Ian Bremmer is one of America’s leading political consultants and the author of the 2018 bestseller Us Vs Them: The Failure of Globalism. Globalism, of course, doesn’t mean the same as Globalisation. So I began my conversation with Bremmer by asking him to distinguish between these two critical concepts.
So Ian Bremmer argues that there is a fundamental difference between globalization and globalism. Globalization, of which he approves, is the idea the open borders and free trade are good for the global economy. Globalism – which he says has failed - is the assumption that open borders and free trade are good for all our citizens. Rather benefitting everyone, he argues, globalism has resulted not only in historic levels of inequality, but also the US VERSUS THEM corrosion of democracy in the form of Brexit, the French Yellow Jackets and Trump. Globalism, he says, is transforming more and more of us into angry powerless Palestinian youth – rock throwing protestors who no longer believe in the system.
Rather than being good for all citizens, Bremmer says, Globalism has been very good for a new global aristocracy of financial, professional and technological elites who are rigging the political and educational system for their own benefit. Globalism thus represents the subversion of the American dream. Open borders and free trade are resulting in an increasingly closed society of less and less class mobility. The gatekeepers have turned into poachers.
And disruptive technology such as AI, Bremmer bleakly concludes, is – at least in the next five to ten years – only going to make more of us into Palestinians. That’s because an unregulated technological revolution will only compound the globalism’s winner-take-all culture.
So how do we fix this? The entire social contract needs to be rewritten, Bremmer says. But like so many other voices in this series, argues that regulating the consequences of globalism are only going to come through political leadership. And that’s much easier to accomplish, he says, in same countries like Estonia or Finland. But in America, he bleakly concludes, the huge amount of money in politics is going to make the rewriting of the social contract impossible without a huge external crisis.
We also need massive investment in infrastructure, he says. The real way of the vicious cycle of globalism is investment in human capital – in humanistic education, in empowering people to ride the tsunami of technological disruption. But, like the prospect of a rewritten social contract, Bremmer doesn’t seem particularly optimistic about a multi-trillion dollar investment in
He’s a little more hopeful about less expensive ways of fixing globalism. Social media which he memorably describes as “weaponizing inequality” – desperately needs to be regulated. His suggestion that Twitter or Facebook needs to come with a healthwarning is intriguing. But even here he is ambivalent about the impact of regulating social media – suggesting that it could end up empowering Chinese social media networks.
But the real way to fight back against the echo-chambers of Twitter and Facebook, he says, is to engage with people you don’t agree with. Put the rocks down, he says and talk to somebody – a Trump or Brexit voter – with who you disagree. Perhaps this kind of self-medication is a practical first step. Maybe I’ll even invite Steve Bannon or Milo Yiannapoulos onto the show.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s episode with Ian, you can find out more about him here:
Find Ian’s Books here:
Us-vs-Them - The Failure of Globalism
The Fat Tail - The Power of Political Knowledge in an Uncertain World
The End of the Free Market - Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations?
The J Curve - A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall
Nations and Politics in the Soviet Successor States - Soviet and East European Studies
Every NAtion For Itself - What Happens When No One Leads the World
Please be sure to check out DLD’s up and coming events,
Produced by Jason Sanderson -Podcast Tech
Ian Bremmer the author of us vs. them the failure of globalization. Ian. Has globalization really failed. That's a pretty outrageous statement especially for a global strategist like you to make it would be if that was the claim that I made but it's not.
I think globalization is awesome. I think globalism has failed. I see those as two very different things.
OK so I made the mistake of confusing globalism with globalization. You talk about the failure of globalism rather than globalization. So what's the difference between the two.
Well I mean globalization is this idea that open borders and free trade and global security provided by the US and its allies is good for the global economy. And that's obviously true. I mean we've seen extraordinary growth in the period of globalization we've taken over a billion people out of absolute poverty. We're educating people we're driving urbanization. I mean it's certainly bad for the climate. And that's a serious issue. But if you look at the human condition. I mean people getting immunized people becoming literate people having access to proper health care. That's a great thing. But globalism is this ideology that's been promoted by elites in the West. And when I say elites I don't mean just the political leaders.
You mean guys like you and I.
Absolutely. Guys like you and me to saying that if we support open borders and free trade and global security that that's going to be good for our citizens. And it hasn't worked out for a lot of them and they're pretty angry about it and the failings of globalism has led you to Brexit and Trump and Bernie Sanders and the yellow vest in France and on and on and on the fact that we've had we have greater economic inequality in the US right now from any point since the Great Depression. And people are aware of that and angry about it. That tells you that a lot of citizens are rejecting the globalist ideology that has been promoted for the last week.
We had solid is that like the Turkish political pundit on who argued that the two key problems about democracy are fixing capitalism and by regulating big tech.
