One of the better summaries of the tense mood at this year’s Davos proceedings, where globalists from around the world are confronted with the new protectionist, populist reality that was unleashed in 2016, comes from the NYT which recounts a dinner conversation on Monday evening as the forum got underway, in which Ian Goldin, a professor of globalization and development at Oxford University, celebrated the connectedness of the global economy and the technological advancements that have liberated humans from disease, poverty and the drudgery of manual labor.
Here are some of the highlights of what he said:
“There’s never been a better time to be alive, and yet we feel so glum,” Mr. Goldin said. “So many people feel anxious. So many people feel that this is one of the most dangerous times.”
He denounced the frightened retreat from globalization manifest in Mr. Trump’s threats of a trade war with China, and in Britain’s abandonment of Europe, commonly known as Brexit.
“You can’t stop managing an entangled environment by disconnecting,” he said. “This is the fundamental mistake of Brexit, of Trump, and of so many others. We are not simply connected. We are entangled. Our lives, our destinies are intertwined. What happens in China, what happens in Indonesia, what happens in India, what happens across Europe, and what happens in North America, across Africa and Latin America will affect all of us in dramatic new ways. The idea that somehow we can forge our future in an insular way, even for the biggest countries like the U.S., is a fantasy.”
And yet, Mr. Goldin said, if the benefits of globalization are not spread more equitably, the world could be in for a replay of the Renaissance, an extraordinary period of scientific progress, commercial growth and artistic creativity in Europe that ultimately yielded popular resentment.
The gold leaf landing on cathedrals was not bettering the lot of the peasantry. The spices coming in from Asia were too expensive for most. The Medici family that ruled Florence was sent packing by the mob. Intellectuals were persecuted and books burned.
“We need to learn these historical lessons and realize that this is the most precious moment in human history,” Mr. Goldin said. “We need to make the choices to ensure that globalization is sustainable, that connectivity is sustainable, that we deal with the intractable problems that are worrying people.”
Perhaps a more apt analogy is the gilded age, which ended with mixed results for America’s captains of industry.
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