My Weekly Reader 9 March 2017.

In the bad old days,[1] individual nation-states pursued the welfare of their citizens—political, economic, psychic—through nationalism, protectionism, and war.  The “Devil’s Decades” from 1914 to 1945 thoroughly discredited this approach.  In place of this disgraced “realist” world-view arose two rival systems.  The Soviet model of centrally-planned economies and Big Brother-little brother domination of surrounding countries came to dominate one half of the world.  The Western model of a market economy based on borders open to the flows of capital and people, and regulated by rules and laws came to dominate the other half of the world.  Both systems seemed to depend on international political stability.  Thus, “The “Cold War” was, as John Lewis Gaddis put it, “The Long Peace.”  However, the Soviet model also rested upon a set of beliefs about human beings that were completely false.[2]  Since 1990, former followers of the Soviet model have been in flight toward the Western model.  Intellectuals declared “the end of history” since all the ideological rivals to the Western model had been defeated.

The financial crisis of 2008-2009 and the adjustment problems of the Eurozone posed huge problems of economic management for experts and politicians.  However, they hardly dented the belief in the one best way.  Hence, it is fascinating to encounter a restatement of the Western model[3] made just before the Brexit referendum, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, and the arrival of Marine Le Pen as a sort of Snow White to a host of populist dwarf parties.

Michael Mandelbaum understands the substance of international relations and domestic politics almost entirely in material terms.  A stable international order has allowed governments to focus on the promotion of economic growth and the distribution of its benefits.  (Indeed, the pacification of international relations and the de-legitimization of most ideologies have left them nothing else to pursue.)  Mandelbaum carefully explains the main components of the system.  He considers the changes that may be necessary to respond to the rise of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) economies.  He calmly contemplates the teeter-totter shift in power as the United States experiences a relative decline and other countries develop economically.

Two points are worth noting.  First, Mandelbaum says little about the impact of the disruptive changes in the old industrial countries brought by globalization.  The adjustment costs of globalization have chiefly been born by common people in sectors of the economy swept by the winds of change.  Currently, Western populism is being fueled by the anger of these people at the elites who have promoted globalization without devising any adequate devices for helping the losers.  Attention-grabbing though these movements have been, what will happen if the Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian people disrupted by globalization launch their own populist movements?  At least the Western countries have political systems designed—however grumpily and disdainfully—to accommodate grievances.

Second, writing in 2014, Mandelbaum foresaw that “it is reasonable to expect that the United States will do less global policing in the future than it has in the past….making the world a politically and militarily more turbulent place.”  Donald Trump may make this long-term trend worse, but he didn’t cause it.

[1] Admittedly, days beloved by history students.

[2] As one fictional character remarked, “All you had to do was keep them penned in and wait for the food riots to start.”  See William Gibson, Pattern Recognition.

[3] Michael Mandelbaum, The Road to Global Prosperity (2014).  See Tod Lindberg, “An Elite Guide to Globalization,” WSJ, 3 April 2014, p. A15.

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