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Globalisation; the worst system ever, except all the others

November 20, 2018

Winston Churchill famously said that democracy was the worst system of government, apart from all the others that had been tried.

I’ve heard both sides call that saying in aid as they argue about Brexit. Leavers say the referendum was perfect democracy, while remainers say it was deeply flawed as everyone voted without any idea what the outcomes would be. And many on both sides now agree that referendums are a very poor embodiment of democracy and are just a way of representative politicians abdicating their responsibility to make decisions and take responsibility. Still, at least that only happens vanishingly rarely… oh, hang on.

Because the UK now has fixed term Parliaments, it will take a two-thirds majority to get a general election – the normal and rightful outcome when the political process is paralysed. That may well leave another referendum as the only way to resolve the question: Leave (no deal), Leave (with deal that leaves the UK in Euro Limbo) or Stay. Did I say resolve? Another referendum is very unlikely to return a verdict no greater than 55-45 in either direction, so resolution is the one thing it will not deliver. BTW, guess who thought fixed term Parliaments were a good idea? David Cameron. Did I already say he is doubtless the worst Prime Minister in our history? And did you hear that he actually hinted he wanted a job back in government? Maybe one redeeming feature is his sense of humour.

A cause of Brexit is often taken to be Globalisation. This new bogey man is also blamed for Trump, and he, in turn, blames it for his tariff wars and America First. It is also a fixation of the many tin pot nationalists now plying their 19th and 20th century political wares around Europe and beyond.

The hard truth about Globalisation is that it is a natural partner of free markets. Business and finance and their pursuit of profit will find the highest return possible as naturally as water seeks a level. But that doesn’t make it a universal evil – what traditionally successful ‘first world’ countries hate about it (having invented it), is that they now realise it is not a zero-sum game. Globalisation has demonstrably lifted tens of millions of people out of either relative or absolute poverty across Latin America, Asia and, most spectacularly, China.

The problem is that what Globalisation has taken away from the old ‘winners’ – and often that’s the prize(?) of long hard shifts of dangerous or, at best, tedious work – it has replaced with either nothing, or worse, video games, social media, online betting and fast food delivery.

Of course, the ultimate Global companies – the personification of Globalisation – are the tech giants (you can tell this partly by how much Trump hates them). And, somehow, in their early years when all they seemed to do was give us cool stuff that really ‘enhanced our lives’ and came up with ‘cool’ (by which I mean nauseating) slogans like ‘do no evil’, they cast a halo over the whole concept of Globalisation. Surely part of the reason it has now fallen into fashionable disrepute is that these companies have turned out the be exactly the same kind of mendacious, tax dodging, consumer screwing, entities as all their forebears.

But give them a break; it’s what they do. And while we don’t have a Global government, we do still have Governments and we do still have global or regional standards and rule making bodies that not all of us are trying to leave. It is global Governments that are failing, not Globalisation. They have the responsibility not to be in businesses’ pocket; to tax and regulate business fairly and to use the proceeds to adapt their economies to whatever the consequences of Globalisation in their country are. If you think there is an alternative, go ask King Canute – nowhere near the worst King ever.

Categories: Blogs, Business, Nick Snow