But do you believe that the failure of globalism has essentially undermined democracy because the things you brought up Brexit the yellow jackets in France on those manifestations of democracy working.
Well sure. I mean in so far as you have people that are angry that are expressing that anger in legitimate political ways they're not actually trying to tear down the system. So I mean I think the fact that there are referenda and democratic elections that continue to work shows that democracy is functioning. Now if you want to talk about Turkey and Taiwan trying to directly undermine some of those institutions or Trump and his efforts to talk about the press as enemies of the people and his refusal to accept existing checks and balances with Congress you would say that the implications of some of those votes have led to people and processes that make democratic institutions weaker. I think you'd also focus on the fact that an awful lot of young people increasingly say they don't believe in their democratic systems they don't think they're legitimate. So an awful lot of young people in the United States say what they would be okay with a military dictatorship in the US as opposed to democracy that's kind of an astonishing thing to say and see. And that is absolutely related to democratic processes that are eroding.
In your book you have this really intriguing introduction where you suggest that more and more people in the world unlike Palestinians in the sense that voting isn't helping them so they spend their lives throwing rocks.
Do you want to develop that matter for more and more people becoming like the Palestinians and finding themselves in the dilemma of the Palestinians.
Yeah it's a depressing analogy but I mean let's face it more and more people become aware of the Palestinians in two ways. First of all because we don't care about them we have a world where information cycles immediately. We know what the Palestinians are going through in Gaza. You've got 50 percent unemployment. You've got 40 percent not getting enough to eat. You've got no educational prospects or employment prospects for these people or their kids. And yet whether it's the United States or the Europeans or the Israelis or even the Palestinian Authority they're not really doing anything for these people and the people feel that way. So first of all you have the fact that nobody cares. And secondly you have the fact that they're feeling as a consequence powerlessness and helplessness. And you know that means that increasingly not only are they throwing rocks at the Israeli Defense Forces but they're even throwing themselves at the border which is defended by Israeli troops who have orders to use lethal force for anyone approaching that border and trying to breach it. And the number of Palestinians have been killed. And that shows a level of extraordinary discontent with people that have been lying to them for decades saying Oh we're gonna take care of you. We're going to ensure there's a two state solution we're going to get you economic capacity to improve yourselves. It just hasn't happened. And I think that if you look at what's happened to a lot of people living in our countries in the West wealthy countries they increasingly feel like they're being lied to and nobody cares about them and that's why they're suddenly either not voting at all or voting for an awful lot of people that are well outside the traditional norms of what we consider to be polite political society.
So are you suggesting then that the the working classes of Western Europe or the United States the people now who are struggling to find a place for themselves in the globalized economy they are like the Palestinians that they've come to throwing rocks.
And are you suggesting that perhaps voting for Brexit or for Trump or football scenario or they're going to like throwing rocks. I do the equivalent in political terms.
I absolutely do and I'll tell you why it's because when you throw a rock you don't believe that that's actually going to improve your situation. You run after you throw it right. So it's not like you think it's a win but it does give you a voice. It does actually show you're not going to sit down and just take it that you're still an independent human being and you can't be treated that way without a response.
And I think that all the people that voted for Brexit I don't think they all actually thought Brexit was going to improve their lives but they did believe the system was rigged against them and that all of the people with their fancy educations were telling them why they shouldn't vote for Brexit so they voted for Brexit. I think in the United States a vote for Trump was a thumb in the eye of polite society. Trump's willingness to go after the mainstream media is something that a lot of those supporters really like really believe in his going after a lot of the globalist elites and saying that he's going to drain the swamp even though he's not actually doing it.
Which is the sad thing. But I do think that they are very similar and these are people who believe the system is rigged against them even though you and I have benefited mightily from this system. I'm deeply empathetic. Leave politics for a second. Let's actually go to something broader something that came up a couple months ago Varsity Blues. You know I'm talking about.
Yeah. When Hollywood celebrities were paying half a million to get their kids into USC. Yeah.
And of course not just Hollywood celebrities. I mean like literally thousands and thousands of people. And I mean we thought a study came out recently that in Greenwich Connecticut over a half of the high school students that were taking the essay Ts to get into college were doing so with a psychological note excusing them from the four hours and being able to take the test basically with no time limit over two full days. The system and people see that average person the person not just working class middle class upper middle class and they feel like the gatekeepers are doing everything they can to make the system unfair. It's not that these people oppose democracy it's they don't believe this system is a functioning democracy. That seems pretty fair. That's why they're voting for Brexit and Trump it's that notion that you know the system is actually rigged and wealthy and powerful people are using their access to the political system to ensure that it stays rigged. And that's not reasonable.
And are you suggesting then that what we call democracy is increasingly an aristocracy of well-educated globalized people like you and I.
