Globalisation and politics
The new divide in rich countries is not between left and right but between open and closed
IS POLAND’S government right-wing or left-wing? Its leaders revere the Catholic church, vow to protect Poles from terrorism by not accepting any Muslim refugees and fulminate against “gender ideology” (by which they mean the notion that men can become women or marry other men).
Yet the ruling Law and Justice party also rails against banks and foreign-owned businesses, and wants to cut the retirement age despite a rapidly ageing population. It offers budget-busting handouts to parents who have more than one child. These will partly be paid for with a tax on big supermarkets, which it insists will somehow not raise the price of groceries.
“The old left-right divide in this country has gone,” laments Rafal Trzaskowski, a liberal politician.
Law and Justice plucks popular policies from all over the political spectrum and stirs them into a nationalist stew. Unlike any previous post-communist regime, it eyes most outsiders with suspicion (though it enthusiastically supports the right of Poles to work in Britain).
From Warsaw to Washington, the political divide that matters is less and less between left and right, and more and more between open and closed. Debates between tax-cutting conservatives and free-spending social democrats have not gone away. But issues that cross traditional party lines have grown more potent. Welcome immigrants or keep them out? Open up to foreign trade or protect domestic industries? Embrace cultural change, or resist it?
In 2005 Stephan Shakespeare, the British head of YouGov, a pollster, observed:
We are either “drawbridge up” or “drawbridge down”. Are you someone who feels your life is being encroached upon by criminals, gypsies, spongers, asylum-seekers, Brussels bureaucrats? Do you think the bad things will all go away if we lock the doors? Or do you think it’s a big beautiful world out there, full of good people, if only we could all open our arms and embrace each other?
He was proven spectacularly right in June, when Britain held a referendum on whether to leave the European Union. The leaders of the main political parties wanted to stay in, as did the elite of banking, business and academia. Yet the Brexiteers won, revealing just how many voters were drawbridge-uppers. They wanted to “take back control” of borders and institutions from Brussels, and to stem the flow of immigrants and refugees. Right-wing Brexiteers who saw the EU as a socialist superstate joined forces with left-wingers who saw it as a tool of global capitalism.
A similar fault line has opened elsewhere. In Poland and Hungary the drawbridge-uppers are firmly in charge; in France Marine Le Pen, who thinks that the opposite of “globalist” is “patriot”, will probably make it to the run-off in next year’s presidential election. In cuddly, caring Sweden the nationalist Sweden Democrats topped polls earlier this year, spurring mainstream parties to get tougher on asylum-seekers. Even in Germany some fear immigration may break the generous safety net. “You can only build a welfare state in your own country,” says Sahra Wagenknecht, a leader of the Left, a left-wing party.
In Italy, after the Brexit vote, the leader of the populist Northern League party tweeted: “Now it’s our turn.” Japan has no big anti-immigrant party, perhaps because there are so few immigrants. But recent years have seen the rise of a nationalist lobby called Nippon Kaigi, which seeks to rewrite Japan’s pacifist constitution and make education more patriotic. Half the Japanese cabinet are members.
There’s no we in US
On trade, he is close to his supposed polar opposite, Bernie Sanders, the cranky leftist who narrowly lost the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton. And Mrs Clinton, though the most drawbridge-down major-party candidate left standing, has moved towards the Trump/Sanders position on trade by disavowing deals she once supported.
Timbro, a Swedish free-market think-tank, has compiled an index of what it calls “authoritarian populism”, which tracks the strength of drawbridge-up parties in Europe. On average a fifth of voters in European countries back a populist party of the right or left, it finds.
Such parties are represented in the governments of nine countries. The populist vote has nearly doubled since 2000 (see chart 1).
In southern Europe austerity and the euro crisis have revived left-wing populism, exemplified by Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. In Northern Europe the refugee crisis of 2015 has boosted the populists of the right.
Drawbridge-up populists vary from place to place, but most share a few key traits. Besides their suspicion of trade and immigration, nearly all rail against their country’s elite, whom they invariably describe as self-serving. British people “have had enough of experts”, said Michael Gove, a leader of the Brexit campaign. Mr Trump last week said that the elite back Mrs Clinton because “they know she will keep our rigged system in place….She is their puppet, and they pull the strings.”
Distrust of elites sometimes veers into conspiracy theory. Poland’s defence minister suggests that Lech Kaczynski, a Polish president who died in a plane crash in 2010, was assassinated. Mr Trump talks of “the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and morning newspaper”. Panos Kammenos, a member of Greece’s ruling coalition, wonders if Greeks are being sprayed with mind-altering chemicals from aeroplanes.
