I have an epiphany (revised)

Yesterday I was reading the latest edition of the Economist entitled The great hollowing-out myth. Now for me the Economist has an almost mythic status. Back in the period 1966-1970 I wanted to be an economist, and to write for the Economist. Even after I fell prey to the siren song of the computer business, the Economist remained the weekly journal by which all other journals were judged. It wasn’t just the exquisite prose (though I still regard the written style of the Economist as something to which all writers should aspire); it was also the clarity of vision, of a future in which the muddles and distractions of the present might wither away.
Back to this week’s article. It was about the consequences of “offshoring”, the outsourcing of various kinds of jobs to India – a fairly common topic these days. As I read it, I felt sure that there was something missing. I finished it, and re-read it to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. I wasn’t. There was not a single reference to wages (or salaries, or income) of workers in the countries from which these jobs were being outsourced. “That’s odd,” I thought. “Surely a significant consequence of outsourcing is that workers on the margin – those whose jobs are candidates for outsourcing – will experience significant downward pressure on their wages. And that’s going to have political consequences. All very well to go on about the Theory of Comparative Advantage, and about how the overall economy will benefit, but I’ve never met anyone who cast a vote based on an economic theory rather than their own wages and employment.”
I was still puzzled. How could the Economist have overlooked such an important factor? And then I picked up the March edition of Harper’s and read the piece by John Ralson Saul entitled The End of Globalism. And I realized that (drum roll) the era of the Economist is over. (Now that’s an epiphany!)
John Ralston Saul’s thesis is that for the last 30 years technocratic leaders have assumed that economics trumps politics, that globalism trumps nationalism. This, it was asserted, was inevitable, and so of course it provided an excellent excuse for not actually trying to solve real problems – problems such as the decline in real wages, third world debt, and the impending collapse of welfare and educational systems. And for a few years, everybody bought in to the idea.
Eventually a few daring countries decided to act in their own best interests, rather than what the IMF or the World Bank prescribed. Amazingly, the world kept spinning. And as the bubble popped, and the Twin Towers came down, it became clear that it’s every nation state for itself. Saul suggests that with the responsibilities that this will bring, people and national leaders will find that they have real choices which will have real consequences. They are not impotent cogs in a globalist machine. It may not be pretty – some of the nationalistic movements seem to be throwbacks to the end of the 19th century – but it seems to be a fact.
As for my”epiphany”: the Economist represents the philosophy of the era of globalism. That’s why it seemed so exciting and forward-looking back in the late 1960s: it was a harbinger of a great change, a “New World Order” that lasted 30 years (which is about the lifetime of all such things). But today it appears increasingly myopic, unable to apply the incisive critical skills with which it dissected the pre-technocratic world to the present circumstances. Vision has become conventional wisdom, which has in turn become unquestionable ideology.
Anyway, please read these articles, and think about what they mean. As John Ralston Saul writes: History will eventually give all of these contradictory signals a shape. But history is neither for nor against. It just is. And there is no such thing as a prolonged vacuum in geopolitics. It is always filled. This is what happens every few decades. The world turns, shifts, takes a new tack, or retries an old one. Civilisation rushes around one of those blind corners filled with uncertainties.

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