Fearful Elites Shield Globalization From Democracy

Fearful Elites Shield Globalization From Democracy
A special police officer is seen on the roof of the Congress hotel during a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos on May 24, 2022. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
Thomas McArdle

Are ordinary people served or threatened by globalization? The term itself, of course, means different things depending on who is using it. But the form of globalization that has provoked populist-oriented passions in both hemispheres in recent years has at its heart the determination to suppress people’s exercise of the powers of representative government.

If, in the age of the cell phone, globalization meant being able to call New York from London, or receive calls there, without either having to buy a new SIM card with a different phone number or pay extra fees, no one would object. Or if it meant driving on the same side of the road everywhere, or electric connections in the wall not having twice the voltage and taking a different number of plug prongs, thereby making your curling iron and electric shaver incompatible without an adapter.

But the globalization that governmental and corporate elites are so keen to protect and preserve from the ire of voters hasn’t given travelers and consumers any of that kind of globalized convenience; their globalization is all about accepting the inconveniences and restrictions your betters have concluded to be good for you. And when faced with economic crises that affect the man in the street, the woman in the home, and the child in the school, that variety of globalization comes under severe threat politically—unless the globalist aristocrats can smother democratic dissent on some kind of permanent basis.

Americans love saving money buying cheap goods made in China, “made in China” constituting a synonym for globalization in the minds of many. But they wouldn’t have bought cheap goods during World War II manufactured by our then-enemy Japan. China seeks the demise of the free world every bit as much as Nazi Germany and imperial Japan did. Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s repeated call to make the “China Dream” a reality is a veiled commitment to military dominance and displacement of the United States as the lone superpower. Even back in the 1970s, communist China had the largest military in the world, with 4.5 million personnel; Xi has expanded the Chinese navy from 255 battle ships in 2015 to at least 355 today, and 420 planned by 2030.
So when we hear José Manuel Barroso, the former president of the European Commission and current chairman of Goldman Sachs International, lamenting on the eve of this week’s first post-COVID meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos of recent trends that he fears portend “a decoupling world,” what could he mean?

Barroso’s worries were extensive, as globalization contends with “friction from nationalism, protectionism, nativism, chauvinism if you wish, or even sometimes xenophobia, and for me it is not clear who is going to win.” He cited “tension between the US and China ... accelerated by the pandemic and now this invasion of Ukraine by Russia.” The mood seems to be distinctly along the lines of "if it weren’t for this confounded war, on the heels of this confounded pandemic, this super party of ours wouldn’t have been pooped."

That a figure like former Portuguese Prime Minister Barroso could end up occupying the upper echelons of the second-largest investment bank in the world, whose name is a byword for corporate capitalism, is reminiscent of John O. Brennan casting his vote for Communist Party USA head Gus Hall in the 1976 presidential election, and then, four years later, being given a job at the CIA—which knew of his Communist allegiance—before finally being appointed director of the CIA by President Barack Obama in 2013.

Soviet-style communism wasn’t pure enough for Barroso. At university, he was one of the leaders of the Maoist Portuguese Workers' Communist Party (at the time, a secret organization known as the Re-Organized Movement of the Proletariat Party). There is an embarrassing video of Barroso in 1976 bemoaning “the crisis of the bourgeois education system” which he called “anti-proletarian” and contending that “it throws students against workers and workers against students.” What would the young, Maoist Barroso have said if a TV interviewer had asked if he thought Goldman Sachs was anti-proletarian?
Barroso’s curious protectiveness of the land of Mao always seemed to manifest itself in the following years. In 2008 he was arguing that “China could and should have a greater voice in international financial institutions.” In 2014, Barroso was scolded in strong terms by Human Rights Watch for his reticence regarding China’s persecution of its own people.

“We deplore the fact you have not been specific in past public statements about human rights violations in China and thus failed to engage in a public dialogue with both the people of China and Europe,” wrote Lotte Leicht, the organization’s EU director, in a letter to Barroso while he was president of the European Commission on the eve of Xi Jinping’s visit to Brussels in March 2014.

“At a time where courageous Chinese activists, journalists, and lawyers are demanding government accountability and implementation of rights enshrined in both Chinese and international law, it is quite simply unacceptable for you as President of the Commission not to speak out as set out in the EU’s Strategic Framework.”

Quoting that formal commitment, Leicht pointed out that “the EU pledged to raise human rights issues ‘vigorously in all appropriate forms of bilateral dialogue, including at the highest level.’ We call on you to live up to this pledge and support those inside China struggling to ensure their human rights.”

“Democracy” is a word that passed through Barroso’s lips often during his EU years, but when in the summer of 2008, 53 percent of Irish voters opposed the Lisbon Treaty, Barroso bullied and bribed Ireland into submission, helping assure that a second referendum approved it the following year.
In 2012, Barroso called for intensified integration of the European Union member countries, a “federation of nation-states that can tackle our common problems, through the sharing of sovereignty in a way that each country is better equipped to control its own destiny.” Nigel Farage, the father of Brexit, described Barroso’s philosophy in 2012: “Whilst you think the nation-state should continue to exist, it mustn’t have any democratic powers. All democracy is to be vested [within the EU] under what you call ‘the community method,’ which of course means that your unelected commission has the sole right” to present legislation.

The litany of vices Barroso rattled off recently, led by “nationalism,” cannot be managed by a bureaucratic creature whose underlying purpose is to shrink nationality. No matter how much money the likes of Barroso can wield to buy compliance, no international body can keep the lid on the boiling pot of free, industrialized nations’ citizens’ anger at a level of inflation unseen by most in their lifetimes, the consequences of dovish Europeans practically inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine through the shortcomings of their energy and military stances, and years-long migration crises in Europe and the United States.

Only people running their own countries—nation states’ representative governments in action—carrying out the messy work of passing, changing, and repealing laws in a manner seen by the populace as legitimate, can let off the steam that will otherwise lead to an explosion.

At the end of the day, free countries can have as much or as little economic coupling as they want, bi-lateral or multi-lateral as the case may be. If it is good for them, convincing a country’s voters won’t be difficult. Depriving them of their democratic powers through institutions that claim to know their interests better than they do, like the EU, was never necessary—which is why the EU, as in the boiling of a frog, could only have grown to its current power through duplicity.
Thomas McArdle was a White House speechwriter for President George W. Bush and writes for IssuesInsights.com
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