Infuriating

Bill Emmott (pic Justine Stoddart)

The farewell article by Bill Emmott, outgoing editor of the Economist, is the usual mixture of insight and infuriation. You can read it here.

The insight lies in his welcome for globalisation and the wealth and jobs it brings with it. Enabling companies to trade with each other as easily in foreign countries as in their own liberates a lot of creative potential that would otherwise be frittered away in regulation and bureaucracy.

He is also clear on the threat of economic nationalism as a result. The rich people in the rich countries are getting richer still: the poor people in the rich countries are not. The jobs of the latter are more easily exported to emerging economies, where wages are lower, than are the jobs of the former. Unsurprisingly, those who are affected the most are the ones voicing the most concern.

If his take on globalisation is a good one, his take on Iraq is surely the opposite. The problem, he says, is that the invasion and occupation was not done thoroughly enough, not that it was done at all. More soldiers should have been sent, more money should have been spent, more patience should be shown. If there had indeed been such an invasion, swiftly removing Saddam Hussein, rapidly suppressing the insurgency, quickly reinstating public services, and promptly establishing democratic government, then many people would look at the occupation differently. However, the Americans and their few allies would never have been able to have fought the war in this way: they lacked the capacity on their own and their cavalier attitude towards their possible allies meant that they were unable to recruit more. The war that Bill Emmott thinks should have been fought, could not have been fought. Instead, we got something different and much, much worse.

And this is what is so infuriating. The point is not just “what” but “how”. He calls for “a firm acknowledgment by politicians everywhere that the case for international engagement and openness needs to be made continually”. But what matters is not just “international engagement and openness” but also the manner in which it is conducted.

It will only work if it is based on multilateral institutions and the rule of law, with the clear ambition of adopting democratic procedures and practices in those institutions themselves. Economic globalisation without its political equivalent will be unpopular – the point about growing inequality and economic nationalism has already been made – and, perhaps more pertinently, will not last.

The notion of “globalisation good, protectionism bad” has an attractive simplicity, but it can cause as many problems as it solves.

About the Author