Coping with the Global Challenge against the Status Quo

We’ve shown ourselves to be nimble-footed enough to catch opportunities even in areas in which we had no perceptible international edge. The base is here. It needs to be elaborated upon

 The new American President, Mr Donald Trump, has issued a number of unsettling executive orders since assuming office. He has also questioned America’s relations with other countries, both as concerns trade and security arrangements in place.

His new approach to running America is meeting with opposition not only from the Republican Party to which he “belongs”. The courts have, on constitutional grounds, overturned his immigration ban order, but he insists he will take it through. His stand on international policy is proving unsettling for long-standing trade and international partners of the US – Europe, Canada, Mexico, Japan, ASEAN, China.

Despite all this, he is carrying on just the same. He says that he wants to make America safe from unwanted foreign destabilising intrusions. He also says he is protecting American jobs by keeping off unfair competition from other countries. He wants energy independence for America and has therefore rolled back the previous administration’s global climate deal. Fossil fuel will be back.

To accusations of destabilising the existing international order, his answer is that he is carrying out his campaign promises. This is what the people who voted for him want. He is delivering on that.

Those who voted for him asked: what has the global elite delivered for the sustained improvement of the peoples’ lives across the board? Has security been strengthened in each country? Has the fruit of growth been fairly distributed? When the economy performed in low key, after the onset of the crisis of 2007-08, to whom was this burden shifted the most, the 99% or the1%? They answer: to the working class. That’s why they voted against the continuation of the status quo.

In the words of Donald Trump’s chief strategic adviser, Mr Steve Bannon, America doesn’t want to see itself anymore merely “as an economy in some global marketplace with open borders”. America will not play anymore the role of a global centre of power if its jobs are taken away by other countries, if its elites enrich themselves exclusively at workers’ costs or if that means welcoming outsiders with unacceptable private cultures within its territory who risk destabilising its social order.

Consequences

It is difficult to guess where exactly the new American president’s policies will lead to. Many in the media predict that the situation will become chaotic and unmanageable eventually since there will no longer be a credible single centre of power to hold the world together after the US has relinquished its global role. Another guess is that walls of economic isolationism raised by countries such as the US will shrink global production and hence put at greater risk vulnerable poor people the world over.

If we look at the brighter side of the picture, a re-configuration of the world around new centres of economic and political power is not impossible. Countries from both the developed West and emerging nations which have been operating in a globally interconnected framework, have experienced the advantages of working together.

If they coalesce, a multipolar world might deliver more balanced outcomes than a more-or-less unipolar world has done so far. Building trust in any new system is key. The global trading system could therefore seek to uphold international cooperative progress made so far. Some alternative equilibrium will eventually be found, just as it happened with the “outrageous” departures of Mrs Margaret Thatcher from the established norm way back in 1979.

We are not there yet. But a country like Mauritius, which depends on selling goods and services to the world outside, could advantageously seek to form part of likely new upcoming global blocs emerging from out of the current global disruption. We need not despair so long we don’t keep losing our focus on prolonged stupid internal wrangling, with little time left to focus on the challenging evolving wider global perspective.

Just as a reminder. In the late 1970s, Margaret Thatcher, as newly elected British PM, set in chain a number of “outrageous” policy changes in the UK. Contrary to the received wisdom, she questioned the socialist policies political parties had practised since after World War II – the State had kept expanding, entire swathes of the economy operated under the paralysing stress of lightning strikes by unions, welfare spending was being met with rising levels of taxation across the board. She set out to undo all this and bring about a sea change in public policy.

Her moves, later dubbed as Thatcherism, were iconoclastic – dismantle the welfare state, privatise the economy, squeeze trade unions out, hire-and-fire, liberalise the markets, challenge the bureaucracy in Brussels for complicating decisions and the UK to pay less to the EU’s budget. This looked like an overthrow of ‘socialist’ policies governments had adopted in preceding decades.

Not many, Mrs Thatcher included, understood then – as it is the case today with Donald Trump putting a premium on national security, sovereignty and economic nationalism free from excess regulations, unmindful of all other impact this may produce – the finality of this unorthodox manner of departing sharply from the established manner of doing things. For Mrs Thatcher, it was enough that she was, in her own way, championing a new spirit of assertiveness away from previous governments’ single-track approach to governing.

It pleased her constituency. The British were happy that they now had a distinct say in international affairs. It gradually made new openings which changed altogether the way markets interacted with each other. It brought about eventually a new era of prosperity and technological progress with international cooperation through open markets and a liberal international economic order. Mauritius made headway economically thanks to all of this.

Tony Blair, who subsequently succeeded Mrs Thatcher and John Major as Labour PM, did not oppose those policies; he adjusted to the new ideology (e.g., ‘New’ Labour). The world was no more based on the old order – state socialism had run its course — and it would have been rash and dangerous for him to overturn the new ideology for the sake of it. We in Mauritius have kept leaning on this international liberalised new global order to make a decent living for ourselves by exporting more goods and services to the world.

Where do we go from here?

From 2016, the West looks more disunited, each country ready to go its separate way. A country such as Mauritius doesn’t know how it will navigate in these troubled waters. Yet, it is imperative for us to anticipate and take action to correct and adapt our trajectory so as not to lose our moorings in the troubled seas.

We’ve presented ourselves as a rule-of-law reliable partner to counterparts we’ve engaged with in business. This has kept us in a category apart. We need to stay there, instead of keeping portraying ourselves for all the bad things on earth.

We’ve shown ourselves to be nimble-footed enough to catch opportunities even in areas in which we had no perceptible international edge: international finance, information and communication technology, textiles and garments. The base is here. It needs to be elaborated upon.

Should we acquire sufficient depth, we should be able to build upon it the more we shift away from sterile inner confrontation and scandals. The time has come for us to move away from defensive governing of public affairs. The next stage is rather to prioritise implementation of a hands-on development strategy. It requires us to watch international developments very closely and to adapt concretely to whichever direction the changed global order will head off to, putting to rest the numerous domestic quarrels leading to the same consequence we are seeing elsewhere – reversal of the political status quo. 

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