For almost all of this year, agitations have flared across the world with people, bewildered by their circumstances, taking to the streets. In short, the world is in foment. Sadly, it is the stand out trend as we approach the penultimate week of 2019.

The most high-profile of course is the ongoing showdown in Hong Kong between the locals protesting the strong arm tactics of the mainland Chinese regime. But if you cast your eye around it is obvious that most of the world is seized by anger: striking auto workers at a General Motors plant in the US even as the country seems overwhelmed dealing with the saga of President Donald Trump; the Netherlands where thousands of protesting farmers clogged the nation’s highways; Paris where there was a global climate strike even as the agitation by the “yellow vests" continues unabated; Moscow where people were agitating for the release of protestors arrested for rioting; and of course back home in India, for the past 10 days we have watched in shock as protests against the Citizens (Amendment) Act assumed a violent turn—so far 15 people have died in the violence.

The obvious question is why are people so angry. It has turned sections of people within a country against each other or in some instances thrown countries into overt and covert conflicts with each other. At the individual level, this anger is most palpable in closed WhatsApp groups where even family members are turning on each other. To be sure, it is not the first time that the world is seeing agitations. What is surprising is the scale and intensity of today’s anger.

Part of the reason for the spike in frequency of protests can be attributed to the fact that in the world of social media it is very easy to mobilise (sometimes even for fake reasons). The omnipresent media only further amplifies the protests and the causes, which then percolate to social media and thereby acquire fresh energy. Similarly, another broad reason is the worsening inequality. Intra and inter-country economic inequality has spiked—something that Thomas Piketty summed up so well in his seminal work: Capital in the Twenty-First Century—with the peaking of globalisation. Globalization was a phenomenon that was supposed to deliver the world economy to an entirely different level; there was time when people naively believed the ‘world is flat’; with globalization failing to deliver on its promise, especially with rising inequality in the face of growing unemployment, the disenchantment has worsened. In fact, now we are seeing a backlash against globalization as countries resist easy imports; and exactly why the World Trade Organization is struggling to survive—few realize that without a multilateral trade order, the richer nations will find it easier to impose their will upon lesser nations.

While this is indeed the case, the larger reason for an angry world is the enabling global context. For several reasons most of the world is now operating within a binary framework; exactly why the popular refrain across the globe is ‘my way or the highway’. As trade-offs such as development versus environment become more contentious, a binary framework only creates a strong case for conflict. Worse, we have all stopped listening to each other leading to the death of dialogue, which only furthers the cause of a binary framework. Tragic, because a sustainable solution to the vexing questions staring at the world, including global warming, cannot be found without bipartisan dialogue.

As people lose patience, they are increasingly seeking simple answers to very complex questions from the politicians. There are none. But then politicians who are able to package themselves proffering such simple solutions are gaining visible traction.

In the long run, most of them will be outed. But what about the short run: brace for the worst.

Anil Padmanabhan is managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics.

Comments are welcome at anil.p@livemint.com

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