Until 2016 that was.
It can be argued that the triumphs of the Eurosceptics in Britain’s June referendum, and Donald Trump’s equally surprising and populist win in the United States presidential election were outliers, and it remain to be seen whether or not Geert Wilders or Marine Le Pen can reach power in their countries. However, the establishment has been shaken and is seemingly at this point unable to put down the challenge from the populists.
The main questions we have to ask ourselves are:
- Who are the populists and what do they want?
- Who are the establishment, and what do they want?
- Why is all of this happening?
- Our current financial system is dependent on economic growth.
- When prosperity increases, exponential growth decreases.
- This forces the system to increase its efficiency and engage in “creative destruction”.
- One form of creative destruction is to deregulate and remove economic barriers.
- This increases growth, but hurts groups that have won benefits from said barriers.
- A new political conflict zone is emerging, with the third world proletariat and the billionaires on one side, and the lower middle class of developed nations on the other.
- All this serves to hide the more serious issue of the global ecological crisis.
- We would need to seek a solution which emphasises a confederational global order and localised autonomy.
Legitimate and illegitimate faultlines
In most liberal democracies, there is a political spectrum, consisting of diverging opinions, generally centred around the issue of taxation levels and the form, size and direction of the welfare state. Usually, we see a moderate right – which desires to have low taxes and low public expenditures – locked in a debate with a moderate left, which desires roughly the opposite. Most of the major newspapers lean towards one bloc above the other, but seldom tries to indict, disqualify or delegitimise the political opposition.
Usually, however, both blocs tend to share political sentiments on a wide range of issues. Both blocs are usually supportive of free trade, of a foreign policy consensus regarding the country’s role within the European Union and/or NATO, as well as several free trade agreements. Both blocs tend to be supportive of status quo when it comes to the financial markets, and tend to share roughly the same ideas when it comes to the issue of climate change. Both blocs also tend to see the role of citizenship (as disconnected from ethnicity) and the nation-state (as transformed and reduced) in the 21st century in a similar light.
Thus, there are issues which are seen as a legitimate arena for political debate – namely those which pertain the issue of the size of taxes and how to spend them. Other issues, like international entanglements, free trade and the role of the nation-state are viewed as far more sensitive, almost illegitimate to veer into. Then there are a few topics that are seen as absolutely toxic (criticising media, focusing too much on the banking system, and then – worst of all – ethnopolitics). The reason why some subjects are seen as legitimate and some as less legitimate is because the establishment has reached an equilibrium in the West, following the Second World War (which, by the way, is a prudent way of organising a society – judging by the instability of third world democracies lacking a national consensus). Upsetting the delicate balance and the status quo could risk destabilising society and create a situation where electoral democracy may be at risk. For many decades, the general population shared into these sentiments.
What would however happen when the political consensus achieved by the establishment is viewed – by large chunks of the general population – as unsettling to the status quo?
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s enter the age of Globalism.
The Politics of the Unipolar World and the nature of Growth
The spectre of globalisation became fully evident with the end of the Cold War on the 25th of December 1991. It had however brewed for a while already, with the first wave of offshoring production, first to Japan and then to other Asian countries such as Taiwan, South Korea and Malaysia, which began already during the late 1960’s. This was made possible by two conditions – Pax Americana and the development of communications technologies, which allowed companies to distribute their investments to the locations with the lowest costs and the highest benefits.
Following the debt crisis of the 1980’s, dozens of third world countries were forced to open up their economies and sell out vital utilities to multinational corporations, which served to increase the flow of money in the system and to weaken the role of the state. During the 1990’s, this order was codified through the Washington Consensus and the formation of the WTO (World Trade Organization). While free trade agreements of the past tended to reduce and lower the amount of regulations, these new free trade treaties established during the past 25 years have served to introduce legislative measures (for example ISDS mechanisms which penalise countries for instituting laws which could damage the profitability of corporate operations within their borders, or anti-piracy laws), above and partially beside the scrutiny of the national legislative chambers. In short, these new agreements have a tendency to allow multinational corporations powers which are approaching those of state actors in their relationship with sovereign states.
