By Robert A. Vella
In yesterday’s editorial, I spoke about how rising populism is making the global technocratic hierarchy very nervous. I cited quotes from German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel which highlighted two of the central issues driving the populist wave from both the political left and right, free trade and national sovereignty (clarification and emphasis added by me):
“Whether Donald Trump, Marine le Pen or Geert Wilders – all these right-wing populists are not only a threat to peace and social cohesion, but also to economic development,” Gabriel told Welt am Sonntag newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.
Gabriel said that [Donald] Trump and French National Front leader Le Pen were promising voters “a way back into a fairytale world” in which economic activity only happened within national borders but that history had shown such isolated economies had no prospect.
“We have to make the effort to explain how we want to shape globalization in a fair way,” Gabriel said.
The reason why the issues of free trade and national sovereignty are so closely linked within the larger concern over globalization is the inclusion of provisions (e.g. ISDS – Investor-State Dispute Settlement) in recent international trade agreements (e.g. NAFTA, CAFTA, TPP, TTIP) which subordinate the laws of nation-states under an arbitrary corporatist authority. Obviously, this is a potential subversion of democracy; and, in yesterday’s editorial, I made the case that this is precisely the intent of globalization.
Adding in the double-whammy of growing inequalities (economic, judicial, and political) and hostile xenophobia (ethnic, racial, and religious), which have been exacerbated by globalization, it’s quite easy to understand this backlash of rising populism. What isn’t so easy to understand is why it took so long for our new global technocratic hierarchy to recognize it and to respond to it. Did supreme overconfidence and a cavalier disregard for public sentiment blind them to a serious problem of their own creation? Were their motivations completely honorable? Notice that Minister Gabriel said they need to “explain how” they “want to shape globalization in a fair way.” He did not say globalization needs to be implemented in a fair way.
As the U.S. presidential election campaign shifts towards key Midwest industrial Rust Belt states which have been economically devastated by globalization, the issue of free trade has moved to the forefront of the debate and it could prove decisive not just for the political fortunes of populist candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, but also for the outcome of the general election in November. All around the world, people are watching with great anxiety.