Donald Trump has channelled the anger felt by globalisation’s discontents to serve an agenda in line with elite interests
Donald Trump’s decision to launch trade wars against all five of the United States’ closest commercial partners has brought depressingly predictable responses. China, Canada, Mexico and the European Union have all countered with tariffs on US products. The US economy is the biggest in the world and can deal with many of the responses, which are a pinprick on its giant heft. However, Mr Trump’s political base is vulnerable – and the retaliating quartet have responded with actions designed to hurt communities that voted for the US president. This entirely foreseeable response confirms that trade is something he cares deeply about but also knows little about.
It does not help that Mr Trump is a narcissist with no time for the subtleties of global diplomacy. He is meeting European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker for talks on Wednesday. He calls the EU a “foe” because of its $101bn trade surplus with the US. A sensible solution for Washington is one that it vetoed when John Maynard Keynes proposed it in 1944: countries with surpluses ought to spend their extra money in deficit countries, thus boosting both private spending and export capacity. It is ironic that Mr Trump is attempting something similar by bullying rather than through what might have been achieved by multilateral arrangements. The president is happy to be swinging a wrecking ball at the world trading system. But it has been swung before. The US has been squabbling with partners who have had trading surpluses for decades. All American leaders understand that foreign nations have a great deal to lose from sanctions, imposed by Washington, that limit access to the huge US market. Because sanctions are determined unilaterally, there is little that countries can do to resist a claim that they have cheated their way into American markets.
After decades of globalisation, our political system has become obsolete – and spasms of resurgent nationalism are a sign of its irreversible decline. By Rana Dasgupta
What is happening to national politics? Every day in the US, events further exceed the imaginations of absurdist novelists and comedians; politics in the UK still shows few signs of recovery after the “national nervous breakdown” of Brexit. France “narrowly escaped a heart attack” in last year’s elections, but the country’s leading daily feels this has done little to alter the “accelerated decomposition” of the political system. In neighbouring Spain, El País goes so far as to say that “the rule of law, the democratic system and even the market economy are in doubt”; in Italy, “the collapse of the establishment” in the March elections has even brought talk of a “barbarian arrival”, as if Rome were falling once again. In Germany, meanwhile, neo-fascists are preparing to take up their role as official opposition, introducing anxious volatility into the bastion of European stability.
But the convulsions in national politics are not confined to the west. Exhaustion, hopelessness, the dwindling effectiveness of old ways: these are the themes of politics all across the world. This is why energetic authoritarian “solutions” are currently so popular: distraction by war (Russia, Turkey); ethno-religious “purification” (India, Hungary, Myanmar); the magnification of presidential powers and the corresponding abandonment of civil rights and the rule of law (China, Rwanda, Venezuela, Thailand, the Philippines and many more).
Related: Globalisation: the rise and fall of an idea that swept the world
When it comes to the end of work as we know it, ableism is surely at the core of this flawed perspective, writes Bella Milroy. Plus Patrick O’Sullivan says local communities must become self-reliant
Want to radically rethink the concept of work? Start talking to disabled people. As vitally important as the case for a universal basic income is, as Larry Elliott observes (Robots will take our jobs. We’d better plan now, before it’s too late, 1 February), a debate that focuses solely on the concept of paid work will only take us so far, and fails to acknowledge the millions of disabled people, as well as millions of carers, who go unpaid for the work they do every day.
When it comes to the end of work as we know it, ableism is surely at the core of this flawed perspective. Disabled people have been redefining the idea of what it means to work, to create, to find purpose and to contribute to society since the dawn of time, the majority of which goes unpaid.
Democracies will fall under the spell of populists like Donald Trump if they fail to deal with the fallout of globalisation
The rich, as F Scott Fitzgerald noted, “are different from you and me”. Their wealth, he wrote, makes them “cynical where we are trustful” and their affluence makes them think they are “better than we are”. These words ring truest among the billionaires and corporate executives flocking to the Swiss ski resort of Davos this week. The highs recorded by stockmarkets, the tremendous monopoly power of tech titans and spikes in commodity prices reassure the rich cosmocratic class that they have weathered the storm of the financial crisis. The moguls can talk safely about inequality and poverty. But they will do little about it because they do not think their best interests are aligned with citizens. This is a mistake of historic proportions.
