The new dividing line in Western politics


December 16, 2018

The new dividing line in Western politics

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

 

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/12/13/the-new-dividing-line-in-western-politics

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For Stephen K. Bannon, the way to create an enduring populist majority is to combine forces on the left and right. That’s why he was in Italy this year, where parties representing those two sides joined together in a governing alliance. That’s why Bannon hopes to lure some of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) supporters away from the Democratic Party. But the next place we might be watching the rise of a new left-right populism is France.

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The Trio under political pressure come 2019

Thus far, the “yellow vest” protests in France have lacked a party, structure and leadership. But lists of demands have been circulating. At their heart is an unworkable fantasy, such as a constitutional cap on taxes at 25 percent, coupled with a massive increase in social spending. What is striking about these manifestos is that they combine traditional wish lists from the left and right. No wonder, then, that nearly 90 percent of people who back the major far-left and far-right parties view the movement favorably, compared with only 23 percent of people in President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party.

The “yellow vest” uprising has also spread to Belgium, where the fragile governing coalition has collapsed, largely over the issue of immigration. But there again, the protests have the feel of generalized discontent coming from left and right. Just as in France, the United States and Britain, the movement appears to be a rural backlash against urban elites.

The fissure between relatively better-educated urbanites and less-educated rural populations appears to have become the new dividing line in Western politics. “Outsiders” feel ignored or looked down upon and feel deep resentment toward metropolitan elites. It’s part class, part culture, but there is a large element of economics to it as well.

The Brookings Institution has shown that since the financial crisis of 2008, 72 percent of the gains in U.S. employment have accrued to the country’s top 53 metropolitan areas. To understand the structural division this causes, keep in mind that all U.S. cities together contain 62.7 percent of the country’s population but occupy just 3.5 percent of the land. The Wall Street Journal has pointed out that the fate of urban vs. rural America has been turned on its head. In 1980, cities were dysfunctional, crime-ridden and struggling to keep residents from leaving. Today they are thriving, growing and relatively safe, while rural areas are racked with problems. This urban-rural chasm is also true in France, Italy, Britain and many other Western countries.

And it’s likely to get worse. Research by economists Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo suggests that the use of robots does in fact reduce employment, by about six workers for one machine. Further, Acemoglu and Restrepo find that, in the United States, robots have been largely deployed in the Midwest and South. Although metro areas usually have rich and growing creative and service industries, rural America is less likely to be home to centers of technology, entertainment, law and finance. If you go to a rural part of the Midwest, typically the main sources of employment are government and health care (which is also partly funded by the government).

People in these areas are often described as being irrational at the ballot box. In the United States, they vote for a party that promises tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the working class (i.e., them). The New York Times’ Thomas Edsall points out that the 2017 Republican tax law essentially subsidizes companies to automate. In Europe, contradictory proposals are adopted from the left and right. But this might simply reflect a more generalized anxiety, a blind search for someone who promises them a better future.

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Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book “The Greatest Generation” is packed with stories of non-college-educated men who lived far from big cities. This was the “real America.” Similar regions across France were once called “la France profonde.” Today they are places of despair.

Image result for Yuval Harari’s new book, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,”

In Yuval Harari’s new book, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” the Israeli historian points out that the three most powerful 20th-century ideologies — fascism, communism and democratic capitalism — put the ordinary person at the center, promising him or her a glorious future. But today, we seem to need a handful of brainiacs who will, with computers and robots, chart the course for the future. So in France, in Britain, in the United States, the ordinary person, who doesn’t have a fancy degree, who doesn’t attend TED Talks, who doesn’t have capital or connections, will reasonably wonder: Where does that leave me?

To that question, no one has a good answer.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

 

 

I’m not calling to revive the WASP aristocracy. Just to learn from it.


December 8,2018

I’m not calling to revive the WASP aristocracy. Just to learn from it.

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/12/6/im-not-calling-to-revive-the-wasp-aristocracy-just-to-learn-from-it

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The death of George H.W. Bush has occasioned a fair amount of nostalgia for the old American establishment, of which Bush was undoubtedly a prominent member. It has also provoked a heated debate among commentators about that establishment, whose membership was determined largely by bloodlines and connections. You had to be a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant to ascend to almost any position of power in the United States until the early 1960s. Surely, there is nothing good to say about a system that was so discriminatory toward everyone else?

