Crisis of Ethical Values
ROME, Dec 2016 (IPS) – Is the demise of Renzi really a local affair? There is no doubt that a referendum on a constitutional change can be a matter of confidence in him, having personalized the issue to a point that it became basically a vote on the young Prime Minister. But if you look at the sociology of the vote, you find that the No vote was again coming from the poorest parts of Italy. A case study is Milan. Voters living in the centre voted Yes, and those in the periphery voted No. Is this not similar to what has happened in Brexit and in the US elections? And Renzi fell into the same trap like Cameron, calling for a referendum on a very complex issue and putting at stake his own credibility and prestige, to be swept away by an unexpected tide of resentment. Lamented Renzi: “I had no idea I was so hated”.
This is important. It shows how politicians, even those as brilliant as Renzi, do not realize that there is a tsunami of resentment that has been out there for some years, has been ignored by the establishment, by the media and by politics. Finally, everybody is linking the next elections in the Netherlands in March, in France in May and in Germany in August, as dates when the populist, nationalist and xenophobia tides will rise even more.
A huge sigh of relief was heard all over Europe after the candidate of the extreme right wing Freedom Party, Hofer, lost 47% to 53%to a Green Party candidate, Van der Bellen. Ulrich Kleber, a German minister declared: “Trump was the turning point. The liberal majority is pushing back.” Business as usual. In the last meeting of the Eurogroup, the proposal of the Commission for a loose fiscal budget was defeated following German pressure.
In fact, polls indicate today the Freedom party appears poised to win over the old coalition of social democrats and Christian democrats which have been running Austria since the end of the war. And as Dutch polls show today, in mid March, the xenophobe Party for Freedom, run by the oxygenated Geert Wilders, is close to getting 21%, over the Party for Freedom and Democracy, that would get 19%. And in France to block Le Pen from winning, at the end everybody will be obliged to vote for Fillon, who is so far to the right that on several issues is barely distinguishable. Finally in Germany, Angela Merkel has announced that she will run a campaign devoid from any ideology, so as not to accentuate any difference with the extreme right wing party AfD in the coming elections in August.
What is also disconcerting is that the political system is still looking to elections as conditioned by local factors. Clearly, Trump could be elected only in the United States. But it should now be clear that what is happening is a result of a global reaction from citizens. But how can we expect from those who have been supporting and singing neoliberal globalization since 1989 to admit their guilt? It is a sign of the time that now the IMF, World Bank and OECD are those who are calling for a return to the role of the state as the regulator and decrying how social and economic inequalities are a brake to growth.
The question is whether it is too late. By now, it will be extremely difficult to bring finance again under regulation (especially with Trump who will eliminate the few regulations still in place, and made by bankers, the backbone of his cabinet). For more than a generation the market has been considered as the only legitimate actor in economy and society. The values inscribed in the large majority of constitutions, like justice, solidarity, participation, and cooperation have been substituted by competition, enrichment, and individualism. Today, children in China, Russia, the United States and Europe are not united by values, but by brand: Adidas, Coca Cola. Citizens have become consumers. In the near future, data collected about each citizen through Internet, on their lives, activities and consumes, will further steer their lives. Fropm 16 % now , robotization will become 40% of the total production of goods and services in 2040. Just think how many drivers will lose their job with car automatization. And those displaced in factories are the cream of workers, not the low level job holders who vote for populism.
What went also unnoticed is that all the populist parties are totally against all international agreement, and international treaties. The European parties are against unity in Europe. Trump wants to get out from any existing agreements. And together they look to the Climate Treaty as something which goes against their individual interests. They all speak of their national identity, of their glorious past, and how to get rid of multilateralism and internationalism. As a matter of fact, now in the Trump administration the term “globalist” is a derogatory one. A globalist is the enemy who wants to link the US to other countries and views. And yet, the UKIP in England, the Front National in France, the 5 Stelle in Italy and so on, beside some highly publisized meetings, have never been able to establish a platform together on any international issue, other than the abolition of the European Union. Now that Trump has named as his chief strategist Brennon, who has announced that part of his job is to strengthen the populist and right wing parties in Europe, it will be interesting to see how and on what basis they can establish an alliance, besides excluding gay marriages and extra uterine births.
