How nations are held to ransom, not just by the blind force of the global marketplace but by the few who gain the most from pitting nation against nation. How this has led to the rise of the far-right – and what we can do about it.
A global race to the bottom
One term used to describe the current state of international relations is “destructive international competition.” This is where nations around the world attempt to out-compete each other to attract the most investment from transnational corporations. They do this by pursuing the most “business-friendly” fundamentalist laissez-faire neo-liberal1 policies. These policies, fully enacted in of the Reagan/Thatcher era and expanded since, even by opposition parties2 are, many argue, ideologically extreme. To a marginally greater or lesser extent, they follow a hard-right economic (and increasingly social) agenda. This includes policies such as the reduction of corporation tax3 and a higher rate of personal tax, privatising national services4,5 limiting environmental protection standards, 6 subsidising the largest corporations such as banks7 (which caused boom the 2008 economic crash) and fossil fuel industries8 (who are among the main contributors to climate change), minimising worker’s pay and union rights9 and the carrying out devastatingly severe public and infrastructure austerity spending cuts.10 For example, UK ex-Prime Minister David Cameron announced at the Conservative Autumn Conference 2014 that “The UK will have the most competitive corporation tax of any developed country.” In 2018, this same message was repeated by the present PM, Theresa May. In doing so, they are waving flags to corporations inviting them to maximise their profits in the UK but by subordinating citizen and environmental concerns.11 This approach forces other nations compete in a global race to the bottom.
Any government or potential leader who is elected, or who is gaining electoral support on a mandate to pursue popular policies such as balancing the free-markets with government regulation, common ownership of minimal key industries,12 statutory living wages and worker’s rights, increasing public spending on infrastructure, taking control of money creation13 and making polluters pay will find themselves rallied against by the full might of the political, corporate and media establishment. That is, the few who benefit the most from hard- right policies.
Fear is whipped up by the media (mostly-privately owned14 or co-opted such as the BBC)15 against any deviation from the status-quo because, the argument goes, any nation taking action alone could suffer for doing so “in a world where globalisation and the free movement of capital are inescapable realities.”16 Arguments are made that any nation taking unilateral action could suffer a “first mover competitive disadvantage” as multi-national corporations threaten reinvestment in other friendlier, more “competitive” nations (dubbed “nation shopping”)17 and to take their jobs with them. The logic behind this narrative happens to be extraordinarily convenient as non fundamentalist neo-liberal policies would mean marginally less profits and significantly less subsidies for corporations. It would also mean less control over a public chained to scarce resources such as fossil-fuels and debt based money (as opposed to renewable energy and debt free money creation) and therefore less influence in public affairs.
The mere threat of such disinvestment can not only compromise a nation’s short-term economic and geopolitical standing,18 but most importantly it scares voters away from supporting any real change. Those challenging the power of the “establishment,”19 can experience a backlash in other ways too such as being side-lined by the media20,21, to challenges by seemingly grassroots lobbying groups covertly backed by big money22, 23 to political parties having their funding cut by donors24.
Democratic processes around the world are now influenced more by the markets and the lobbyists of transnational-national corporations (media, banking, health, fossil fuel, weapons, transport etc.) than by their own electorate. The term given to this is “corporatocracy.”25 In this respect, most governments have conceded their national sovereignty to a higher, completely undemocratic transnational power.
Destructive international competition is also the insidious cause of dwindling trust in democracy, in establishment political parties and politicians. Voters notice little material difference between the main political parties who are too scared to deviate from the status quo, from the right-of-center business-friendly economic orthodoxy. Is this also why elections are so often won by such small margins?
In a world with no legitimate democratic global policy forum and where corporations wield huge influence over governments, global policies are being set behind closed doors. Career politicians are colluding with corporate lobbyists bypassing any legitimate democratic process. Policies such as Structural Adjustment Programs, GATS and the proposed TTIP, TISA and TPP favour corporate interests over long-term social and environmental needs.26
Who benefits most?
A minority of the world’s most powerful individuals derive huge benefit from the present status quo of destructive international competition.
For any elite to maintain power, the most pragmatic strategy for doing so is through a systematised process of divide-and-rule, divide et impera. We are witnessing this on the international stage as nations are being played off against each other. Yet destructive competition between nations remains unchallenged by world leaders even though it increases inequality and consolidates evermore power into the hands of the few. We are now living in an era where wealthy owners of the largest corporations enjoy state socialism in the form of tax breaks, bailouts and subsidies whereas the rest of humanity endure stateless capitalism and austerity cuts.27
This state of international affairs is not merely unacceptable, topical or newsworthy. It is the scandal of the age.
Accident? Design? Or both?
