Be a good neighbour first
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AJacksonian popular nationalistic and social maternalistic, righteous response to national shirkers.” Did your eyes glaze over on reading that? Mine did, even while I typed it. Over the weekend, I had read Dani Rodrik’s piece in Project Syndicate on “National Shirkers”, Walter Russell Mead’s piece in Foreign Affairs on Jacksonian populist-nationalism, Paul Collier’ piece in The Times Literary Supplement on saving capitalism from itself and, of course, Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, a few months ago.
The common threads in all these are fairness and a sense of belonging and community. The public has a sense of what fairness means and constitutes in public, social and economic affairs. The boundaries can be stretched as long as everyone is included and has a shot at making progress—social and economic.
When elites capture governments such that they act in concert to stretch those boundaries too much or to breach those limits of fairness to exclude many, they have to respond. That is what people have done and are doing—in the UK and in the US. Others in European nations might follow suit.
Not only have the power-elites been unfair, they have also looked down upon the rest who are not “one of them”. Therefore, this is about pride, self-esteem and self-respect too. Then, there is the attempt to make a fool of the public.
That is, the problem is not so much that the “global citizens” really had a trans-national and global agenda but that it was a fig leaf for personal and narrow group aggrandizement. Some of the American technology companies, their founders and chief executive officers come to mind. This is not dissimilar to the behaviour of Indian socialist-elites and the Soviet and Chinese communists.
Finally, along with that, questions of identity, community and belonging have also been thrown up for redefinition and even upended by the elites. People are made to feel rootless in their own homes. International mobility of elites has erased the glue that binds people together.
What are the solutions? We always come up short. We are good at creating problems but not at solving them. Certainly, not in matters of the mind and the heart. For example, in his piece, Paul Collier says that “inclusive nationalism” is good while “exclusionary nationalism” was bad. Quite how Donald Trump’s temporary visa suspension belonged to exclusionary nationalism and not inclusive nationalism is not explained. I can understand that it would be exclusionary nationalism only if the President had ordered the existing lawful immigrants and aliens thrown out of the country by cancelling their residence permits and visas, etc.
Marine Le Pen’s National Front may be an example of “exclusionary nationalism” but putting Trump and Theresa May in the same camp is a stretch and, in fact, helps to make them out as villains. Indeed, for the so-called globalists, Trump and May are counter-parties they can deal with. They do not belong to the fringes. One is a businessman with interests all over the world and the other is a mainstream politician.
Paul Collier makes conceptual sense about taxing the rents that the rich appropriate for themselves rather than their incomes. He does a very good job of explaining how the rich and the mighty in London benefit and collect rents from the efforts and labour of all those who live outside London. But how to ensure that the benefits are shared with them except through conventional taxation, whether it is of assets or income?
Globalization of tax evasion—elites relocate not just their production but their identities to where they are taxed the least —is a major problem. Again, technology companies who are so up in arms against the new administration in the US, are some of the biggest culprits. That is why the global concerns of elites is a barely concealed, selfish agenda.
Dani Rodrik’s point that the interests of the global commons, such as climate change or pandemics, may be harmed when each government pursues its own narrow interest is a reasonable one.
In fact, the policies of developed countries and their economic growth path have given rise to the problems that developing countries face today with respect to climate change and finite natural resources such as water and hydrocarbons. Allowing immigration from developing countries is partial mitigation. Therefore, to the extent that developed countries’ leaderships wash their hands off the problems that they created and turn their backs to citizens of nations affected by their policies, they are being unfair.
It is unfortunate that the citizens of advanced nations are in no mood to take on this “karmic debt”. However, one cannot blame them. The globalizers have left them feeling economically disempowered and socially dispossessed. If anything, the elites who profited in the name of global interests in the last three decades through extractive and exploitative growth strategies must shoulder the burden. The refugees and low-income migrants are not housed in elite quarters, they are dispersed among communities and folks struggling to make ends meet. There is no surer recipe for polarization and violent conflicts.
So, while global concerns are important and historical responsibilities need to be acknowledged, a good place to start is local, as Dani Rodrik puts it. That is what Trump is attempting to do. He is being thwarted even from starting on his job, let alone completing it. But that is a topic for another column.
V. Anantha Nageswaran is the co-author of Economics Of Derivatives and Can India Grow?
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Anantha’s previous Mint columns at www.livemint.com/baretalk