Since 2015, Oxfam calculates, the richest 1% have owned more wealth than the rest of the planet. The very wealthy think they no longer share a common fate with the poor. Whatever the warm words at Davos, no company bosses will put their hands up to the fact they play one country against another in order to avoid taxes; no firm will be honest about their attempts to stymie trade unions or about how they lobby against government regulation on labour, environment or privacy that tilts the balance of power away from them and towards the public. The largest western corporations and banks now roam the globe freely. As memories of the financial crisis recede, they are going back to the myth that they are no longer dependent on national publics or governments. Lobbyists for the corporate world claim that markets are on autopilot, that government is a nuisance best avoided.
A conciliatory speech would alienate his base; a repudiation of Nafta would create shockwaves. Either way, this is a significant moment
The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum will come to a climax on Friday when Donald Trump becomes the first US president since Bill Clinton to address the Davos talkfest.
To say that Trump’s lunchtime speech is eagerly awaited is an understatement. Excitement has been building ever since the White House announced that the president would join Emmanuel Macron, Theresa May and Narendra Modi at this year’s event.
Tom Kibasi on proposals for a ‘digital commons’ and increasing worker ownership, Andy Chapman on Common Good Balance Sheets, and Peter Taylor-Gooby on better education, more training and decent cheap childcare
In introducing his welcome new series on economic alternatives, Aditya Chakrabortty rightly castigates those who continue to promote the failed economic ideas of the past (It’s time to take on the zombies, 17 January). But he underestimates the extent to which a vibrant network of thinktanks, academics, campaigning and community organisations are now “rethinking capitalism” in pursuit of a society fit for the future.
Here at IPPR we are working on everything from new approaches to macroeconomic policy to the proper taxation of wealth, from proposals for a “digital commons” to devolved economic governance, from increasing worker ownership to a new framework for environmental policy.
An idea whose time has come: Over the holiday season the Guardian is examining themes that have emerged to give shape to 2018. Today we look at intangible economies
No country is governed by a Capitalist party, although there is no shortage of capitalism on the planet. There have been Socialist parties for socialism, Liberal parties for liberalism and Communist parties for communism. Yet acolytes of the most powerful model of all are reluctant to brand themselves with its name. One reason is that the word “capitalism” was popularised by its critics. The most common usage is pejorative, denoting a system characterised by exploitation of workers by bosses. Another reason is that there are too many kinds of capitalism in practice for any single party to claim ownership of the idea. In the west the pendulum swung between more liberal and dirigiste modes, while the underlying structure stayed remarkably stable. But that doesn’t make it permanent. Already a digital revolution has transformed the way business is done. What if it is changing the nature of capitalism itself?
The rise of a handful of vast corporate powerhouses whose business models have no instructive precedent from the analogue-era forces a reappraisal of the way capitalist economies work. The top seven highest valued companies in the world are all in the technology sector. Titans such as Alphabet (which owns Google) and Facebook specialise in products that do not exist in three-dimensional space. Apple and Amazon sell real-world objects as well as concepts, but their fortunes and market dominance have been built on nebulous concepts – models, brands and algorithms.
Trade deals were hammered out in secret by multinationals at the expense of workers and citizens. Benefits must be shared if the global economy is to work
Fifteen years ago, I published Globalisation and Its Discontents, a book that sought to explain why there was so much dissatisfaction with globalisation within the developing countries. Quite simply, many believed that the system was rigged against them, and global trade agreements were singled out for being particularly unfair.
Now discontent with globalisation has fuelled a wave of populism in the US and other advanced economies, led by politicians who claim that the system is unfair to their countries. In the US, President Donald Trump insists that America’s trade negotiators were snookered by those from Mexico and China.
Related: Globalisation is dented but not doomed
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Related: Joseph Stiglitz: ‘Trump has fascist tendencies’