Nearly all drawbridge-up parties argue that their country is in crisis, and explain it with a simple, frightening story involving outsiders. In Poland, for example, Law and Justice accuses decadent Western liberals of seeking to undermine traditional Polish values. (A recent magazine cover spoke of “Poland against the Gay Empire”.) It also plays up the threat of Islamist terrorists, who have killed no one in Poland since the days of the Ottoman Empire—but will start again, unless the government is vigilant.
Poland’s previous government, led by a party called Civic Platform, agreed last year to take a few Middle Eastern refugees—7,000 in total—to show solidarity with fellow members of the EU. Law and Justice accused them of recklessly endangering the lives of Poles. Voters kicked them out of office.
The recent string of terrorist attacks in France, Belgium and Germany has boosted support for drawbridge-raising throughout Europe. On Bastille Day a jihadist in a truck killed 84 people in Nice; on July 26th two men linked to Islamic State slit the throat of an 85-year-old Catholic priest celebrating mass near Rouen. These assaults on symbols of French culture—the anniversary of the revolution and the dominant, if declining, religion—prompted President François Hollande to declare war on Islamic State. He vowed that: “No one can divide us.” Ms Le Pen retorted on Twitter: “Alas, @fhollande is wrong. Islamic fundamentalists don’t want to ‘divide’ us, they want to kill us.”
Europe’s drawbridge-uppers would have enjoyed the Republican convention in Cleveland last week, where team Trump wrote a new script for the party of Lincoln. Speaking by video link, Kent Terry and Kelly Terry-Willis described the murder of their brother Brian, a border-patrol agent, in a shootout in Arizona. Later, three parents told the audience how their children had been murdered by illegal immigrants. There is no evidence that illegal immigrants commit more crimes than other people. But Mr Trump said that to Barack Obama, each victim was “one more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders”.
The great disruption
Economics first. Some 65-70% of households in rich countries saw their real incomes from wages and capital decline or stagnate between 2005 and 2014, compared with less than 2% in 1993-2005, says the McKinsey Global Institute, a think-tank. If the effects of lower taxes and government transfers are included, the picture is less grim: only 20-25% of households saw their disposable income fall or stay flat. In America nearly all households saw their disposable income rise, even if their headline wages stagnated. Such figures also fail to take full account of improvements in technology that make life easier and more entertaining.
Nonetheless, it is clear that many mid- and less-skilled workers in rich countries feel hard-pressed.
Among voters who backed Brexit, the share who think life is worse now than 30 years ago was 16 percentage points greater that the share who think it is better; Remainers disagreed by a margin of 46 points. A whopping 69% of Americans think their country is on the wrong track, according to RealClearPolitics; only 23% think it is on the right one.
Many blame globalisation for their economic plight. Some are right. Although trade has made most countries and people better off, its rewards have been unevenly spread. For many blue-collar workers in rich countries, the benefits of cheaper, better goods have been outweighed by job losses in uncompetitive industries. For some formerly thriving industrial towns, the impact has been devastating.
Economic insecurity makes other fears loom larger. Where good jobs are plentiful, few people blame immigrants or trade for their absence. Hence the divide between college-educated folk, who feel confident about their ability to cope with change, and the less-schooled, who do not.
Consider Austria, where a presidential election on October 2nd will pit Norbert Hofer of the anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic and protectionist Freedom Party against a global-minded Green candidate, Alexander van der Bellen. In Linz, an industrial city on the Danube, the central Kaplanhof district is full of startups and technology firms that have moved into former factories and warehouses. Here, globalisation means customers and opportunities; pro-openness messages go down a treat. In a nearby café, Mr van der Bellen told cheering regulars: “Don’t forget that in Austria, every second job is directly or indirectly linked to trade with the rest of the world.”
A couple of miles south is a different Linz: the Franckviertel. Vast chimneys from chemical plants loom over rusting railway sidings. Streets are lined with cheap clothes shops and empty video-rental outlets. Here, globalisation has meant decline. Like Kaplanhof, it has an above-average proportion of foreigners (32% of the population), but these tend to be the poorer, less well qualified sort: Afghans and north Africans attracted by low rents. This has bred resentment: “It’s the Moroccans. They rape, they sell drugs. Have you seen the train station?” complains Peter, a “Linzer born-and-bred” waiting for the trolley bus into town. In these parts Mr Hofer is likely to win.
