On Globalization, Trump and Brexit


I grew up in Communist Calcutta, a city of load-shedding black and  Jyoti Basu’s dhoti white.  If there was a category level 5 bad word above bokachoda and chudir bai champakali, it was the word globalization, the hooked talon of the imperialist, or so the Red brothers said, one that they would bury into the chests of our workers and peasants of the Third World and proceed to spill out their entrails.

A few people, among them my father, then a professor of Economics at IIM Calcutta, had argued the other way, that it was the West would be disrupted most by globalization and the so-called Third World would stand to benefit at their expense.

Fast forward decades and it is the imperialists and the free-marketers that are hunkering down in their bomb shelters to contain the radioactive fallout of globalization, with Uncle Sam, the standard-bearer of democracy and cut-throat capitalism, now flirting with fascism and socialism, and Union Jack, the people who brought to you imperialism in the modern world, voting to throw off the foreign yoke and gain “independence”.

As usual, Baba, you were right.

Strange things have happened this year, the political equivalent of the worlds coasts being submerged by rising sea-water. A once-New York-liberal, with as many bankruptcies as East-European wives, whose knowledge of the Bible is as as extensive as his knowledge of the theory of relativity, who a year ago was known simply as a reality show trainwreck of the KRK type, has become the putative nominee of a party with a strong traditional Christian base. And it was not a tired dragging over the finish line, Trump has obliterated the opposition, a roster that was one of the strongest assembled in decades, reducing to smoldering embers the political careers of at least three men, who would have been the nominee any other year.

The scion of America’s most powerful political family whose war-chest was known to be infinite. Low-energy Jeb.

The man considered to be the future face of the party. Sweaty Marco Rubio.

And the darling of the base, whose Christian zeal even the Crusaders of the middle ages would find excessive. Lying Ted Cruz.

On the other side of the fence, an almost-unknown, save outside the circle of C-SPAN and nightly talk shows, who has for decades been a socialist, a political strain of thought, that in America has been as popular as Bajrang Dal would be for the royal family of Saudi Arabia, has come awfully close to derailing a presidential campaign that had been decades in the designing.

And in Britain, in a shock referendum, the country has voted to leave Europe, a possibility that till a few days ago had been dismissed as alarmist.

There is a common driver for all this, and it’s not the man who was driving Salman Khan’s car.

It’s the free flow of goods, services and people. It’s globalization. And its economic and political fallout.


On my side of the Atlantic, both Trump and Sanders have tapped into wrath of the post-globalization American, angry that the American Dream, the imaginary compact the greatest nation in the world had with its citizens, wherein if you worked eight hours a day, even as a high school dropout, you could buy a house, have two cars, rear three kids and play baseball on the weekends, is but phantom memory from the 50s and 60s, found only in black and white faded photos, torn pages of Archies comics and in insomniac dreams of Florida pensioners.

In 2016, Americans are working longer hours, often multiple jobs, for less pay and less security,  once-prosperous metropolises like Detroit resemble post-apocalyptic zombiescapes, and “Third World problems” like the lack of clean water plague cities like Flint.

And that’s not the saddest part. It’s that Americans believe that the American dream will be restored once they put the right person in charge, that all it needs for the jobs to come back to America from Mexico and China is a leader with the right intentions.

When people want to believe something with all their heart, history tells us that there will always be a professional con-artist coming in to scam them. And if there is one thing Trump is damn good at, it’s conning people. To be honest to Donald Trump, he is not the only politician peddling snake oil, after all who has the guts to tell the people that this is the new normal, that things are likely to get even worse rather than better.

What however makes him unique and also supremely successful is that the “make America great” again lacks even a cursory attempt of being nuanced, reflecting as it does the wisdom of the mob, raw and xenophobic and hateful and unapologetically so.

Bomb the hell out of the world, kick out all Mexicans, block all Muslims from entering the country, kill the families of terrorists, conquer the Middle East and grab their oil, and force Mexico and China to pay back for what its taken from us. Simple.

Con artists, from palm-readers to penis-length-enhancers, know the trick. Your mark already has a solution in mind. So just say what they want to hear. When a man comes to the astrologer he is expecting a ring. When a woman comes surfing to a dietary supplement webpage, she is looking for a magic pill.  Wear the ring and your business will get better. Rub this oil and you become Ron Jeremy. Two spoons of acai berry and you get the body of Hale Berry. Vote to get out of EU and, bingo, NHS gets fixed and before you can say “Bob’s your uncle” you have Pax Brittanica.

Simple solutions to problems that have none.

Bernie Sanders too treads a somewhat similar path to Trump, but because his crowd, young college-educated white men and women is different from that of Trump’s, his breast-enhancing cream has a different formulation. Take the stuff away from those who have benefited from globalization and hand it out to those who have not. Or as he calls it “paying the fair share”. So his prescription is free health care, free college, free this and free that. He knows that the way the American system is structured, Hell will freeze over before the Congress will ever allow even a very diluted version of what he proposes to pass, but like Trump supporters, Bernie’s don’t really care for the fine print, as long as they find their own personal solution reflected in their hero’s words.