Yet, there is a common trait on international issues. The sympathy for Putin, who is seen as a defender of national values and the inventor of the “illiberal democracy” that Orban in Hungary has officially adopted, followed by other members of the Visegrad pact – Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia – with Erdogan looking benevolently from Turkey. Putin has a growing support from Fillon in France, Salvini in Italy, Farage in England, Wilders in the Netherlands, and now Trump giving the final push for Putin’s legitimization.
But the question is if the response to the neoliberal globalization elected by its victims is organic and adequate? Will they be able to do what the discredited system that globalization has put in crisis, has not been able to do? This is the central question to consider.
If we look at the cabinet that Trump is assembling, there is a great space for doubt. It is a good image of what would be to put Dracula as the guard of a blood bank. The candidate for Secretary of Education is for increasing private education. The candidate for Secretary of Health is for dismantling the public health system. Almost all or a good part of them are multimillionaires. The advisers are all from large corporations. How such a gathering of the rich and powerful will be able to identify with the victims of globalization is difficult to comprehend. Trump speeches against Wall Street, social injustice and a precarious existence who pout him in parallel with Sanders, have disappeared. The energy companies got their biggest boost in several years, supported by the fact that Trump wants to quit the Paris Treaty on Climate, and enlarge the use of fossils. But at the same time hundreds of cities are passing legislations for climate control. It is impossible to say what the Trump administration will mean for the world, or for the United States itself. But signs are that greed certainly will be legitimized. Historians say that greed and fear are the two main factors for any change in history. Fear of immigrants is the main fuel for xenophobia . No wonder that nationalism, xenophobia and populism are on the rise.
The problem is that the growing debate on globalization’s victims is based on symptoms and not on the causes. If we asked a passer-by on a street during the Soviet Union period : “ What is the paradigm that guides the political economic and social options here?”, The answer most certainly would have been “Communism, or socialism”. Here such a question since 1989 would have provoked a blank stare, while we were living in a similar tight and all pervasive paradigm: market, elimination as much as possible of the state, of the public and reduction as much as possible of non productive social costs. Individualism and competition are winning factors – protect and support wealth and reduce personnel and costs as much as possible. There is a different generational change. Young people have dropped out of politics, lost vision and become just administrative options that have become more corrupted and have found refuge in the virtual world of the Internet. But they gather in clusters, of like-minded people. If I am a leftist, I gather with another leftist. I will never meet a right wing guy, as I would do in real life. And in those clusters the ones who emerge are the most radical. So we have a growing world of radicalized and self-reverent young people, who have lost the ability to debate. When they meet, they talk music, sports, fashion, but never ideas or ideals to avoid conflict and quarrels.
Without the young people who want to change the world they are in, the elevator of history gets stuck. And if many other anti historical trends are added together, the ability to correct mistakes and imbalances disappear. It is anti historical to block immigration when industrialized countries all have negative birth rates and productivity and pensions are in danger. It is anti historical to erect again customs, reduce trade, reduce incomes and increase costs. It is anti historical to accept that fiscal paradise subtracts 12% of the world budget. It is anti historical to eliminate international agreements, international cooperation, and go back to small national boundaries. It is anti historical that the rich become richer (today 88 individuals have the same wealth as that of 2.2 billion people), and the poor even poorer. It is anti historical to ignore the looming problem of the climate for which we are already late in waking up. It is almost like breaking a large glass we think it is advantageous because we will have many little fragments. China, India, Japan, Russia and now the US are all going nationalists. The US always took the lead, not without resistance, to be the guarantor of world stability, giving themselves their manifest destiny of an exceptional country. Now they want to have a manifest destiny by thinking only about themselves. Trump will find out that this is a diminutio capiti of the US.
We are therefore at a historical juncture. We are coming from 70 years of growth of international cooperation, the creation of a United Nations devoted to peace and development, the creation of a European Union based on the same philosophy, and an enormous flourishing of pacts on trade, health, education, labour, sports, tourism and whatever else that brings people together. This trend is now getting inverted. The neoliberal globalization pushed all those trends in a specific and unchallengeable direction: market is the only player; man is not any longer the centre of the society. The trend where we are going is clear especially after 9 November – to a world of Trumps. But is that the response to the problems that are bringing large masses to change their political representation? Not if we do not discuss and adopt a paradigm, shared by a large majority, and assure again social justice, democracy and participation. Is it so difficult to read history?
* Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News.