Ian Bremmer’s latest book “Us Vs Them” examines those who have not benefitted from the global economic system and their role in contemporary politics.
The year 2016 has been presented by many as a marking of the end of an era — an era of global economic integration, institutional development and liberal storytelling promoted around the world. Political and public support and ideas for globalism such as global free trade, migration and identification has diminished, at least in the United States. At the same time, thirty years of global processes still have substantial impact and influence. However, the consequences of globalization are going to be severe and challenging, according to political scientist Ian Bremmer, who in his recent book “Us vs Them” writes about the failure of globalism.
Bremmer’s book represents the personal reflection of an author who has benefited from global developments which makes the book more interesting to read and important to be taken seriously. Bremmer admits that globalism has been more of an ideology for elites and influential actors rather than enjoying support among other groups within the American society such as the working class individuals. The usage of “us and them” rhetoric among politicians such as Trump did not come from nowhere. Rather, it is a result of political developments of the recent decades, which have been fuelled by anger, fear and lack of hope for a better future. The book is a warning that “us vs them” is not only polarizing in more developed societies as the United States or in Europe, but is also becoming more visible around the world. It is a trend that could lead to a future of more instability and violence on basis of identity where also minorities are going to be used as scapegoats in discussions about the “winners vs losers” of globalization.
One of the key messages of the book is that our world is facing enormous problems and challenges as result of economic, political and technological globalization. For example, globalism has reduced the global poverty rate substantially. However, it has also reduced the standing of the working class and increased inequality within many societies, particularly otherwise affluent nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Technological changes and automization have rendered obsolete many traditional working-class jobs. Workers in these industires who have not yet lost their jobs fear losing their jobs in the future. Bremmer argues that this consequence of globalization has resulted in many people feeling that they have been left behind or unable to control their economic lives. Bremmer also argues that there are fears based on social issues such as mass immigration and virtual connectivity where the “uncomfortable other” is closer for many people via platforms such as Facebook or Youtube.
Another core aspect of Bremmer’s book is that it takes a holistic review of the effects of globalization. It examines China, where winners and losers of globalization are in conflict when it comes to environmental issues but also problems around job and educational opportunities which often mix with political tensions based on ethnicity. In Ethiopia, as in several other African countries, the governments are not able to deliver what many, especially younger, citizens are expecting. In South Africa those who feel they are losers from globalisation demand the government impose protectionist economic measures and reduce labour immigration have more in common with figures like Steve Bannon than with Nelson Mandela. Finally, Bremmer takes up that the world is facing more “digital protectionism” with digital walls being raised up for governments to prevent influx of certain ideas and opinions. According to Bremmer, this is something that could lead to more restrictive and authoritarian views on migration with imposition of internal passports and harsher residency controls.
The impacts of globalization have created a world where many problems and challenges are common such as when it comes to environment, demography, automatization, social security. At the same time, the politicians at national levels are limited in their influence of global development and also thinking nationally rather than globally. Bremmer also points out that radical changes will start taking place more for real when more winners of globalism start feeling the problems of the losers. He proposes several ideas that could improve the current conditions such as the basic income policy, taxation of financial services and investments in vocational training. Bremmer’s overall message is this: governments and citizens need to rewrite their social contracts if they want to have a more successful and peaceful future.