The battle in US politics today is no longer between Republican and Democrat, but between those who want to destroy the globalized system and those who want to preserve it. By putting Hillary into the ring, the Democrats seem to have put themselves on the wrong side of history. fielding a candidate who is, by her past record, Ms. Globalization herself. While a Bernie vs Trump matchup would have been a knockout for Trump, with Hillary, his numbers are more even (recent polls show him tying with Hillary in swing-states of Pennsylvania and Ohio)  and with the threat of Bernie’s angry fans moving over to the other angry man in the contest, the possibility of a Trumpolypse looms large.

The relationship of the individual with globalization is complicated. On one hand, all benefit from it, cheap Walmart goods and Burger King dollar menus. And then, they are victims too, of having to train their replacements and of having to vacate their cubicles for “foreigners” or having to see their jobs being shipped off to other countries. It is only human to be drawn to simplistic solutions like Brexit and Trump, and to hold people responsible for one’s problems rather than amorphous economic systems. While many of their supporters are undoubtedly racist and xenophobic at their core, to color all those behind Trump and Brexit with the same dark brush is not only an intellectually illiberal stance, just like tagging all Muslims as potential terrorists, but also a strategically bad one, because it only ends up making people scared to express their opinions on globalization and immigration lest they be tagged racist, and scaring people into silence pretty much leads them to cling on to the person not vilifying them. In this case Flaming Orange Hair.

If there is anything good that may come out of Brexit is that people outside the UK will understand what happens when you vote from your heart, and not from your head. The devil is in the fine print, from iTunes Terms and Conditions to the implications of leaving the European Union. As vast sections of those who voted for leaving EU now start understanding the economic damage they have wrought, for that second of joy at having given those “bloody immigrants a black eye” (and this includes a large number of recent immigrants too),  they are getting the sensation of being handed the bill the day after a night full of mayhem in the hotel room.

Voting for Trump because “I hate Hillary because she stands for the people who took my job” is somewhat like that.

You may break Hillary’s heart for sure.

But she will still have her Goldman Sachs millions.

And globalization, well, it’s not stopping any time soon.

You however will be left with the shitty life you have. And you will have Trump.

Good luck.







21 thoughts on “On Globalization, Trump and Brexit

  1. Apple Gift Card redeemable from India

  2. The followers of Brexit arent the same as followers of Trump who are probably charmed by his lies.All these are happenings in western countries are not only due to globalization but the broader mass are greatly disillusioned with the lying politicians be it left,right & center and also with he greedy corporates who are stealing their wealth.The politicians in every countries are nowadays wearing masks maybe their shades are different.Isnt Modi doing the same thing in India?But sadly some are also charmed by him just like the followers of Trump.

  3. Misery loves company!

    The issue is not globalization but the unfair distribution of the benefits of globalization. Time and again it’s been proven through psychological experiments that humans favor fairness more than individual benefits and voters are after all… Humans.

    The vote for Brexit or Trump is a vote against corporate rule or as I call it corpocracy, not unlike the fair democratic elections in any controlled state like N. Korea, Iran etc. the elections in these states are controlled by corporations.

    And in any war their is always a high cost and remorse but that does not necessarily make the fight wrong.

  4. HI Arnab, Thanks. I understood Financial Crisis of 2008 via your blog and now again Trump Factor. Sitting on the fence, it seems on Brexit perhaps immigration rather than globalization was a bigger factor. You did not give any explanation your conclusion: And globalization, well, it’s not stopping any time soon….Why/How ? With this anti globalization sentiment in west ?

    1. Immigration is a part of globalization. As I had movement of goods and people, for often the same reasons.

      1. Arnab Immigration is good not unrealistic immigration taking place in Europe at this moment.None will tolerate that.It is just a vote bank policies of left liberals.For example Germany took 1 million refugees in recent year that is more than 10% of their own population.It is bound to affect their own population in a reverse way.

  5. Nice read 🙂 !

  6. @Kaushik Das: Germany has a population of over 80 million, so taking in 1 million is nowhere near 10% of their population.

    1. @Fergie Sorry I meant to say more than 1% of the population.Taking more than 1.25% of its native population within a short time period will also have averse effect in the long run

  7. There is a withdrawal from the political process in terms of trying to understanding policies and thinking it through. In the age of social media with shortened attention spans, nobody wants to think it through but just gobble up the media sound bites. In case of Brexit it seems even the leaders had not thought it through – maybe they never thought it would come to pass. And if Cameron had thought through the way a referendum works vis-a-vis a normal election – he wouldn’t have gone down that path either! .

