Coppola: Globalization is on the Ballot

We cannot isolate ourselves through this upcoming election.

by Cristoforo Coppola | 11/3/16 12:15am

Historical elections will take place this month, not only in the United States. In France, Les Républicains will choose the candidate to represent them in the 2017 presidential election. Barring any surprises, this candidate will likely be the next French president, especially considering the catastrophic ratings of current President François Hollande of the French Socialist Party and the fact that Marine Le Penn of the National Front’s extremism makes it difficult for her to win a general election. In Italy, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has called for a constitutional referendum, which has been fiercely opposed by the Populist Party. The results of this referendum will decide the fate of his government. Since it is currently one of the few moderate and seemingly stable governments in Europe, a chaotic Italy, especially after the Brexit vote in Great Britain, could lead to increasing instability. And in the U.S. our presidential election is on Nov. 8.

These political face-offs all have something in common. Instead of a battle between the traditional left and right, these elections now pit internationalists against nationalists. Politicians who see in globalization the possibility to prosper while cooperating with other countries are competing against those who want to build walls and succumb to national interests.

Nowadays, internationalists are unpopular, and it seems much easier to criticize globalization than to praise it. After all, some may say, the trade deals are rubbish, immigrants are taking our jobs and the only way our lives will improve is if we take our country back.

I wonder if this narrative originated from the electorate that, suffering from economic unease and terrorist threats, projected its fears onto politicians. Or was it the other way around? Were the politicians the ones who, after noticing people’s anxieties, saw an opportunity to win elections by convincing people that they could solve all their woes through nationalist agendas?

Whatever the origin, it now seems en vogue for politicians in the Western world to jump on the anti-globalization bandwagon. Only a few months ago, Republican Party leaders talked about free trade as if they were describing one of the Ten Commandants. Yet now they openly criticize trade agreements. Within Les Républicains, the American Republicans’ French counterpart, we see the same phenomenon as party leaders become more aligned with the National Front, France’s far right-wing party.

It’s easy to construct a nationalist narrative as economic instability and terrorism seem to become increasingly prevalent. Yet condemning globalization as the source of all evil is dangerous rhetoric.

Globalization is not perfect, of course, but it is very undervalued. It has spurred prosperity and innovation, lifting nearly one billion people out of extreme poverty in the past 20 years. It has encouraged cultures to embrace each other and reduced conflicts by creating economic interdependence. In Europe, a continent that was once ravaged with centuries of near-constant warfare, globalization now constitutes the largest trading bloc in the world.

Most of us were born in a globalized world and thus take for granted the global political consensus against racism, businesses’ ability to collaborate with others around the world and our capacity to travel freely. These ideas have become pillars of our societies. But even pillars, if shaken by a large enough force, can fall.

Globalization is too beneficial to outright reject and too important to allow to fail. Yet there is always room for improvement. Instead of being reactionaries, political leaders should be visionaries. For instance, it’s cowardly to call the Trans-Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” and then disapprove of it once the tide turns, as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has done. Instead of complaining about job loss, we should find ways to reintegrate workers who have lost their jobs due to foreign competition or discuss how to fight global tax evasion. These initiatives require an increase in cooperation among countries, not a sharp decrease.

When we vote in November, we must remember to think of our election in the context of world politics. It is not wise to vote based on a candidate’s likability; we must vote based on what they represent. We are at a pivotal moment in history, and our choices will have global consequences beyond our generation and beyond. What sort of future do we want for ourselves and our children? Do we want one in which countries look inward and desperately try to protect their own interests by blackmailing each other, or do we want one in which we think less of ourselves as individual nation-states and more as nations united? It wouldn’t take much for the interconnected world we have helped to construct after World War II to crumble. The dismantlement of Europe and the election of Trump could have disastrous consequences on the ambitious internationalist project we started more than 70 years ago — a project that still has potential. Before you cast your vote, think of this election’s global consequences.