Ian Bremmer’s Us vs. Them: The failure of globalism (Portfolio Penguin, 2018)
“The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”
– William Gibson
It would seem that the liberal world order is in crisis as elections across the globe are being swarmed by populist uprisings and nationalist rhetoric. With sweeping anti-immigration sentiment and calls to close borders, we find ourselves in a time and place where confidence in the future has reached new lows and walls are being built to new heights.
In Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism, Ian Bremmer presents a stark image of world affairs today as he attempts to explore the causes of retrenchment and its potential impacts. Over the course of 198 pages, he delivers a wake-up call, highlighting the anger and frustration of those members of society left behind.
The premise is simple: In the decades leading to Trump’s inauguration, developing countries experienced rapid economic growth, in part brought on by market liberalization, easy credit, and high commodity prices. Champions of globalization promised a future of economic prosperity, a future of greater class mobility and access to the American dream. All in exchange for breaking down more barriers.
Today, many citizens now believe that globalization works to the benefit of the favoured few, not them, and according to Bremmer, they have point. Globalism has led to just as many winners as there are losers. The cross-border flow of capital, information, people, and goods has created a far more interdependent world; a world where more than a billion persons have risen out of poverty as a result.
This system has come with serious vulnerabilities: it has led to a world where many people find themselves losing their sense of security and standard of living. Automation, technology, and job displacement have left numerous families behind. Without adequate social security or education adapted to changing circumstances, they will not be able to catch up. This feeling is well encapsulated by Bannon’s statement to the Hollywood Reporter following Trump’s election: “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get fucked over.”
Those left behind are witnessing their world change and move on without them. Their skills rendered obsolete by automation and outsourcing. Business leaders and political figures have so far failed to acknowledge this growing divide. This is not solely a matter of partisanship, many of these people have serious grievances and find themselves threatened, whether that threat is real or perceived. The building of walls makes for good politics but the solution will not be found in a closing off from the world but in a reconsideration of the social contract between government, the markets, and citizens. To emerge from this crisis, governments will have to revisit their role and the very way in which they provide public goods.
Readers will benefit from Us vs. Them‘s general review of the forces that are changing our world, and the widening divides that are casting us apart. Overall, it is a very accessible book written in an approachable manner. Its breadth of content prevents a deep analysis of the cases presented and its argument is not fully explored. It could be considered a general recap of contemporary geopolitical issues and avoids exploring the proposed solutions in detail.
If there is a message to be taken away from Us vs. Them, it is that we cannot let ourselves believe that the populist uprising against globalism has peaked. Key questions to some of our most pervasive social problems remain unanswered, and so long as this is the case, disruption will continue to cause tension and afflict nations in their search for answers. Whether these answers will be innovative or repressive, and, who will emerge as the winners or losers, only time will tell.
Jason Poirier Lavoie is a director at the Canadian Centre for Strategic Studies. A former Master Corporal with the Royal Canadian Military Engineers, Jason presently works for Aviation Strategies International, a strategy consulting firm that provides advisory services to the aerospace industry. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (Hons.) with distinction in Political Science from Concordia University and a diploma of aircraft maintenance from the École Nationale d’Aerotechnique. Jason is currently undertaking a Bachelor of Laws at the Université de Montréal.