Of course, the most far-reaching and deepest example of international cooperation and supranationalism during our era is and remains the European Union, though it is hampered by the problems of the European economy and by the fact that it is split between those who envision it as a future federal state, those who strive towards it becoming a template for global governance, those who wish to scale it back and those who desire to break it. The nation-state, we have heard, is growing increasingly obsolete due to technological development – and that is a good thing, for the sake of diversity, progress and growth.
And yes, economic globalisation is indeed a dynamic force, having a multiplying effect on trade and stock markets. It binds together the globe in linear networks, transforms entire bio-regions into landscapes intended for the production of goods, which then are brought around the globe to the vast supermarkets of the emergent super-cities. These cities join together tens of millions of people from all the continents of the Earth, forming vibrant, creative, multi-cultural hubs characterised by fashion, innovation and novelty – mobilising economic activity to never before seen heights.
There is however several shadow sides to this glitz of vitality – the one most apparent being that while the GDP economy has indeed grown – in several western countries it has more than doubled since 1980, automation, off-shoring and immigration has weakened the once dominant manufacturing sector. 25 years ago, it was still relatively easy for a high school dropout to apply for a manufacturing job. New positions within that sector demands higher skillsets, and are fewer in number – and still gradually shrinking in importance.
Instead, the new jobs which are created generally consist of fewer hours and a higher amount of insecurity. These jobs go into the service sector – the fast food industry, sales-by-phone, on-hour positions within the cleaning sector, and micro-jobs – popular as a solution in Britain and Germany. While older people are generally entrenched by laws protecting their employment, youths are more exposed for this new, emerging, hyper-competitive economy. Entire regions, once consisting of chimney-forests of industrial towns, have turned into basket-cases characterised by high unemployment and growing poverty.
While generally claiming that this process of creative destruction is “historically inevitable” (akin to Marxian historicism), the establishment in most western countries, from large multi-national corporations, to centrist political parties, mainstream media and academia, seems heavily invested into the furtherance of this mega-trend. That is hardly surprising, giving the positive net effects on economic growth.
As we previously have explained (http://eosprojects.com/what-is-money.html), our current monetary system has an in-built need to maximise growth and to never reach an equilibrium. States which have failed to open up their economies to the dynamic forces of globalisation – most notably Japan – has also stagnated economically. Stagnation breeds a risk for a loss of confidence in the system, and thereby a future financial crisis created by the mountains of debt owed by future generations.
One aspect of this trend has been immigration. The maximisation of growth necessitates the destruction of unproductive countryside regions and the expansion of urban cityscapes. In the context of cities, however, demographic growth tend to plummet. Opening up the cities for global immigration adds new workers and consumers into the mix, without the need for much extra investments into schools and universities. Even those who get stuck in perpetual unemployment are contributing to the profitability of businesses, because their existence as potential labour serves to depress wage increases and thus strengthen the employers in trade situations. If the immigrants are from impoverished or developing countries, they are usually willing to work for worse pay and under worse conditions than domestic labour would appreciate.
Enter the nationalists
I am well aware that the populist tide in the west is occurring both on the left and the right side of the spectrum. However, the strongest growing tide has occurred on the right, with nationalists rising nearly everywhere (except the Iberian Peninsula, if you discount regional separatists). There are several reasons for this, but the most logical one is that resistance against economic globalisation and for a return to 1960’s style Keynesianism is (what even Marx himself would have labelled) a reactionary stance.
The nationalist solution is simple, and is about strengthening the nation-state, introduce protectionism and decrease the growth of the labour pool by reducing immigration and utilising the tool of deportations. Of course, xenophobia and racism plays a role in this outlook – especially regarding the target of the ire – but the goal is economically linked to the fear of competition and of seeing increased risk in one’s own life. If the source with this risk is associated with what is viewed as an out-group (religious, ethnic, political or economic does not matter), then there will also be a heightened risk for inter-group conflicts.
