Don't blame it on the people

As much we would like to believe that there is no common global pattern, we love to indulge in grand theories when things go wrong. So, the world politics has changed since 2014, and we have come to see this 'challenge to the liberal order' as a 'populist revolt'. Books have appeared, lectures have been delivered and now pleas are being published - all on the premise that 'people', crying babies upset by globalisation and dislocation of life, are wrecking a carefully crafted global arrangement which prevented global war and brought prosperity. The anger and the disaffection, being created by fake news and manipulated by demagogues, would bring a global trade war, undermine the global institutions and create instabilities - that is the fear!

While some of the fear is indeed justified, this diagnosis is wrong. It is fashionable to blame it on the people when things go wrong: When Nazis came to power, it was the rowdy SA rather than highly respected German Junkers and Civil Servants who got the blame; the same tradition continued into the sub-prime crisis, as if it was a few Latino house buyers in Florida, gorging on easy debt, rather than the bankers' wilful deception of hiding bad mortgages under a few good ones, caused the worldwide crisis. It is always the poor and the uneducated that cause trouble - as they are doing now at this populist turn! 

But, like the other times, the challenge to the 'global liberal order' isn't coming from the people, but the most privileged section of the society. There is a certain absurdity in the label itself, as terms such as this have been invented to combine diverse ideas and a range of utterly incompatible institutions, such as the IMF and Paris Climate Accord, NATO and the United Nations, the commonality being in the endangeredness rather than what they stand for. Stranger though is to call Trump, Boris Johnson, Putin or India's Modi, standard-bearers of 'people': They are as privileged as one gets and if their respective revolutions have any common theme, this should be known in history as 'billionaire revolution' than a populist one.

What's underway is not a popular disaffection with globalisation, but a business revolt. Big businesses, built around the expansion of consumption, chose to be politically invisible, propping up their candidates and oiling the right legislative machines, but staying out of overt political interference and under cover for a business versus the people battle. But the falling rates of profit, partly from the overstretched state of public finances and partly from the globalised, automated businesses that direct most benefits to a few elites but leave others empty-handed, have sparked a global civil war. It is business versus business, between those who are winning and those who are losing, backed by chattering middle classes - each according to their own interest - who have divided the people among them. It is indeed London versus Manchester, California versus Texas, Delhi versus Mumbai - the way it was always had been, except that this is the turn for the other party to win.

Does it matter? Yes, it does - because that this can wreck the post-war order is a real possibility. Various national elites are reasserting themselves on the table, pushing various country-first agenda, and undermining the national institutions which arbitrated in between various groups. None of today's leaders are comparable to Hitler, as they don't have the messianic zeal and self-destructive rage of the Corporal; but they are puddles of sundry business interests, whose world doesn't know the meaning of balance, just as the oblivious elite statesmen stumbled into war in 1914. There is nothing heroic this time around, but this collective bunch of straw men may indeed tip the world into catastrophe.


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