Today, just eight people in the world own as much wealth as half the human population does.
Far from the cacophony of television-generated hysteria around Assembly election results in India, a bunch of global thought leaders gathered in Berlin to craft a grand strategy to overcome the new authoritarian right-wing populism that has been sweeping the world.
The choice of the venue could not have been more pregnant with symbolism. For it was Germany in 1933 that marched to the drumbeat of right-wing Nazism. By 1945, that tryout had left 70 million people dead and a world devastated from Tokyo to Tallinn.
Seven decades later, the world again confronts the rise of Donald Trump in the United States, the consolidation of Vladimir Putin’s power in Russia, the bizarre behaviour of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s itch for absolute power in Turkey. This is now coupled with the alarming ascent of right-wing bigots in Europe complete with their anti-Muslim rhetoric, anti-immigrant walls and an appeal to the basest instinct omniscient in the Westphalian construct a la nationalism.
These autocratic and intolerant Europeans include Gerert Wilders of the Netherlands, Marine Le Penn in France, Viktor Orban of Hungary and Jaroslaw Kaczynski of Poland — all making a serious bid for power. And India has already had its reactionary moment in May 2014. All this begs a fundamental question: why has madness seized the world?
The answer is simple. Globalisation has failed. The global economy and the global political order, colloquially called globalisation, work for less than one per cent of the world’s population. Today, just eight people in the world own as much wealth as half the human population does.
Out of the first 100 largest economies of the world, 69 are transnational corporations. For example, Walmart ranks 10th, way ahead of even many First World countries. Their power, reach and influence shape the economic policies of numerous nations. It underpins the neo-liberal economic construct also known as the “Washington consensus”.
Coupled with that is the spectre of more than 11 civil wars raging from west of the Indian border at Wagah right up to the Straits of Bosporus — that divide Asia from Europe and arcing downwards into Africa.
Most of these conflicts are the result of disastrous American interventionist policies in the Greater Middle East over the past 16 years that attempted to reshape the frozen geography of the region post the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. Other conflicts feed the voracious appetites of the military industrial complexes of the US and other European nations, including Russia. However, the blowback of these involvements has come in the form of millions of refugees swamping continental Europe.
All this has made people insecure and frightened, especially in open, liberal and erstwhile inclusive democracies. When people are scared they instinctively seek the safety of their home and hearth. They also shut their doors tight, batten down their hatches and yearn for that strong person who can rid them of their fears. Identity and religion take centrestage as safety in numbers and veneration of the omnipotent man-god becomes the driving societal impulses.
However, this antidote does not work as history has demonstrated time and again for these “man-gods” are, in fact, megalomaniac dictators who inevitably lead their people to disaster. Their strength is their biggest weakness. Power does not legitimise or humanise them; it corrupts and brutalises them and their actions.
Never before has the need for alternate interpretations, convincing narratives, alternative economic models and progressive political choices been more urgent than it is now. What then should be the core elements of this new construct?
The first element is re-interpretation of nationalism and patriotism. Today they represent xenophobic tendencies based upon spawning terror of the “other” and are exclusionary in character. What the world requires is a paradigm of progressive patriotism — a global movement that promotes inclusiveness.
The second element is to build an economy for the 99 per cent. Not a capitalist/socialist or a totalitarian economy but a human economy that puts the human being at the centre of the economic project.
What does this mean in concrete terms? It does not mean jobs. It means sustainable livelihoods. For jobs are constructs of the industrial age. That era is ending at least in manufacturing, where automation and robots are replacing human beings at an unimaginable pace. What is required is a return to the pre-industrial era, harnessing the power of the Internet, digitalisation, analytics and metadata to create models where people serve other people in a world that is increasingly flattening out replacing horizontal hierarchies and feudal corporate and political oligarchies.
As the world heads towards 100 per cent digital connectivity, it is a new frontier of both innovation and ingenuity that has the potential to create evenly spread prosperity where everybody can have a slice of the pie. This also has the potential of mitigating, if not alleviating, the feeling of exclusion and insecurity that engulf vast majorities of populations in any given geography and is the fodder for jingoistic nationalism.
The third element is winding down conflicts that plague large parts of the world. The erosion of sovereignty because of the creation of trans-national Facebook, Twitter and Instagram give people the ability to connect with each other and build “peace narratives” in contested geographies.
An interesting poser would be to make peace with terrorists — the likes of the ISIS, Taliban, Boko Haram and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. While that may not be feasible immediately, but alternative narratives of peace and hope would certainly help in isolating these elements even in their own eminent domains.
Strong people’s movements against governments and military complexes that benefit from the economics of war will also help. If a new vision is not crafted the Pied Pipers of 2017 will only lead this world to an unmitigated disaster with catastrophic consequences, and India may just be pioneering this trend.