Book Review: Us v Them: The failure of Globalism by Ian Bremmer
Ian Bremmer’s latest book correctly identifies the major symptoms of global legitimacy crises as manifested since the 2008 financial crash – inequality, political and social polarisation, mass anger and rising populist calls for radical change from Left and Right.
As the situation is deteriorating, urgent action is required to manage technological disruptions and the harshest effects of globalism. Mr Bremmer calls on global elites to channel change in responsible directions, or face the catastrophic consequences.
Mr Bremmer argues that the effects of globalism and especially technological change – which will eliminate millions of jobs at all levels (while creating many but insufficient new ones) – will test the resilience of states and their societies. Populisms that divide us and them – on ethnic, racial, class, religious, political grounds – should be eschewed in favour of policies enabling lifelong education and training, possibly state-guaranteed basic income (why not the upper limits on earnings) for all in a gig economy and so on.
In short, the answer lies in practical, technocratic policies devised by responsible elites – in the government, corporations and universities, among others.
It’s an important book, given Mr Bremmer’s corporate sector affiliations, even if its thesis is well rehearsed. Recall, for example, the bleak Global Risks 2018 report – Fractures, Fears and Failures – discussed by Davos globalists, but which appear to have had little effect on the people Mr Bremmer relies on to institute reform.
Admittedly, Mr Bremmer acknowledges elite complacency fuelled by stock market highs, tax cuts, and Trumpian corporate de-regulation. But whatever faith Mr Bremmer has in such elites is further undercut in his analysis of the drivers of real policy change in the US to deal with 1930s mass unemployment – the threat of fascism and communism, and World War II.
And here’s the problem: Mr Bremmer’s policy suggestions call for action by the very elites responsible for the current crisis; some of them benefiting from soaring stock markets. Their political and governmental counterparts are in large measure fuelling polarisation, redefining race, nation and identities: the problem is not just or even mainly with Left or Right extremists – Mr Bremmer admits they are symptoms not causes.
The real issue is centrist strategies enabling and incentivising globalisation and technological disruption, and failing to energise, engage and mobilise their own people – including highly qualified graduates – to develop a positive vision and practical policies to cope with revolutionary change.
Published by Portfolio Penguin. Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics at City, University of London