At the G-20, the dourness of the democracies
The BBC’s Paul Mason is watching events unfold at the G-20 summit in Cannes and notes that the leaders with a spring in their step are mostly the unelected ones: You can see it in the gait of the politicians and their officials as they march through the deserted secure zone between the big hotels: ...
The BBC's Paul Mason is watching events unfold at the G-20 summit in Cannes and notes that the leaders with a spring in their step are mostly the unelected ones:
The BBC’s Paul Mason is watching events unfold at the G-20 summit in Cannes and notes that the leaders with a spring in their step are mostly the unelected ones:
You can see it in the gait of the politicians and their officials as they march through the deserted secure zone between the big hotels: the only confident body language comes from people with money. And who has money? China, Singapore, Russia, Brazil, the Saudis.
Are you noticing a pattern there? Each of these countries is an export giant, has experienced rapid-fire modernisation and income growth, has a heavily statised economy, practises some form of covert protectionism, and has – with the exception of Brazil – either zero or attenuated democracy.
The countries in crisis, by contrast, are experiencing a crisis of democratic legitimacy for the chosen political-economic orthodoxy: finance-driven free market economics.
There’s a hint of the interwar period about Mason’s reporting: a suggestion that liberal democracy is somehow on the ropes and that the future belongs to the leaders not constrained by protesters, unions, and partisan wrangling:
][T]he global protest movement has confronted [G-20 leaders] with a social dimension to rebalancing that, incredibly, the East seems to understand better than the West.
The Chinese Communist Party has spent 30 years restraining the market in order to maintain social order: maintain social order is the slogan on every police station wall, and burned into the psyche of every official. With 1.3bn people they understand this cannot be done only with tasers and mass arrests.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer with hindsight that the Western social order model was credit: populations tolerated rising inequality, income stagnation, deindustrialisation because their tangible lifestyles were rising. Now that’s in reverse, and there is a growing worry that if the present is bad, the future for their children might be worse.
It’s a tempting narrative, but also, I believe, deeply misleading. The Chinese, Russian and other regimes whose essential claim to legitimacy is economic growth are in much deeper danger than Western regimes and institutions, which can draw on deep wells of support. Mason sees G-20 leaders consumed by the Occupy protests. But those protests highlight the very different capacities of national systems to deal with disconent. In Moscow or Beijing, Occupy movements would be seen as existential threats; in the West, they are a colorful backdrop.
Mason is undoubtedly correct that the West has not dealt effectively with shifting economic realities. A reckoning is underway. But the governments most able to endure that reckoning won’t be the ones with vast cash reserves; they will be the ones with deep institutional reserves.
David Bosco is a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of The Poseidon Project: The Struggle to Govern the World’s Oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist
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