In the last few years, protectionist-driven political campaigns and policies have gained popularity in countries like the United States, Britain and France. Globalism, on the other hand, has more detractors than supporters these days. Does this mean that globalism has failed the world’s citizens, and if so, how?
Ian Bremmer is the founder and president of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. His new book is “Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism.” He joined David Brancaccio to discuss why he thinks that not only has globalism failed many, people but how the current trend of protectionist populism isn’t going away until that failure is discussed. Below is an edited transcript of the interview.
Ian Bremmer: The global economy, of course, is doing better than at any point, since [the] 2008 financial crisis. So they’re feeling good. But the fact that the economy’s doing so well and the average person is so angry, first of all, should be really concerning for you when you think about what it’s going to feel like politically in these countries when we have the next recession.
Brancaccio: Because it’s not just “Trumpism” and President Trump in the United States. It’s not just what happened, Brexit in Britain. It’s a lot of countries feeling these forces.
Bremmer: It’s certainly across the United States and Europe and increasingly emerging markets, too. And it’s a sense that free trade, open borders, the U.S. and allies providing global security and technology as the utopian driver that’s going to make us all even better is not working for the average citizen in these countries.
Brancaccio: And look, it’s not just they we’re told this in a campaign. If you spend time out in the real world with people working for a living, people do not feel that they have a great future. They don’t feel that their kids are going to grow up into an even better place.
Bremmer: They certainly don’t. And that makes them want to vote to break things, right? And we’ve seen this in the United States. I think there is a sense among people that can’t stand Trump that if you just get rid of Trump, things will be OK. But people made very clear that the entire establishment, whether it was Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton, were not OK with them. The idea that the United States was going to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the idea that the U.S. was going to allow in large numbers of refugees, the idea that the U.S. was going to continue failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria — none of these things were OK to the average American voting. And they voted for Trump and for Sanders or didn’t vote at all in the same way that we got Brexit in the U.K., in the same way that [Angela] Merkel took it on the chin in Germany. Same way that [Viktor] Orbán in Hungary has now a constitutional majority. Italy has the worst electoral anti-establishment result we’ve seen since World War II, and in France, where the globalist won, Emmanuel Macron, precisely because he ran against the establishment parties and set up his own, he’s coming across as globalist and getting destroyed in the polls as a consequence. So literally, you can get rid of Trump, but, I mean, all of the Trumpism in the United States is real and is coming for us, right?
Brancaccio: But a response to this is to build walls, literally and figuratively. But you’re not advocating for that view, you don’t want to live in a world with that level of walls set up against these others that we create through rhetoric?
Bremmer: No, and I didn’t vote for Trump. But I understand why people did. And I think that as long as we continue to ignore the interests of large numbers of our countrymen and women — I mean a majority, really — then the outcome is going to be people that respond very well. Fox News put a stat up last week showing that there were, I think, 13,000 Syrians that came to the U.S. during the last year of Obama, some 3,000 in 2017, and so far this year, 11. Eleven. And I posted that on my social feeds, and I’d say a good half of the Americans that responded said 11 was too many.
Brancaccio: By the way, a huge civil war going on and people fleeing horrendous carnage and hardship in Syria. But you’re saying if society doesn’t help raise the prosperity of many Americans, it makes sense that people are resentful.
Bremmer: Absolutely it does. I am deeply empathetic, not only to the people that voted for Trump, but also for the much larger group that voted for Trump or voted for Hillary, they didn’t vote at all because they felt like no matter who they voted for, it wasn’t going to help them. They feel like, you know, all of these people that are constantly calling out Trump for all of his fake news and his mistaken facts and the rest, and they feel like those people, they may have a lot of fancy facts, but they don’t care. They miss a more fundamental truth, which is that they’ll get in power and they’re going to continue to ignore the interests of them and their families. The American dream doesn’t apply to them. We’re living in a world where the average Chinese [citizen] more believes in the Chinese dream than the average American believes in the American dream, and to imagine that that means that liberal democracy in the U.S. is going to continue to hum along the way it is, the way it has? It’s ludicrous. And we need to kind of come to terms with that.
Brancaccio: But anger isn’t a policy. So what’s the alternative? I mean capitalism tends to be global, [it] likes the borderless world. I just was reading a piece the other day that some younger folks don’t think that socialism is a dirty word. Is it does that address some of the problems of angry Americans?
Bremmer: Look, I think the two ways of addressing the problems, one is you build more walls and you continue to disenfranchise. And I think that that is more sustainable than people think, especially because it’s facilitated by technology, it’s facilitated by social media, it’s facilitated by our ability with a data revolution to get information on everyone and to sort them into only seeing and talking to those that they like. So I do think that the nature of technology facilitates more authoritarian outcomes, that disenfranchise people, than the communications revolution ever made us believe it might have 25 years ago. But the alternative is that you change the social contract. The alternative is that you actually look at these people and say, “We’re going to invest in improving your infrastructure. We’re going to invest in improving your education and dealing with your health care.” It’s going to be expensive, it’s going to take a long time, and I do think that there are experiments that are happening along those lines but not at the national level. I think some CEO’s are investing in universal training and we’re seeing some cities and some states. But let’s be clear. Technology is going to displace a hell of a lot more people than globalization ever did. So part of the reason I wrote this book is because this will get worse before it gets better. And for all of those people that believe that, “Oh, Europe is going to come together because they see how bad Brexit is,” or “the United States will come together because they see what a disaster Trump was,” that’s just wrong. And the fact that so many people want to blame the Trump voters for voting for Trump because he’s so obviously, as Comey says, morally unfit to be president, as opposed to blaming all of those that stood by for decades watching the situation for these people get worse, it strikes me that those people have at least as much responsibility and complicity on their shoulders, myself and yourself included, as those that actually ended up voting for the “anathema” president.
Brancaccio: Yeah, but you tried to focus on these issues … and so do we. So I mean, I don’t know exactly where the blame should lie, but the fact is the winners under the globalized system didn’t think so many of the people who were losing out mattered.
Bremmer: We didn’t do enough. Right? I mean we had this, after 2008, we had a financial crisis, it was very deep and a lot of people suffered, and there was an Occupy Wall Street movement, and it engaged our imagination for a solid six months, and by its first-year anniversary, it was gone. No one cared. We didn’t do a damn thing about it. When I say that, you know, people like you and I may have focused on the issue, but clearly we all didn’t do enough. We went back to our knitting, and the fact that the financial world is doing so well now, that the global economy is doing so well, and yet these people are as angry as they are really implies that when —because right now, Trump can’t, like, just pay off everybody. It’s the Hansel and Gretel economy, right? It’s like here’s a big candy house, because, I mean, he’s got a budget that looks like a Democrat budget. We’re going to run massive, massive deficits. But when inflation goes up and the economy turns around, you tell me who’s going to get hurt on the back of that. It’s going to get a lot worse.
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