To conclude that this state of global affairs is purely benign, accidental or situational is, as an argument on its own, willful naivety. Our world situation is emergent,28 part of a natural progression of compounding influences, but that does not mean that events cannot also be purposefully and pragmatically manipulated. It’s not an either-or, but a both-and situation.
So-called political realists demand that we accept the phenomenon they describe as Destructive International Competition as realpolitik and work pragmatically with it. We instead challenge this understanding and seek to highlight how competition between nations is instead weaponised in text-book divide et impera power-play to maintain existing oligarchic power structures.
Worse still, acceptance of the term Destructive International Competition as realpolitik by certain campaign activists further empowers oligarchs to utilize its true form, International Divide-and-Rule.
Politicians have been either A. an integral part in this corporate takeover, profiting from doing so through links to other wealthy elites29 B. have passively accepted the situation and considered themselves as pragmatic realists in a globally competitive world30 or C. have challenged the status quo and been overcome or side-lined by the overwhelming power of the establishment.31
Globalised, colonialist neo-liberalism’s true expression is hard-right authoritarian nationalism.
Global trade spreads peace and prosperity. Unfettered and unregulated trade, known as globalised neo-liberalism32 has prioritised gigantic profits for the few over job security and social investment for the many. This is particularly true of pre-industrialised nations. The same nations which, since the 2008 global economic crash have turned away from embracing global citizenship33 toward more insular and hardened nationalism. Anger at establishment elites and mainstream politicians has been fueled as low and middle-income workers witness power, jobs and influence moving beyond the nation-state to the global sphere. Corporations and the ultra-wealthy being globally mobile take their investment, jobs and taxable income abroad with them whilst most people are left behind feeling job insecure and increasingly irrelevant.34 Tapping into this fear are far-right demagogues promising a return to a once powerful sense of colonial nationhood.35
As a protest against globalised neo-liberalism and an establishment elite, many people around the world are being persuaded to vote for the idea of a return to 19th Century far-right nationalism.36
Another driver of authoritarian nationalism is the fear of migration flows. It would be far from expedient for globally mobile neo-liberal elites to encourage those most concerned with migration to try out some systemic thinking, thinking which gets to the root causes of issues. If they did two main causes of migration would be revealed.
- Colonialist neo-liberalism’s wars for oil and global hegemony.40
- Climate refugeeism 41 compounded by what is called “climate deception” 42 – efforts to highlight and tackle climate change have been purposefully scuppered by the fossil fuel industry denying mainstream climate science (and often their own science) by funding and organising pretend grassroots and scientific groups.
Not so patriotic after all
Nationalism, once a revolutionary concept over tribalism and absolute feudalistic monarchism is still tribalism and feudalism on a larger scale. Unless nations cooperate with each other for the good of all they will remain unable to tackle the globally systemic problems humanity must resolve in order to survive.43
A great many of the global mobile elite so called “nationalists”44 going out of their way to encourage our patriotism are not so consumed with love of the fatherland that want to pay their fair share of taxes alongside the majority of their fellow citizens and patriots. Instead, acting entirely hypocritically, they are happy to hold offshore accounts in tax havens. Scapegoating and sowing division between cultures and nations is an expedient endeavor for those who wish to keep their industries free from international regulation and to ensure that none of their personal profit is invested back into society. That’s why they encourage us to blame the foreigner, not the system.
Realism vs Idealism
The imbalance of power between multinational corporations and national governments has fuelled destructive competition wherein nation is set against nation, community against community, person against person. Alongside local and national action, one way to re-balance the scales and to solve global problems at the same time is through multi-national grassroots democratic cooperation to regulate multi-national corporations.45 This must happen everywhere so that corporations have nowhere to hide.
Many people argue that governments should simply ignore the aggressive threats of relocation made by multi-national corporations, corporations which don’t like the popular policies of the nation in which they do their business. They state that they would like to call their bluff or just let them relocate. They think that their nation would be better off without corporations which resist the will of the electorate.46
Whatever the harsh political reality, and however much the realists and the idealists might disagree, there remains an overriding logic to implement global solutions to global problems that are chosen by citizens of the world.
If nations were to cooperate globally by regulating alongside one another, then this could create the across-the-board fairness we so desperately need. By acting together at the same time, governments would allay any fears of suffering a competitive disadvantage for implementing policies which fulfilled the essential needs of its people and environment.
In order to have an honest debate about the issue of which policies might constitute a threat to a nation’s short-term economic and geopolitical competitiveness and which would not, governments should separate those policies into two categories, global or national policies. Those which would not cause a threat (national policies) can be implemented immediately and without issue. At the same time negotiations could begin on the global policies which require global cooperation.47 In both cases therefore, the excuse of inaction due to the need to maintain a nation’s economic competitiveness would be removed.