The dilemma of the establishment has been the following: How to increase the competition between groups, without creating hate and animosity between them? The solutions have varied between countries, from trying to impose assimilation of ethnic minority groups, towards state-sanctioned individualism, the denial of the existence of ethnic groups and official anti-racism. Judging by the current nationalistic wave in the West, all these methodologies have failed in defusing the situation.
To some extent, the nationalist rage also represents the rebellion of the “economically unviable” regions against the metropolises, often characterised by the countryside and declining manufacturing towns joining together in an alliance against the capitols – against the rainbow coalition for globalization unifying capital and bare feet.
The venom of Ethnopolitics
While globalization represents a huge opportunity for economic growth to manifest itself, it also increases the risks and vulnerability. According to Ricardian principles, the implementation of free trade would necessarily increase the co-dependency between nations and between continents. The increasing reliance on linear transfer of resources, were raw materials are extracted, sublimated into assembly materials, assembled into products and finally consumed on – in order – four different parts of the world, is highly vulnerable even to regional disturbances. The social collapse in one region, or the disentanglement of one great nation from a number of treaties could affect a domino line of other factors in manners unpredictable even from the point of view of the most refined computer programmes available today.
Ethnopolitics – the basis of ethnicity as a separating identity – represents a dangerous powder-keg which, under the wrong circumstances, can blow up and create the conditions for crimes against humanity.
Nationalism is resented by the current establishment because the current establishment values the benefits of globalization, sees the process of globalization as not only necessary but as virtuous, and because it threatens to lead down into a slippery-slope where the normalisation of ethnically charged hatred can spiral out of control and lead to genocides. History has proven over and over again that there is a risk for such an occurrence.
Yet, as previously stated, the conditions for nationalism to arise are created by the effects of globalisation – which disconnects the countryside from the city and which is (partially) responsible for human beings being exposed to the stark reality that their existence may be economically unnecessary. Meanwhile, the establishment has largely embraced a globalistic ideology which welcomes and strives to transition their countries towards more of these rationalising forces.
Thus, a large share of the public has started to view the establishment as a radical force which threatens their traditional way of life and the values attached to it. Especially as the traditional conduit for communication between the elites and the people – mass media – have increasingly come to be seen as a medium for “pro-globalist propaganda” and for ignoring the sentiments of the traditional working class. Meanwhile, the nationalists represent a threat of the same magnitude against the professionals and classes which have come to rely on the dynamic aspects of the globalized economy. Thus, polarisation intensifies.
A dialectal process?
To some extent, the nationalist reaction is understandable. After all, interior, rural regions – no matter where they are located – are economically irrational in a world driven by the logic of linear systems and exponential growth, no matter their sense of their own values and importance. When agriculture and manufacturing soon would be completely automated, why then subsidise the existence of remote, rural towns dominated by retirees, public employees and the unemployed or underemployed? Just ask the people of the Dorotea and Asele municipalities, who saw their primary care gutted.
Yet, it must be said that the aggressive blame on entire ethnic migrant groups and the judgement on them as collectives is a scary trend which proves that humanity has not yet overcome the primal urges for tribal conflict, especially when said groups mostly are driven to the West by wars partially directly or indirectly initiated by actors based in the West, and for the sole purpose of creating a future for their children. These people cannot be blamed for being exploited as a wedge to liberalise the labour market. Moreover, this process is already underway, even in countries pursuing xenophobic policies – due to the destructive force of automation.
Thus, the alluring promise of a return to the early 1960’s remains a mirage, and the nationalist forces remain impotent to achieve that, though redistribution to declining regions and their tourist attractions may slow their demise.
If Karl Marx had been alive today, he would probably have hailed globalism as a progressive force which streamlined the productive capacities of the world, eliminated barriers of capital and moved the world closer to the foundation of two classes, the super-wealthy oligarchy and the teeming global proletariat. He would disdainfully have declared those forces opposing globalism as relics judged by the Darwinian forces of historical materialism to be flushed away and dissolved into the proletariat or into nothingness.
