Image by Freepik
First there was Brexit. Then there was Trump. Then there was the rise of the far right across the globe, from America to India to China to Russia to even Italy, Sweden, Finland. And now we’re watching the world burn and doing, well, far too little to stop it.
The old world just died. Did you notice? Most of us, while we might feel uneasy, haven’t. So let me explain what I mean when I say the old world died — and then we’ll discuss how to build a better one, in hard, sharp, concrete terms.
The old world was the post World War II system, often just called Bretton Woods. It’s been dying for a long time. The US began breaking it in 1971, in fact, not coincidentally the precise date of the end of segregation. That system was forged on three pillars, international trade, capital liberalization (aka money being able to moved around), and open borders (at least for some). But that system didn’t work out. It produced too much inequality, too much debt, too much paper gain, and therefore, too little real benefit for the average person — just like during the 1930s. Only this time, it wasn’t countries like Germany that ended up indebted and broke and suffering and enraged — it was people across societies, to a new, borderless global class of super-rich.
Hence, today, the greatest problem in the world is that incomes are stagnant everywhere. Yup, everywhere. People saying: this system isn’t working. We want a better one — or else we’d rather just tear it all down. Stagnation predicts right-wing swings. The harder the stagnation bites, the harder the swing. And this degree of stagnation is producing more and fiercer extremism — larger and larger groups of people saying no system, only tribalism, is better than this one.
And so all the above began to happen. People are turning far right. But why are they turning far right? The old social contract isn’t working.That contract wasn’t quite the same, of course, in all these places. And yet it was precisely the same, in one key way: it was designed to maximize GDP. But the price was that it didn’t create enough eudaimonia: life well lived. People’s lives began to feel stuck. Their human possibility withered, even while economies grew.