Actually, there is. For all its faults — and it was often horribly bigoted, in some places segregationist and almost always exclusionary — at its best, the old WASP aristocracy did have a sense of modesty, humility and public-spiritedness that seems largely absent in today’s elite. Many of Bush’s greatest moments — his handling of the fall of communism, his decision not to occupy Iraq after the first Gulf War, his acceptance of tax increases to close the deficit — were marked by restraint, an ability to do the right thing despite enormous pressure to pander to public opinion.

But, and here is the problem, it is likely these virtues flowed from the nature of that old elite. The aristocracy was secure in its power and position, so it could afford to think about the country’s fate in broad terms, looking out for the longer term, rising above self-interest — because its own interest was assured. It also knew that its position was somewhat accidental and arbitrary, so its members adhered to certain codes of conduct — modesty, restraint, chivalry, social responsibility.

If at this point you think I am painting a fantasy of a world that never existed, let me give you a vivid example. On the Titanic’s maiden voyage, its first-class cabins were filled with the Forbes 400 of the age. As the ship began to sink and it became clear there were not enough lifeboats for everyone, something striking took place. As Wyn Wade recounts, the men let the women and children board the boats. In first class, about 95 percent of the women and children were saved, compared with only about 30 percent of the men. While, of course, first-class passengers had easier access to the boats, the point remains that some of the world’s most powerful men followed an unwritten code of conduct, even though it meant certain death for them.

Today’s elites are chosen in a much more open, democratic manner, largely through education. Those who do well on tests get into good colleges, then good graduate schools, then get the best jobs and so on. But their power flows from this treadmill of achievement, so they are constantly moving, looking out for their own survival and success. Their perspective is narrower, their horizon shorter-term, their actions more self-interested.

Most damagingly, they believe their status is legitimately earned. They lack some of the sense of the old WASP establishment that they were accidentally privileged from birth. So the old constraints have vanished. Today, chief executives and other elites pay themselves lavishly, jockey for personal advantage and focus on their own ascendancy.

The man who invented the term “meritocracy” did not mean it as a compliment. The British thinker Michael Young painted a dystopian picture of a society in which the new, technocratic elite, selected through exams, became increasingly smug, arrogant and ambitious, certain that modern inequality was a fair reflection of talent and hard work. Writing later about Tony Blair’s complimentary use of the term, Young warned that the prime minister was fostering a deeply immoral attitude toward those who were not being rewarded by the system, treating them as if they deserved their lower status.

President Trump uses a common refrain at his rallies to attack today’s elites and their arrogance. He focuses on their schooling and then says to the crowd, “They’re not elite. You’re the elite.” Trump has found a genuine vein of disgust among many Americans at the way they are perceived and treated by their more successful countrymen. The violent protests that have been happening in France are similarly fueled by rural, poorer people who believe that the metropolitan elites ignore their plight. The 2016 Brexit vote reflected the same revolt against technocrats.

Let me be clear. I — of all people — am not calling for a revival of the WASP establishment. I am asking, can we learn something from its virtues? Today’s elites should be more aware of their privilege and at least live by one simple old-fashioned, universal idea — rich or poor, talented or not, educated or uneducated, every human being has equal moral worth.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Washington Post

 

Are we at ‘peak America’?


December 5,2018

Are we at ‘peak America’?

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/11/29/are-we-at-peak-america

The Group of 20 summit in Argentina is taking place at a moment when the United States still stands at the center of the world. The U.S. economy is booming, the dollar is almighty, American technology companies continue to dominate the new digital economy, and the U.S. military remains the unrivaled master of land, sky and sea. But there are forces, both short-term and long-term, that are working to erode this hegemony.

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As Morgan Stanley’s Ruchir Sharma has pointed out, the global economy looks as if it’s at “peak America.” U.S. stocks have outperformed the rest of the world this decade, and that sort of trend rarely lasts. The current recovery is now the second-longest in history, and it is due for a downturn. Interest rates are rising, corporate profit growth is slowing, and budget deficits are surging. Even President Trump seems aware of the likelihood of a dip, which is why he has been preparing the ground for it, blaming the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates.

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But there are broader structural realities at work as well. While the United States continues to outperform other advanced economies, the “rise of the rest” also continues, with China, the world’s second-largest economy, growing at three times the pace of the United States. A quarter-century ago, China accounted for less than 2 percent of the global economy. Today, it is 15 percent and rising. China boasts nine of the world’s 20 most valuable tech companies.