If all corporations were legally bound by the same global fair trade laws they could still maintain their profitability and competitiveness, while also incorporating principles which equally benefited society and the planet. This could create a safe environment for a moral breakthrough in corporate law where businesses need no longer fear hostile takeovers from their competitors or damage to the value of their shares for doing the right thing; a real win-win situation.48
With legally binding global agreements in place, national and regional governments can once again reclaim their democratic sovereignty, free from the constraints of destructive international competition. Within a level playing field of global regulation, the impulse to compete can be expressed in a safe, healthy and balanced way. Through holistic global cooperation, and mutual aid, humanity could, for the first time ever, win the liberty of real choice thus replacing the illusion of choice that is entrenched competition.
Empowerment through unity
The battle for progressive participative politics, sustainability, real prosperity, equality, peace and justice is being lost. After every shock-wave built into an inherently unstable economic system, after every terrorist backlash against illegal war interventions pushed by the privately owned media and after every environmental disaster caused by the ecocidal practices of the fossil fuel industry, another swathe of reactionary right-wing policies are pushed through. Civil liberties are scrapped and more power gets concentrated in the hands of the few – “to keep us safe and to take the necessary tough choices on the economy” etc, (generic blithe politician).
At the same time however, a growing number of local and national movements are rising up against this tyranny of the minority, including anti-austerity, pro-democracy, indigenous land rights, Occupy, People’s Assemblies, cooperatives, environmentalists, new economists, lawyers for justice, also blockade movements against fossil fuel extraction, land grabs and arms fairs. Systems thinking and systems activists are growing in number within these movements. They are the ones you hear calling on their groups to do something new, to further empower each other by uniting their movements everywhere and by including an extra global level of action.49
Will it happen without us?
It could be rationalised that in the end, every career politician, every world leader and every CEO billionaire will want to cooperate globally because it is in everyone’s interest to do so. “If just one nation or corporation doesn’t cooperate then none will. If only one free-rides, then all are forced to free-ride.” Not cooperating would therefore guarantee a massive degradation in civil liberties, quality of life and possibly the eradication of the human species, including its most materially successful. The question which hangs over the above supposition is “Do people with the most power act in a rational and therefore ethical way?” Well, it is, is it not, almost a proverb that immense power is the least rationalising influence upon an individual or group? History is filled with the disaster of hubris. If power was such a rationalising influence on the individual then the CEO’s of corporations who run tobacco industries would tell people not to smoke. Instead of finding ever more complex, dirty ways of extracting the planet’s oil reserves to burn whilst promoting untested techno-fixes such as geo-engineering, fossil fuel CEOs would instead promote leaving the oil in the ground and demand massive investment into the development of clean energy technologies. They would end debt slavery by changing the way money is created. They would advocate global cooperation to implement tough binding regulations to tackle global problems. But we all know that this is not happening. It is business as usual. Just one more barrel of oil. Just one more billion dollars. Just one more fix!
So, the challenge to make the world a better place belongs to humanity, not to a heroic few. It must be reiterated however that without these challenges, we would not be compelled to learn, grow, to search and, discover our long-term common benefit. Logically therefore, we should be grateful for that which we must overcome. “Necessity is the mother of invention” Plato. The Republic.
Although Global People Power is an enormously ambitious long-term project yet humanity is faced with a perfect storm of global problems which demand immediate action, cooperation seems to be the most logical, exciting, empowering and peaceful way forward. Also perhaps, the most beautiful? If we succeed in implementing even just a handful of systemic global solutions to systemic global problems, then future generations, those who will stand on our shoulders, could well be celebrating us for thousands of years to come.
Finally, there is a moral argument to unite globally. In today’s interconnected world, any democratic action that fails to consider and include the whole world is still, at best, ethically partial. So let’s come together and assume power and responsibility. Let’s take global control for the good of all, let’s celebrate our diverse values and let’s progress in harmony with our surroundings. The first barrier is our imagination, then our will to act!
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- Jubilee Campaign. A History of Debt. 1982-1989. The World Bank also starts such bailout loans. In return, the two institutions demand a series of policies are followed, including cutting government spending, privatisation, trade liberalisation and deregulation.
- China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. (Site no longer in English. Attempting to retrieve document) “What is worrisome, however, is that countries, in the context of international competition, based on the “prisoners’ dilemma,” when self-interest becomes dominant over cooperation (Balaam et al. 2001, 415), will compete for the lowest environmental standards to increase their comparative advantage (Esty et al. 1998, 16) which contributes to environmental degradation. Hence there is the potential of a race to the bottom.” http://www.cicir.ac.cn/english/ArticleView.aspx?nid=1919
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