Explaining the impact of globalization on the societies which gave the planet the Industrial Revolution and mature capitalism is the mission of the first third of British journalist Edward Luce's The Retreat of Western Liberalism. The Washington correspondent of the Financial Times, Luce believes the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., and passage of Brexit in his country, demonstrate that Western democracy may have played out its string. Here's the chart that purports to show why:
For most of the planet's people, life has been getting better for a couple of decades. We should be happy about that; a world where a few enjoy outrageous wealth while masses starve is repugnant. And most people in the U.S. do live unimaginably more comfortably than our grandparents. But our prospects are no longer on an upward trajectory. The losers from globalization are the people who have been the foundation of liberal democracies in the U.S. and Western Europe.
Given the trajectory of the world we live in, that's a dire conclusion. And, as a good Financial Times correspondent, Luce doesn't even address the possibility that economic growth, that engine of relative social peace and heightened well-being for most humans, may be an existential threat to the sustainability of most contemporary life forms on our fragile planet, causing climate change and ecological collapse.
Luce brings historical imagination to our times and the result is not encouraging.
This lucid little book can be read, and understood, in about three hours. It is bracing -- an ice water bath, if you care about democracy and our troubled world. Yet even this determined "realist" can imagine unexpected sources of hope. Before being employed in Washington, he was for several years a correspondent in India. He is convinced, as everyone more observant than Donald Trump must be, that the center of international gravity -- economic and political power -- is shifting to Asia. And much to his surprise, he sees a "natural experiment" taking place on that continent. From personal observation, he is pretty sure that India, though currently lagging China, points to a more encouraging future vision:
Perhaps both the English language and democracy have their future in the sub-continent. So much for the raj indeed. History is funny that way.