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Patriotism in the age of globalisation

Dec 27,2015 - Last updated at Dec 27,2015

The new fault line in politics, according to Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front, is be-tween globalists and patriots. It is an argument similar to those being made by eurosceptics in the United Kingdom and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in the United States. It is, however, as false as it is dangerous.

Judging by the results of the second and final round of France’s regional elections on December 13, it is also an argument that French voters, at least, roundly rejected. They cast 73 per cent of their ballots for the National Front’s rivals, depriving the party of even a single victory. Le Pen accused the main-stream parties of ganging up on her, describing their cooperation as a denial of democracy.

Her argument is, of course, a classic example of sour grapes; the entire point of a two-round voting system is to force parties and their supporters to seek a consensus and form partner-ships. Unless and until the National Front finds a way to win allies, it will not achieve an electoral breakthrough. (The same is likely to prove true about Trump.) That is not to say that Le Pen’s claim — that those who vote for her party are the only true patriots — should be casually dis-missed.

She has homed in on a powerful message, one with the potential to attract supporters from other parties. That is why it must be rebutted, both in France and elsewhere. The assumption underlying such nationalist bombast — that a country’s interests are better served by being closed rather than open — is extremely dangerous. The belief that openness is treason and closure is patriotic is a rejection of the entire post- 1945 framework of politics and policy in the developed world.

It is an attempt to turn back the clock to the interwar period, when the focus was on closing off: imposing onerous trade restrictions and persecuting or expelling minority groups. This was true even in the United States, which enacted the most restrictive immigration laws since the country’s founding.

The post-war years marked a complete change of direction, as countries opened up, allowing freer flows of trade, capital, ideas and people. This process became known as globalisation only after China and India joined in during the 1980s, but it had started long before.

It was globalisation, after all, that created what in France be-came known as Les Trente Glorieuses — the 30 glorious years of rapidly rising living standards following the end of World War II. Le Pen and her fellow populists claim that globalisation was either an act of foolish generosity that helped the rest of the world at the expense of the nation, or a phenomenon that benefited only the elites and not ordinary people.

For them, patriotism means being harder-headed about protecting the national interest and adopting more democratic policies that help the working masses, not jet-setting fat cats. The second part of this argument — that the interests of ordinary people have been sub-ordinated to those of the elite — must be heard and responded to.A democracy in which a majority feels neglected or exploited is not sustainable. Either the government or the entire sys-tem will be overturned.

Elected officials clearly need to find answers to high unemployment and declining living standards. What mainstream parties need to be make clear, however, is that the answers to those problems do not lie in closing borders or minds.

There is no example, any-where in history, of a society or an economy that has prospered over the long term by rejecting globalism. Moreover, though openness may not guarantee prosperity, it has always been a prerequisite for growth. To be sure, the optimal amount of openness is a matter of debate.

But the bigger, more productive arguments are about how to shape education, labour markets, scientific research and social-welfare policies in order to help societies adapt to the world around them. The patriotic choice — the national interest — has always consisted in crafting domestic policies that best take advantage of globalisation.

For mainstream parties in France, the Conservatives in the UK, and Trump’s more internationally minded Republican rivals in the US, there is nothing to be gained from copying the arguments of their extremist counterparts.

Doing so would yield crucial ground in the political battle over how best to serve the country and its people. Mainstream parties must re-claim the mantle of patriotism and redefine the national interest accordingly. In today’s world, the national interest lies in managing open-ness — not in throwing it away.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Economist. ©Project Syndicate, 2015.

116 users have voted.


I read this article with much pleasure, for its simple and convincing delivery of a fundamental truth of scientific economics regarding the potential for economic gains and the greater strength of economic development for nations engaged in international trade, based on their comparative advantage and efficiency in producing economic goods and services to satisfy effective demand in the larger and bigger global market in which opportunities are greater, but where competition is also more intense.

For poor nations, like Haiti for example, this lesson needs to be learned that freer trade will lead them to develop the domestic economic competitiveness they need to replace pricey imports, as well as the international competitiveness required to sell more and better goods at lower prices.

Because patriotism will seek to maximize the human development of a nation's population, poor countries stand to benefit considerably more than they can be hurt by their competitive presence in global markets.

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