During 1970s, the neoliberal project was born. Neoliberalism generally refers to a mix of policies emphasizing a greater role for the market in the allocation of resources and the broader integration of the world (market) economy. In simple terms, this was the anti-thesis to Communism. Whilst globalization is a phenomenon in its own right, it was facilitated by neoliberalism. Globalization and neoliberalism moved hand in hand and importantly contributed to the spread of liberal values worldwide. Millennials have learned to take those values for granted. However, the lowering of economic, social, and political barriers, along with the universalisation of pluralistic aspirations, are recent phenomena.
With the United States at its axis (and the United Kingdom acting as a spin-acceleration partner), the neoliberal revolution reached its zenith around the turn of the century. With their multinational corporations and their products and services reaching all the world’s corners, the Anglo-American man seized a great deal of the windfalls engendered by neoliberal reform. To strengthen the shift, robust sets of rules were created by international organizations for all countries to follow. Often at the top of these organizations and masterfully sailing the globalization and neoliberal waves, the Anglo-American man was at the helm and indeed happy.
But then something good and somehow unexpected happened: the field started to level.
Despite the past recession, which decimated many economies and ruined many lives, it is irrefutable that in the long road since the 1970s the spread of liberal values has importantly contributed to greater prosperity throughout the world, not just the Western world. Data from the IMF and OECD confirm that up to the beginning of the 21st century advanced economies, notably the U.S. and the richest European nations, were the main contributors to global growth. Since 2000, however, it is emerging and developing economies (including all OECD economies such as Brazil, Mexico, and South Korea) that have been the main contributors to global economic growth. Indeed, China is now the second largest economy and surpasses the U.S. in many important spheres of economic activity. These are the economies that helped to keep the global economy afloat during the worst parts of the recession, which was largely a consequence of the reckless behaviour of brokers operating from Wall Street and the City of London.
The election of Donald Trump as the 45th American President and Brexit appear to be two sides of the same coin. A demographic analysis of the vote behind Trump in the U.S. and Brexit in the UK shows some striking parallels: a noticeable proportion of the voters were white and middle aged or elderly. (U.S. Trump: about 44% of 40-64, 49% of 65+ | Brexit: about 56% of 45-54, 57% of 55-64, 61% of 65+). Home owners, with savings and pensions, and soon to or retired already, they are the people whose careers and fortunes matured during the period the West was seizing most of the windfalls generated by the expansion of free and multinational trade. Ironically, they are among the people who have found it more challenging to adjust to the fast changing, technologically-driven, and multicultural twenty-first century world they largely contributed to create for all. Now, they approach other people attaining the same or more benefits than themselves with suspicion. They are not happy and have become a markedly anachronistic and antagonistic new species: Anglo-American Homo Iratus.
The Anglo-American Homo Iratus has developed a ‘new narrative’: he thinks it is possible to reverse globalisation and resurrect the 20th century in the process (i.e. the American Century). Hence, Donald Trump proclaimed in his inauguration speech his dystopian and xenophobic belief that “The wealth of our middle class had been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world.” Likewise, the accidental UK Prime Minister Theresa May fancies the idea of the UK surpassing the standing it has achieved as a leading EU economy outside the EU, where their main trading partners are. In Ken Clarke’s unique prose:
“Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and you emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries around the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we had never been able to achieve as part of the European Union. Nice men like President Trump…are just impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access.”
Basically, the Anglo-American Homo Iratus fantasizes about the re-engineering of global trade rules in a manner they can continue extracting more benefits from the world economy than newcomers and emerging giants, and the rest of the world broadly. The U.S. remains the richest and most powerful nation in the planet. Yet, the message Trump’s America has sent to the world is that the number one position is no longer good enough and they want more. Likewise, Brexit England (yes we are excluding here the pro-EU Scottish and Irish nations who did not vote for Brexit) has come to believe that its position at the center of the global financial system and the EU was never good enough and they want more. It is delusional, but there is also a generational rift at play here.
Many people have approached the Brexit and Trump phenomena as new strands or populism. However, this approach is a little simplistic. Developing nations, notably in Latin America, have dealt with the same problem for decades before 2016. This is more about the Anglo-American Homo Iratus, by historical accident or chance, finding a common cause (their new narrative) and succeeding in electing their kind. While the American and British standing as leading liberal nations has been irreversibly eroded, it belongs to younger generations to find a common voice and a way to heal the damage and fix the rift caused by their angry progenitors. Young people please take personal responsibility and pride and go out and vote en masse and elect people who can actually understand your world and lead you, with hope and inspiration instead of anger!