    Politics has it is being conducted is no longer working – we need a new way of doing things. Maybe the Swiss way of having referendums for every policy change?

  8. Dhoorendhar Bhatavadekar June 28, 2016 — 3:42 pm

    With due respect, while Trump does say in effect ” kick out all Mexicans, block all Muslims from entering the country, kill the families of terrorists, and force Mexico and China to pay back for what its taken from us”, he is opposed to from “Bomb the hell out of the world, and conquer the Middle East and grab their oil”.

    He seems to have greater sympathy with the “isolationist” strain of the right. It is Hillary whose sympathies, record ( pro-Iraq invasion, interventions in Libya and Ukraine), and policies (backed by neo-cons) align more with the “muscular interventionist” strain of American thought.

    1. An isolationist who wants to attack ISIS in Syria and replace “chaos with peace” ( his words). Yeah sure.

  9. Dhoorendhar Bhatavadekar June 28, 2016 — 9:00 pm

    Well, discounting the bombast, Trump certainly seems more sympathetic to the isolationist sentiment than Hillary.

    Unlike the present administration that seems to be more interested in toppling Assad than in getting rid of ISIS and playing geo-politics with Russia through color revolutions, Trump seems to have no problem with letting Assad run Syria, or Putin having a major influence in his “near abroad”.

    In pursuing its objective of getting rid of Assad, the current administration has tacitly allowed the growth of Al-Nusra and ISIS by supplying weapons to “moderate rebels” who fold over and give their arms to these hardline groups. There is also the fact that the US chose not to target ISIS oil supply (their financing lifeblood) due to “environmental concerns” [See the video here: http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2015/11/former-cia-director-obama-didnt-bomb-isis-oil-because-of-environmental-impact-video/%5D.

    So yes, the policies of the current administration is contributing to the chaos in Syria, and Hillary is likely (almost guaranteed) to continue with the same. And if Trump gives up on geo-political goals in Syria and the larger middle east and attacks ISIS along with Putin and Assad (or at the very least stops supplying arms to the near mythical “moderate rebels”, and gives a free hand to Putin and Assad to mount an offensive on ISIS), it would indeed replace chaos with peace.

  10. Last_Targaryen June 29, 2016 — 4:44 pm

    After a long time an erudite essay from the mind of a computer scientist who finds algorithm in chaos. Reminds me of you explaining financial crisis and MBS back in 2009-10. KUDOS.

  11. Very well summarized, Arnab.

    These articles (this and your explanation of the financial crisis) are so useful to a layman like me. I wish you could write columns regularly in newspapers. Would greatly benefit the readers.

  12. “As vast sections of those who voted for leaving EU now start understanding the economic damage they have wrought,”

    The jury is out on the economic damage part..

  13. Just cannot understand what is happening with US election. Hillary seems like known status quo but sounds very fake, Trump is an unknown quantity altogether, wish it was as simple as choosing between congress and BJP. Globalization in US is irreversible, nobody will want to pay 5 times the current prices of goods in Walmat and Target. Same goes for IT and other services that are offshored.

    This is the best part and a life lesson for everyone –

    “…. after all who has the guts to tell the people that this is the new normal, that things are likely to get even worse rather than better.”

  14. Interesting piece. I think the problem also lies with the sense of weariness that the American voters have for the politicians of today, who take millions from corporations and do their bidding, while pretending to represent the public. Hillary has hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funding (if one includes the SuperPACs that support her), which makes all her current populist policy positions suspect. Sure, Bernie’s proposals sounded fanciful, and were highly impractical, but at least he gave the appearance of an unconventional politician who raised money from the public 27 dollars at a time, instead of selling out to corporations. This was an important aspect of the Bernie appeal that should not be ignored. Even Trump benefited from this in the primaries, when he repeatedly pointed out how Jeb was receiving millions of dollars from corporations, while he himself was steadfastly refusing to take any money from rich donors.

    Hillary is the “business as usual” politician, and as such, it is no surprise that she is hated as much as she is (she is the democratic nominee with the highest unfavorables in the history of presidential politics in the US). You are right about the fact that what Bernie was offering was undoubtedly completely unlikely to pass through Congress, but with Bernie, at least there was some hope of campaign finance reform – even a watered down version would be vastly better than what exists today. With Hillary, we are looking at four or eight more years of the same. I think that the Americans have been left to choose between two pretty poor choices in this election cycle.

  15. >> As vast sections of those who voted for leaving EU now start understanding the economic damage they have wrought,

    Dude, you are completely in the denial. Brexit has no negative impact yet, the FTSE 100 is going great. Any short term blip in the economy (if there) will be recovered in long run.

    Brexit has shown the world that Brits are not driven by economic fear mongering and can still show the world how to thrive without being in the EU.

    In similar fashion, Trump is popular because he is telling the truth rather than trying to be politically correct.

  16. Hope that Prof.is doing good?

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