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The forces that made nationalism a crisis in the West will go global

The victory of Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential elections signaled that “the season of growth of populism has ended,” but that may not be the case, writes Time magazine (Subscribe now).

Not so fast. Europeans will soon remember that elections are never the end of anything–they’re a beginning. And whether the issue is unelected Eurocrats’ forcing voters to abide by rules they don’t like or fears that borders are insecure, there are good reasons to doubt that the anti-E.U. fever has broken. France’s Macron now faces powerful opposition on both the far right and the far left. Hungary and Poland are becoming increasingly illiberal. Brexit negotiations are getting ugly. And resentment toward the E.U. is still rising throughout Europe.

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Afghanistan: Democracy, Elections and after (October 5, 2014)

The emergence of a truly global middle class is one of history’s great success stories: more than a billion people have been lifted out of poverty, literacy rates have surged, and access to education and health care is now widespread. But this vast rising tide did not lift all boats, and those left behind are not happy. The headlines have all been about reaction in the West, where globalized trade has hit manufacturing and technological changes have transformed the workplace. Jobs are being eliminated, and the world’s original middle classes are shrinking. The native-born resent immigrants seeking work, and in Europe, the debt crisis plunged some countries into austerity and others into stagnation just as the surge of Middle Eastern refugees fed fears of crime, terrorism and loss of national identity.

Then there is the question of identity politics. Globalization doesn’t move just goods and services. It moves people, feeding public anxiety by shifting the racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious makeup of communities, sometimes abruptly. Trump rose to power in part by leveraging fears about immigrants’ stealing American jobs. Immigration was also at the heart of the Brexit vote. Developing countries don’t have to worry about waves of migrants knocking at the door in search of a better life, at least not yet. But in many of these countries, “they” are already inside or live just next door. Even in countries with unchallenged boundaries, racial, ethnic, tribal, religious and linguistic differences can become fault lines when technological change creates economic turmoil. Political opportunism is universal.

 

Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban prepare to talk (December 15, 2012)

What happens in countries where these institutions are weaker and have less popular legitimacy? Expect similar figures to emerge–but with results that are even harder to predict. Nationalists rise to power by convincing citizens that they can defend “the people” against a predatory elite and the favored groups they protect. But the hated “them” isn’t always a domestic enemy or someone still hoping to come inside. If the leaders of Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia and China can’t help their citizens compete in a 21st century globalized economy, where might they look for culprits? In the past, governments have steered public anger toward other countries, which can easily turn into military conflagrations.
Others will respond to nationalist pressures by building walls. Some of these barriers will be between the state and their subjects–China’s government has taken steps to create a “social-credit system,” a sort of credit rating based on economic and social behavior that determines the opportunities available to a person. Beijing claims the plan is intended to create a harmonious society and a “culture of sincerity,” but it might also serve as a barrier between the ruling party and angry citizens. In India, the government has gathered biometric information on more than 900 million of its citizens for its controversial national identity-card program. There’s no telling how future governments will decide to use this great trove of data; the potential for surveillance is enormous.

 

Courtesy The Economist

October 4, 2014

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