In his article on Project Syndicate, he writes that where not to look – the USA, Italy, Britain, not to mention China, Russia and India – everywhere the surge of national feelings has become the main driving force of political events.
Meanwhile, there is not so much evidence of the alleged riot of “ordinary people” against the elite. Billionaires dominate American politics under President Donald Trump; unselected professors lead the “populist” government of Italy; worldwide taxes on continuously rising incomes of financiers, technology specialists and corporate managers are reduced. Meanwhile, ordinary workers have come to terms with a reality in which high-quality housing, education, and even health care are hopelessly impossible for them.
The preponderance of nationalism over egalitarianism is particularly striking in Italy and Britain. These two countries were once famous for their phlegmatic attitude towards national identity. Britain is distinguished by the absence of flags on government buildings, and before the Brexit referendum, the people were so indifferent to their statehood that they did not even bother to find agreement on the name of the country – the United Kingdom, Britain, or England, Wales and Scotland.
The Italians were even less nationalistic. Since the founding of the European Union, Italians have acted in it as the most active supporters of federalism. Until very recently, opinion polls have shown that voters trust the EU leadership in Brussels more than their own government in Rome. Italians passionately love their culture, history, food and football, but almost all of their patriotism is associated with regions and cities, and not a nation-state. They prefer to be ruled from Brussels rather than from Rome.
Chief Economist Gavekal Dragonomics Anatoly Kaletsky
The far-right party Liga, the youngest member of Italy’s new coalition government, was called the Northern League until this year. One of its main slogans was: “Garibaldi did not unite Italy; he divided Africa. ” The main political demand of this party was the abolition of the Italian state, instead of which it demanded the creation of a new country called the Falls in order to isolate the rich northern regions of Italy from the corruption and poverty of Rome and the south.
What explains this sudden superiority of nationalism? In the new nationalism of Italy, Britain and even the United States there are not so many positively patriotic. This surge of national feelings looks mainly a xenophobic phenomenon, as defined by the Czech-American sociologist Karl Deutsch: “A nation is a group of people connected together by common misconceptions about their origin and a common dislike for neighbors.” Hard times (low salaries, inequality, regional poverty, a post-crisis policy of cutting government spending) provoke a desire to find a scapegoat, and foreigners always look like an attractive target in this case.
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There is nothing patriotic in Trump’s militancy against Mexican immigrants and Canadian imports, or in the nationalist decisions of the new Italian government, or in the famous statement by Teresa May, after taking office of the British Prime Minister: “If you consider yourself a citizen of the world, then you are not a citizen at all. You don’t understand what citizenship means. ”
And now to the good news for those of us who are still proud to be a “citizen of the world.” Xenophobic attempts to blame foreigners on economic difficulties are doomed to failure.
Recall, for example, the attempts made after the crisis to switch popular anger, caused by the collapse of the economy of market fundamentalists, to “greedy bankers”. These attempts ultimately failed, and partly, of course, because bankers have enormous resources for their protection, which foreigners usually do not have. However, the criticism of the bankers did not calm public discontent, mainly because the attack on the financial industry did not help raise salaries, reduce inequality, or stop social degradation. All the same thing will happen with the current campaign against foreign influence, be it immigration or foreign trade.
For example, Britain is gradually becoming aware of the fact that European problems have nothing to do with the reasons for legitimate political discontent, which motivated many to vote for leaving the EU. On the contrary, now for many years or even decades, British politics will be diverted to the dominant theme of the Brexit negotiations, while the nationalist confrontation between Britain and the rest of Europe will provide politicians of any parties with endless excuses for their inability to improve everyday life.
In the coming months or years, voters in the US and Italy will learn the same lesson. The struggle against foreign influence in the form of foreign trade or immigration will not help to improve the standard of living or eliminate the causes of political discontent.
Italy has legitimate reasons for dissatisfaction with the European Union – a hypocritical and unfair policy of providing asylum and saving those dying at sea, self-destructive budget rules, and economically illiterate financial policies. But the new government took advantage of the rise of nationalism to attack reforms that have nothing to do with Europe and are critically needed by Italy itself for economic success.
After the financial crisis, a whole series of Italian governments gradually laid the foundation for pension, labor and banking reforms. These changes created the conditions for economic recovery, which began last year after a decade of recession. But they turned out to be politically unpopular, and now they are sharply criticized as a symbol of oppression of the country by the foreign elite. If the new government abandons all three reform projects, then the Italians will have to give up hope of economic recovery, probably for another decade.
The United States will also find out that an attack on foreign interests is not a panacea and can only exacerbate difficulties. Trump believes that his measures against imports from China, Germany and Canada will harm US trading partners and help create jobs in the United States. This could be true when the US economy suffered from deflation and weak economic growth. But in a world with strong demand and rising inflation, German and Chinese exporters will find new markets for their products, while manufacturers in the United States try to find new foreign suppliers of components. BMW and Huawei will be fine, while duties will be taxed on American consumers (due to higher prices), as well as on American workers, businesses and homeowners (due to higher interest rates).
The opposite of populist nationalism is not global elitism, but economic realism. And ultimately, reality will triumph.