Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Densil Williams | Trump-May: country first, world second

Published:Sunday | November 20, 2016 | 11:00 AM
Densil Williams
UK Prime Minister Theresa May.
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So the improbable happened, Donald Trump won the US presidency, and based on the Electoral College votes, he won handsomely as well.

There is no doubt that he stunned almost all pundits across the globe as by and large, following normal logic, a candidate who has committed so many ills would not have a chance of winning anything, anywhere.

From the inhumane comments towards persons of different races, class, abilities, and social upbringing, to the unwelcome advances towards women, these actions would lead to total obliteration of anyone running for arguably the most powerful office in the land. That logic was turned on its head shortly after midnight on November 8 when it was declared that Donald J. Trump would be the 45th president of the United States.

By the time most persons woke up on Wednesday morning, they were stunned by the news. One could feel a sense of anger, shock, and disappointment. My sense is that persons were not disappointed because of Trump's policy positions which, in any case, were never always clear, given the mercurial nature of the man.

I think the anger was more directed at the inhumane things he said on the campaign trial. If Trump had run an issues-based campaign and won, I do not think we would be seeing the high number of demonstrations since his victory.

However, while we await further details on the Trump presidency, analysts have been trying to predict what will happen to the global economy over the next four years, at least.

I think it is risky business to predict what a President Trump will do. He is not an ordinary man. While I caution commentators to be careful about pronouncements on the future, I am prepared to say that something big - I don't know what exactly - is going to happen.

 

RISE OF NEO-LIBERALISM

 

It is absolutely clear that this wave of the global neo-liberal project - involving privatisation, deregulation, and an unbridled approach to capital accumulation - took shape around the early 1980s when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were both key players on the global political stage as prime minister of the United Kingdom and president of the United States, respectively.

The close relationship between Thatcher and Reagan led to the development and execution of one of the most far-reaching projects to hit the world over the last three decades, neo-liberalism. This project has had the most significant impact on industry structure, business strategy, economic management, and social realities the world has ever seen.

The opposition to neo-liberalism posits that it has led to a small elite becoming wealthier, while the vast majority of persons have either become poorer, and in some cases, caused serious social dislocations, leading to the ruining of family life, increased crime and violence, and a downright sense of despair for many. Put differently, the majority of persons feel this project has wrecked their lives.

Those who support the project argue that it has led to the greatest reduction in global poverty since the 19th century, with the number of persons living on less than US$1 a day significantly declining compared to 10 decades ago. A good paper to reference on the subject is an article in Finance and Development published in June 2016 titled 'Neo-liberalism Oversold?', written by Jonathan Ostry, Prakash Loungani, and Davide Furceri.

Trump, some will say, one of the major benefactors of the neo-liberal project, has sided with the opposition to it and used that to his advantage to advance to the presidency of the United States. He ran on a ticket line that says that globalisation (neo-liberalism) has led to US jobs going to China and Mexico. The US needs to take back its jobs, and I, Donald J. Trump, will be the one to reverse this trend in the global capitalist project to make America great again. The people bought it and he is now president-elect.

It is difficult to discuss the US election without juxtaposing the Brexit outcome as well. Theresa May came to power in the United Kingdom after the resignation of David Cameron, the conservative prime minister who, again, it can be said, is a strong proponent of the neo-liberal project. He lost the prime ministership when his party called a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union (EU).

The summary result is that the British public decided to leave the EU because like the citizens of the US, they believe that neo-liberalism has led to their jobs being relocated to other countries and they need to get back their jobs. Again, the majority of British people do not think they have benefited from the neo-liberal globalisation that took deeper roots since the 1980s.

So, Mrs May and Mr Trump have a clear mandate from their various constituencies to return economic inclusion to their respective countries by taking a hard look at this neo-liberal project and its progeny, globalisation. In summary, the mandate given to them by their citizens is, country first, the world next. This is in complete contrast to the neo-liberal project that is world first, country next.

 

THE NEXT BIG THING:

NATIONALISM VS GLOBALISM?

 

So, with this new thrust towards national versus global thinking, the big question is: Can the current wave of the neo-liberal project continue as is structured, or will Mrs May and Mr Trump, like Mrs Thatcher and Mr Reagan, find a new wave to restructure the project so that it becomes more meaningful to the common man?

It is clear to me that something different will be done in this regard as both leaders have similar mandates from their citizens. Importantly, they are well positioned to come with something new that will have another significant implications over the next three to four decades.

The next big idea seems to be heading in a direction that says country first, international community next. This is in opposition to the current neo-liberal project. If this is the direction, governments, especially those in small economies like Jamaica's, need to start recalibrating their international trade strategies.

Firms must make their operating systems more flexible to respond to changes in regulation and policies that affect the movement of labour and capital. Similarly, citizens will have to invest in themselves to become more competitive in order to function effectively in a new paradigm. These are some of the issues that we will have to contend with in this new dispensation of May-Trump leadership on the world stage.

It should not be lost on us that the last time we saw this transatlantic partnership, where a conservative female prime minister led the United Kingdom and a male Republican led the United States, we got neo-liberalism in its most unbridled form. Three decades on, we have a similar situation, but under different environment conditions.

The mandate is country first, the world next. Will the mandate given to these two leaders lead to new thinking on neo-liberalism/globalisation? While we await the outcomes, we have to position our economic systems, firms, and industries to take advantage of what is to come.

- Densil A. Williams is professor of international business and pro vice-chancellor of planning at the UWI. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.