This divide is new in Austria. For decades it was dominated by a centre-left and a centre-right party.
But both have struggled to reconcile the cosmopolitan and nativist parts of their electoral coalitions. In the first round of this year’s presidential election, they won just 22.4% of the vote between them and had to drop out.
The second force pulling drawbridges up is demographic change. Rich countries today are the least fertile societies ever to have existed. In 33 of the 35 OECD nations, too few babies are born to maintain a stable population. As the native-born age, and their numbers shrink, immigrants from poorer places move in to pick strawberries, write software and empty bedpans. Large-scale immigration has brought cultural change that some natives welcome—ethnic food, vibrant city centres—but which others find unsettling. They are especially likely to object if the character of their community changes very rapidly.
This does not make them racist. As Jonathan Haidt points out in the American Interest, a quarterly review, patriots “think their country and its culture are unique and worth preserving”. Some think their country is superior to all others, but most love it for the same reason that people love their spouse: “because she or he is yours”. He argues that immigration tends not to provoke social discord if it is modest in scale, or if immigrants assimilate quickly.
When immigrants seem eager to embrace the language, values and customs of their new land, it affirms nationalists’ sense of pride that their nation is good, valuable and attractive to foreigners. But whenever a country has historically high levels of immigration from countries with very different moralities, and without a strong and successful assimilationist programme, it is virtually certain that there will be an authoritarian counter-reaction.Several European countries have struggled to assimilate newcomers, and this is reflected in popular attitudes. Asked whether having an increasing number of people of different races in their country made it a better place to live, only 10% of Greeks and 18% of Italians agreed (see chart 2). Even in the most cosmopolitan European countries, Sweden and Britain, only 36% and 33% agreed. In America, by contrast, a hefty 58% thought diversity improved their country. Only 7% thought it made it worse.
Most immigrants to America find jobs, and nearly all speak English by the second generation.
For all Mr Trump’s doomsaying, the recent history of race relations is one of success. But that cannot be taken for granted. In one respect, America is entering uncharted waters. Last year white Christians became a minority for the first time in three centuries. By 2050 whites will no longer be a majority. The group that has found these changes hardest—whites without a college education—forms the core of Mr Trump’s support.
White Americans, like dominant groups everywhere, dislike constantly being told that they are privileged. For laid-off steelworkers, it doesn’t feel that way. They do not like being accused of racism if they object to affirmative action or of “microaggressions” if they say “America is a land of opportunity”. Another Pew poll found that 67% of American whites agreed that “too many people are easily offended these days over language”. Among Trump supporters it was 83%.
How to fight back
Instead of, or in addition to this, mainstream politicians sometimes borrow the nationalists’ clothes. In Britain the Conservatives have taken a far tougher line on immigration than many of their cosmopolitan leaders would have preferred. Theresa May, the new prime minister, was the architect of this policy. In America Mrs Clinton’s flip-flop on free trade is a tactical concession to her party’s protectionist wing: among the free-trade deals she now decries is one that she helped negotiate.
Virtually no politicians have forthrightly argued that free trade and well-regulated immigration make most people better off. Emmanuel Macron, France’s economy minister, says it is time to try.
Drawbridge-downers in France’s main parties have more in common with each other than with the National Front, he says, so he has launched a new movement.
An obvious objection is that if parties align themselves into explicitly globalist and nationalist camps, this might lend the nationalists legitimacy and accelerate their ascent. Piffle, says Mr Macron. “Look at the reality,” he says: in France the National Front was already the top party in voting at the most recent (regional) elections. It’s not a risk; it has already happened.
Although the drawbridge-uppers have all the momentum, time is not on their side. Young voters, who tend to be better educated than their elders, have more open attitudes. A poll in Britain found that 73% of voters aged 18-24 wanted to remain in the EU; only 40% of those over 65 did. Millennials nearly everywhere are more open than their parents on everything from trade and immigration to personal and moral behaviour. Bobby Duffy of Ipsos MORI, a pollster, predicts that their attitudes will live on as they grow older.
As young people flock to cities to find jobs, they are growing up used to heterogeneity. If the Brexit vote were held in ten years’ time the Remainers would easily win. And a candidate like Mr Trump would struggle in, say, 2024.
But in the meantime, the drawbridge-raisers can do great harm. The consensus that trade makes the world richer; the tolerance that lets millions move in search of opportunities; the ideal that people of different hues and faiths can get along—all are under threat. A world of national fortresses will be poorer and gloomier.