Donald Trump is not the problem - Part III

16 August 2019






We now have a new hegemony in the world, driven by the canon called “globalization”, in the name of “liberal democracy.”

Economic Globalization Unconstrained   The imbalance in favor of the “monied corporations” that concerned Thomas Jefferson has gone global, replacing American hegemony. This is an economic form of globalization that amalgamates the power of multinational corporations, free of any countervailing power. There is no substantial global government to speak of; indeed, the most powerful international agencies, all of them ardently economic—the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the OECD—are cheerleaders for this globalization.

In effect, an unholy alliance of economic dogma with private greed has been overwhelming our collective needs and common interests, thereby destabilizing much of the globe. United this alliance stands, so that divided, many nations yield (excepting the three superpowers, which are able to cheerlead for their own multinationals). On the “level playing field” of our global village, the New York Giants take on some high school team from Timbuktu, with the WTO as the referee. All this in the name of “liberal democracy”.

How Liberal Democracy has become an Oxymoron   Good luck trying to sort out the different meanings of the word “liberal”. My Oxford dictionary lists “favoring individual liberty and limited government involvement in economic affairs” alongside “favoring…a significant role for the state in matters of economics and social justice” together with “open-minded, not prejudiced.” Why not have it all: open markets, open societies. open minds? Many eminent liberals and conservatives alike, on both side of the Atlantic (even though Europeans tend to use the word in the first sense, Americans in the second), do believe that we can have it all, under the label “liberal democracy”.

This worked, more or less, when democracy was overcoming the rule of monarchs, aristocrats, and autocrats. But with the rise of the great imbalance, in favor of private sector interests, the term liberal democracy has become an oxymoron, as the wealthy nations that most subscribe to it have become less democratic and less socially liberal.

How has this happened? Quite simply, in fact. (1) Economic globalization, facing no countervailing power, has been able to play many governments off against each other, especially to have taxes cut on wealth and profits. (2) Denied these traditional sources of income, the governments have reduced services, especially for the disadvantaged, and raised regressive taxes, namely on the sale of goods and services. (3)  And this has further squeezed the very people marginalized by this globalization, namely those who have endured cuts in their wages, benefits, and protections. There is an economic tide all right, but rather than raising all boats, the buoyant yachts have been swamping the anchored dinghies.

Those people still enamored with liberal democracy—usually its prime beneficiaries—don’t get this, or at least don’t care to get it, even though many of the less educated people who have been suffering the consequences do. They sense that free enterprises in free markets have become antithetical to their own freedoms. But not knowing what to do about it, they have been lashing out in the place most open to them, the ballot box. After all, you can con all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot con many of the people most of the time.

The effect of this has become all too evident, with strongmen (so far, no women) elected in countries such as Venezuela, Hungary, Nicaragua, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Brazil, and the United States, not to mention the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. Donald Trump has become a model of sorts, having empowered the bullies of the world, in the high offices as well as on the high streets.

Anything but the establishment, say many of these voters, who certainly know what they are against. So vote they do, far left or far right—who can tell the difference anyway?  (Was the Brexit majority left or right?)  Unfortunately for them, populist leaders often become tyrants, turning against the very democracy that put them into office. (The prime minister of Hungary proudly calls his country an “illiberal democracy”. At least he has the adjective right.) Some wreck their economies in the process, with Venezuela leading the pack. How many others will follow? And if you think that only the marginalized suffer, check out the fortunes of the privileged in Venezuela.

France recently appeared to go another way. Its electorate rejected the far right and the far left, to get the established center—liberal democracy. Then, with an increase in diesel fuel taxes—the regressive straw on that camel’s back—came massive protests in the streets. When up to 77% of the people support a protests, you know that something is up. Or at least down, namely liberal democracy. Where to go next?


Click to Part IV:  Regaining Balance

© Henry Mintzberg 2019. No rights reserved: this blog may be reproduced, without alterations, for non-commercial purposes, so long as the original © and posting are acknowledged. See  Rebalancing society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center  for the forerunner to this series.