Economists
Back To The Classroom: Why Blaming Globalisation Is The New Xenophobia
Radical selfishness and anaemic educational performance is responsible for economic decline in Western Europe and the United States.
In the late 2010s, globalisation is apparently in retreat across much of the developed world. The game show host Donald Trump has carved out an extraordinary political niche on the back of a raucous election promise that 'Americanism, not globalism, shall be our creed.' The result of the United Kingdom's referendum on European Union membership has been perceived – seemingly universally – as a rejection of globalisation. Front National leader Marine Le Pen – who managed to get through to the final run-off round of France's most recent presidential election – rallied crowds around her opposition to 'the rampant globalisation that is destroying our civilisation'. Self-styled populists in the former Soviet Bloc compete with each other to express their hostility not merely to globalization, but to any form of heterogeneity, in ever-more caustic terms. 
 
This sea change has not been restricted to the domain of political science. Arguably even more notable is the recanting of what is now regarded as the heresy of globalisation by economists who up until recently were lifelong subscribers to its purported central tenets. Columnists from the Financial Times to The New York Times – Martin Wolf and Paul Krugman spring to mind – have gone from slamming critics of the World Trade Organisation ('WTO') to opining that globalisation has 'lost dynamism'. The transformation of former World Bank chief economist and Obama-administration heavyweight Lawrence 'Larry' Summers from febrile globalisation apostle to sober advocate of 'responsible nationalism' is, in this context at least, perhaps the most symbolic reinvention of all. 
 
The consensus position has rarely been clearer: both left and right are foaming at the mouth whenever the g-word is mentioned – which these days is never at all in polite company. The very associations of the word 'global' – 'globalisation', 'globalism', 'global conspiracy' – are slip-sliding into endless negativity. A solemn rediscovery of the virtues of nativism, followed by a swift retrenchment behind well-defined boundaries, is being presented as the only viable option, chiefly because 'globalisation' is said to be killing jobs, increasing inequality and engendering cultural sterility.  
 
There is just one small problem: the ostensible definitions of 'globalisation' implicitly deployed by its critics have virtually nothing to do with the actual meaning of the word. 'Globalisation' is being utilised as a shorthand catch-all term for any number of phenomena, from the ballooning US trade deficit that has been the subject of so many Trumpian executive orders to the existence of powerful supranational political and economic entities such as the European Union. 
 
Yet the reality of globalisation is much more prosaic: it is merely a process by which the world is transformed into global systems – no more, no less. And it has already happened. The present phase of globalisation is being propelled by information technology, those collective computations which create world consciousness in everything from fashion to public transportation systems. Fighting this force is like fighting breathing. It is difficult to think of anything more absurd or counterproductive. 
 
However, this deranged demonisation of globalisation is not without purpose, because it conveniently serves to obscure the fact that something is clearly wrong in numerous 'prosperous' economies. As the Nobel Prize-winner and author Joseph Stiglitz reminds us, the typical median income of a full-time male worker in the United States has not budged upwards in over four decades; parts of Europe have transmogrified into economic growth deserts in the twenty-first century. The essentially indefensible levels of inequality that profoundly shame so many societies is mirrored by the opacity of the paranoid super-rich in seeking to conceal the very existence of their cash – much of which was heisted from regular taxpayers in the first place.
 
The solution to these problems is twofold. Firstly, nothing less than a moral and social renaissance – perhaps even a spiritual revolution – is needed when it comes to rectifying basic questions of distribution. Meekly accepting homelessness and child malnutrition while not even countenancing the imposition of a financial transaction tax on multi-billion dollar speculators is a bankrupt disposition which – in an era of sophisticated and accessible information networks – are ultimately impossible to rationalise. 
 
Secondly, the atrocious academic performance of all too students in nations experiencing 'populist' outbreaks merits courageous introspection. One figure from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's PISA 2015 survey is particularly symbolic: the 10% most disadvantaged Shanghainese 15-year-olds scored higher in mathematics than the 10% most privileged students in the United States. When Chinese slum children are eclipsing the offspring of Manhattan socialites, questions which some may find deeply discomfiting – about parenting, productivity and postmodernism – must nevertheless urgently be asked if large, relatively cosseted parts of the planet are to avert socio-economic catastrophe. 
 
Blaming globalisation for one's own secular decline is seductive. But it is a sleight of hand which attempts to forestall discussion of substantive policy issues. It is high time we all accepted that intellectually-camouflaged xenophobia will only hinder the quest for a more equitable and educated world.