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This economic reality is having a geopolitical effect. China is the largest trading partner of major economies in Latin America, Africa and Asia. That gives it clout. Its “Belt and Road Initiative” is designed to extend Beijing’s influence across Asia and beyond, creating not just a market but also a string of allies and dependencies. It has expanded its control over the South China Sea in ways that neither the Obama administration nor the Trump administration has been able to block or counter.

Anywhere one goes in the world these days, leaders talk about the United States’ retreat from the world stage. They note that it began before Trump. Most date it to the aftermath of the Iraq War, spanning the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Trump. And while the Trump administration is bellicose in its policies, especially on trade, they are all in service of a Fortress America mentality that seeks less engagement with the world, politically and economically.

Foreign leaders also note that the United States is likely to be increasingly constrained by its mounting budget woes. The Financial Times’s Gillian Tett points out that the U.S. government now spends $1.4 billion a day on its debt, 10 times more than the next major industrialized country does. As interest rates rise and more Americans reach the age of collecting Social Security and Medicare, the federal government will be unable to fund much else. Ezra Klein has quipped that the American government is “an insurance conglomerate protected by a large, standing army,” and that is becoming truer every day.

American retreat will not produce a better world. It will be messier and uglier. To get a glimpse of it, look at the Middle East today. As the United States has withdrawn from its traditional role as the region’s power-broker — maintaining relations with all sides and striving to achieve some degree of stability — Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are all jockeying for influence. The United States has simply subcontracted its policy to Riyadh, encouraging the Saudis’ reckless behavior and resulting in the world’s gravest humanitarian crisis, the war in Yemen, where 12 million people are on the verge of famine.

At a time when these forces of entropy are intensifying, when the United States does face real constraints on what it can do internationally, the wisest strategy would be to bolster the international institutions and norms that the United States built after World War II, both to maintain some degree of stability and order and to preserve and extend American interests and values. The smartest path to constraining China comes not from a head-on policy of containment but rather from a subtle one that forces Beijing to remain enmeshed and interdependent with the international community. China recognizes this and tries hard to free itself from multilateral groups, preferring to deal one-on-one with countries where it will always tower over its negotiating partner.

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And yet, nothing animates the Trump administration more than its opposition to multilateralism of any kind. And so, as the world gets more chaotic, the forces that could provide order are being eroded. And as is so often the case, China simply watches quietly and pockets the gains.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Washington  Post

 

We once trusted too much in inevitable progress. We got World War I.


November 11, 2018

We once trusted too much in inevitable progress. We got World War I.

by Fareed Zakaria

ttps://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/11/8/we-once-trusted-too-much-in-inevitable-progress-we-got-world-war-i

Britain's Queen Elizabeth attends the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018.

 

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and senior members of the royal family attended a Festival of Remembrance on Saturday to commemorate all those who lost their lives in conflict, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.

When confronting bad news these days, many tend to assume that it’s just a bump on the road and that things will work out. President Barack Obama was fond of invoking the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assertion that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Yet could we be wrong in assuming that, despite some backsliding here and there, forward movement is inexorable?

On Sunday — at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the largest and bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen. World War I marked a turning point in human history — the end of four massive European empires, the rise of Soviet communism and the entry of the United States into global-power politics. But perhaps its most significant intellectual legacy was the end of the idea of inevitable progress.

In 1914, before the war began, people had lived through a world much like ours, defined by heady economic growth, technological revolutions and increasing globalization. The result was that it was widely believed that ugly trend lines, when they appeared, were temporary, to be overwhelmed by the onward march of progress. In 1909, Norman Angell wrote a book explaining that war between the major powers was so costly as to be unimaginable. “The Great Illusion” became an international bestseller, and Angell became a cult celebrity (and was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize). Just a few years after the book was published, a generation of Europeans was destroyed in the carnage of war.

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https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/03/world-war-i-american-isolationism-turned-intervention-1917/

Could we be similarly complacent today? There are serious statesmen who believe so. During a recent interview, French President Emmanuel Macron explained, “In a Europe that is divided by fears, nationalist assertion and the consequences of the economic crisis, we see almost methodically the rearticulation of everything that dominated the life of Europe from post-World War I to the 1929 [economic] crisis.” And, during an address earlier this year to the European Parliament, Macron said, “I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers that has forgotten its own past.” As historian Christopher Clark wrote in his book “The Sleepwalkers,” the statesmen of 1914 stumbled into a gruesome world war without ever realizing the magnitude or dangers of their isolated, incremental decisions — or non-decisions. Macron is not simply talking; he has organized a Paris Peace Forum of more than 60 world leaders, set to begin this Sunday, to try to combat the dangers of rising nationalism and eroding global cooperation. Continue reading

FAREED on The GOP


November 4, 2018

FAREED on The GOP

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2018/11/1/the-gop-has-become-the-party-of-fake-news-and-paranoid-fantasies

“The Republican Party has many good people and good ideas. But none of them matters while it houses and feeds fantasies, conspiracies and paranoia, tinged with racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism. Republicans are now squarely the party of McCarthy, and until that cancer is excised, they should not be entrusted with power.

