalists at their core. Recent special elections signal that the rhetorical style of Trump–populist, nationalist, anti-globalism–might not be carrying the day. The power of this discourse may be waning.
Ultimately, the point of this post is to say that those who argue we seem to be sinking into some dark times that we thought we had left behind (think the spread of Nazism and fascism in various parts of the world). I would say to you that I have seen this movie before. The world has seen this movie before.
Past is not prologue. It is possible the world will become more fragmented, the European Union will break apart, the United States will become more isolationist, greater conflict will happen between the U.S., North Korea, and other nations. The forces of nationalism and populism, which encourage people to turn inward, become more closed off and reject things that I value (globalism, openness, freedom of movement) might become more prominent.
But I have seen this movie before. We have gone through this before and the world came out the other side more integrated. The global order built after World War II survived and thrived. Global prosperity returned. The world became more integrated. Global conflict went down and continues to go down.
*Fun fact for you: There is less global conflict and killing today because of war than at any time in modern human history. The world is NOT falling apart :).
I believe that when we look back on this time in 10 years we will see another blip in history with regard to nationalism vs. globalism.
And that doesn’t mean we don’t have serious global problems. That doesn’t mean wealth inequality will be solved. That doesn’t mean that poverty will go away. That doesn’t mean that people will have an abundance of food or people will die in conflict. The spectres of the past will always exist. They aren’t going to ever go away. I am not that naive to sing that everything will be wine and roses, but in the long arc of history they are fighting a losing battle.
But I would argue with those who see the world going to hell and a handbasket. I would point that the nationalist tides are receding (in my opinion). I would say that things will get better.
I have seen this movie before. The forces of xenophobia, racism, anti-globalism, etc, will not win. This movie will have a happy ending and there will be multiple sequels and multiple happy endings.