The endgame of globalism is a world with free movement for capital, goods, services and people and universal laws for the conduction of business. It would be a world of Ricardian divisions, where each region focuses only producing what it is least bad at producing, creating monocultures intended to feed the emerging Ecumenopolis the resources desired by its inhabitants.
The problem with this vision is not only that it is horrifying in its grandiosity as well as its shallowness, but that it is untenable.
Globalism and nationalism – a flawed narrative
Nationalism remains unable to achieve the harmonic stasis which it promises, because it is based on the backward technological paradigms of an age which was dying already by the 1960’s.
Globalism, however, also fails to meet the judgement of reality, and that in a much more chilling manner. It is not possible to entertain exponential economic growth for an eternity, because the more an economy grows, the less it will grow, simply because €1 of €50 may be 2%, but €1 of €50 000 000 is barely noticeable, because human beings have a limited ability to consume which gradually will lead to a flattening of their consumption curve no matter their income, and – most of all – because we are collectively as a species already annually using up 140% of the planet’s renewal capacity.
The logic of comparative benefits taken to an extreme leads to sterilised mono-cultures and to emphasising destructive surface usage practices which already have turned over a third of the Earth’s land surface to areas used to grow fodder for meat animals. The logic of emphasising exponential growth leads to the continuous rise of our exploitation of our home planet, and the very purpose of every WEF meeting at Davos is intended for the promulgation of the gospel of growth.
Maybe they believe that the environment is just an economic factor, but their policies are leading to deforestation in the tropics, to the destruction of soils and freshwater reservoirs, which have an importance for humanity which cannot be overstressed. If we are continuing down the current path, we will be on a good way towards accomplishing a Sixth Global Mass Extinction Event by the year 2100.
And to transition away from this, we will need a new kind of thinking. Even the UN knows (http://www.evergreenedigest.org/new-un-report-finds-almost-no-industry-profitable-if-environmental-costs-were-included). Nationalism can never achieve that kind of thinking, because it is based around the idea that what happens beyond the border does not exist.
The EOS Design and its relation to the struggle
To take a stand both against the destructive force of nationalism, and the if-not-more destructive force of thoughtless globalization requires far more than buzzwords. We need an alternative to the current model – and the Earth Organisation for Sustainability has created a blueprint, known as The Design. We do not yet however know whether it will work or not, it has to be tested, in thousands of simultaneous but slightly varying local experiments, and gradually grow up from the soil. We do not have much time at the moment.
What we do know, is that our future is dependent upon three criteria.
That we do not use more than 100% of the Earth’s annual renewal capacity.
That we aspire towards a circular economy.
That every human being on Earth has the right to life, which also means the right to have a guaranteed minimum income.
Ultimately, what this means is that we have to cooperate globally to create a confederation of autonomous regions, seeking to place power as closely to the human beings efficiently possible.
How we must make an impact
As chairperson, I envision the EOS as a movement for peace. We affirm that all human beings have a right to aspire to fulfilling their own life’s goals, as long as that does not entail the wilful injuring of the lives of other human beings, or of our planet.
The greatest physical and moral challenge of the 21st century is how we can proceed to shift our food production away from destructive monocultures towards more sustainable systems, without causing mass starvation or suffering amongst the peoples of the Earth.
To transit towards a sustainable future requires that communities are directly involved in the transition, and for that to occur, it must mean that communities should be empowered. This is, to a large extent, the opposite of the current trend of hyper-centralisation of power into the hands of financial institutes, multi-national corporations and the treaties intended to empower these actors. Humans deprived of the means to control their own destinies would increasingly become irrational and eventually act like cornered rats.
Instead of railing against groups or proposing simple solutions, we must organise locally and regionally, and seek to unify human beings on the micro-level. The election of Trump has proven that no Paris Agreement is strong enough to withstand the power of an angry people. The elites are powerless to curb the excesses of their own system, but a people who is enlightened, who can understand their own interests and who have the tools at their disposal is the most powerful in the world.
It is time to build a future where humans can live, can love, can be fully human!