It is common place to hear and read about President Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party. And certainly there is lots of evidence that the GOP is animated these days by an unquestioning devotion to Trump and whatever his ideas may be at any given moment. But the problem is that Republicans are now becoming the party not of Trump but of Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin senator who in the 1950s accused the State Department of treason, called George Marshall — head of the Army during World War II, later secretary of state and defense — a traitor, and implied that the American government was being secretly run by the Kremlin.” –Fareed Zakaria

The Republican Party today has become a vast repository of conspiracy theories, fake news, false accusations and paranoid fantasies.

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Consider the most recent example. Trump has scared much of the country about a small group of Central Americans, fleeing poverty and violence, who are hoping to come to the U.S. border and apply for asylum. It’s perfectly reasonable to oppose letting them in, though it is cruel to demonize them constantly. But Republicans have not been content to oppose granting asylum. They have concocted facts out of thin air and invented conspiracies about who is behind this group of impoverished migrants.

Last week, one of the prominent hosts at Fox News, which is now the Pravda of the Republican Party, suggested that more than 100 Islamic State fighters had been caught “trying to use this caravan.” Trump, a devoted Fox News viewer, pounced on that claim, declaring that “unknown Middle Easterners” had joined the caravan. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) asked whether Democratic donor George Soros was funding this movement.

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None of these claims has an iota of truth to it. But they are repeated and reinforced across the country. The notion that Soros is the dark mastermind behind all kinds of movements is now deeply lodged in the Republican Party — so much so that senior party leaders such as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa repeat it almost reflexively. Rep. Steve King (Iowa) has accused Soros of backing a grand scheme to systematically introduce foreigners in order to replace “Americans” — in other words, whites — with “somebody else’s babies.”

The slurs against Soros are revealing. Let’s remember, Soros is one of the most successful businessmen in history, who made his money in as pure a form of capitalism as there is, reading and betting on the market. He has become one of the world’s leading philanthropists. His foundation has spent more than $14 billion to date, much of it to support anti-communists and human rights groups, first in Eastern Europe and then around the world. He has funded various liberal ideas as well, from prison reform to the legalization of marijuana, many of which are now in the mainstream.

So why the focus on him? He is not the only big funder of liberal causes and candidates. Soros is not a mysterious figure. He has given countless speeches and interviews and written many books and articles. His Open Society Foundations put all their grants in plain view, on their website. But Soros is a perfect bogeyman for conspiracy theorists. He is rich, powerful, grew up abroad, has a foreign accent and is Jewish.

Republicans are at pains to deny anti-Semitism as a motivation for demonizing Soros, but the problem is it is not just Soros they target. Many Republicans now speak often and openly of the dangers of “globalists” — but for some reason, these “globalists” tend to be Jewish financiers (Lloyd Blankfein, Gary Cohn, Janet Yellen and Soros). Given the ugly historical smears in this regard, one can only conclude that elements of the Republican Party are either clueless about anti-Semitism or actively encouraging it.

It doesn’t end there. In his riveting book “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire,” Kurt Andersen describes the mountain of conspiracy theories spouted by Republicans these days — about the United Nations, vaccines, gun control and sharia law, among other topics. Based on zero evidence, in an age of science and technology, these ideas are now more widespread than ever before.

America has a history of paranoid politics, infused with the belief that there is some hidden conspiracy to betray the republic. But these forces used to be peripheral, voiced by marginal figures. When they seemed to be growing, as with the John Birch Society in the 1960s, mainstream conservatives such as William F. Buckley publicly and forcefully denounced them. Today senior Republicans emulate them. Trump has given a ringing endorsement to Alex Jones, the country’s most influential and extreme conspiracy theorist. “Your reputation is amazing,” Trump said in a 2015 interview with Jones. “I will not let you down.”

The Republican Party has many good people and good ideas. But none of them matters while it houses and feeds fantasies, conspiracies and paranoia, tinged with racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism. Republicans are now squarely the party of McCarthy, and until that cancer is excised, they should not be entrusted with power.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group