It certainly feels that way. I mean there is in the United States especially there is nowhere close the level of class mobility that you had in the 70s and 80s. There is in the United States among all the advanced industrial economies.
It's easier to judge what the wealth of a child will be on the basis of how wealthy the parents were. Now that's something we used to think of as not applying to the U.S. we thought applied more to the UK or Germany or the Netherlands or France. Actually no it applies to the United States and that does feel like a subversion of the American dream. It feels like a subversion of a country with elected representatives that are supposed to actually work for the people as opposed to working for special interests who pay them a lot of money.
And in your book you're suggesting that this situation is going to get even worse with automation with the way in which I will radically transform the economy. So if your message isn't already depressing it becomes even more pessimistic. Is that fair.
Well I mean it's a mixed message. You know you asked me at the beginning what do I think about globalization. I said I'm in favor. What do I think about A.I.. I'm in favor because I believe that artificial intelligence is going to create enormous efficiencies and enormous wealth but it's only going to work for the average person if it's properly regulated. If we have a social contract that's effective if we're retraining and reskilling these people. And doing so over the course of their lives and not just the first 16 or 18 or 22 years of that we're not doing that right now and we have no political leaders in place that are credibly talking about how we might get from here to there. So yes I do think that for the near-term future the next five 10 years we're gonna head through a pretty tough patch where a lot of people are going to find that the system is working against them and the faster and faster contributions of technology to make us wealthier and wealthier are things that they are not benefiting from.
In your book you also talk about the rewriting of the social contract. Does that rewriting happen within the formal institutions of democracy. Is it a political movement. How do we rewrite our social contract in the early 21st century to make. Democracy more inclusive and to at least God ourselves against this creeping aristocratic structure of society.
Well the last time we did it was after the Great Depression. It was FDR and it was the New Deal and that's when we put social security in place and that's when we suddenly dramatically changed the regulatory environment for big corporations. And there was a lot of wealth distribution redistribution that happened. Now I mean again I don't think we're anywhere near that level of urgency in the United States. The poor in the US are a lot wealthier today than they were during the Great Depression. And so it doesn't feel very urgent.
Your quite dramatic in the way in which you see this crisis you say that day is coming sooner than we think in terms of the need to rewrite the social contract. Yeah. This is not a minor issue.
It's not a minor issue. But the reason I say that we're like the Palestinians is if you think about 20 30 years ago and all of the op ed that were written about how we need to fix this or Israel is going to fall apart. Turns out it's not true Israel just had an election a month ago and the Palestinians weren't even a part of it. Neither of the two candidates for premier Netanyahu or Benny Gantz were talking about needing to address the Palestinian issue not urgent for the Israelis. So while you have a whole bunch of people getting angrier and angrier in the United States the fact is that there's very little perceived need for the government and for the people in power to do more than a box checking exercise. ALEXANDRA Castillo Cortez can certainly talk about a Green New Deal but nobody is credibly moving in that direction that has real power right now. So I think that the solutions we're talking about are going to be piecemeal. We're going to be small. They're gonna be experimental. Some will come from mayors and governors some will come from CEOs and individual philanthropists and over time hopefully we'll scale them. But I mean realistically speaking this is going to get worse before it's better it's kind of the geopolitical equivalent of climate change where if you'd asked me about climate change 30 or 40 years ago and I had the science at my fingertips I would tell you yeah this is getting worse but we're clearly not getting ready to fix it anytime soon. We have to get through the point of awareness by people that really matter and start putting resources towards it.
That is not on today's agenda.
Yeah so I get your point now about the Palestinians as being a kind of political theater that doesn't matter that they throw rocks sometimes gets on the headlines more or more it isn't actually on the headlines makes them feel better but nothing changes. What about institutional changes within democracy itself in Ireland for example they're experimenting with citizen committees that can fix stuff.
That referendum usually on table to address in a serious way. Should we be thinking about formal reform to the kind of institutional nature of 21st century democracy. Can it be distributed. Can it be radically reformed.
It's easier in small countries that are homogeneous that can be much more quickly responsive to populations that they know and can touch. That's why I said in the United States I think you're talking more about cities and governors of small states than you are talking about reforming Washington as a whole. They talk about Washington. You're talking about needing to remove money from politics. You're talking about some basic structural reforms that are very hard to really implement. But when you're talking about smaller countries like Finland which is dealing with a guy by actually putting cash to ensure that 1 percent of the entire population is going to be educated about A.I. so they can build a civil society that is focused more on these sorts of issues. I love that as an experiment I think that's a smart thing to do. Really hard to make that happen on a country wide basis in the world's largest economy the United States.
Yeah and we had the CTO of Estonia on the show a few weeks ago talking about what the Estonians are doing which is incredibly innovative.
But as you say it's very hard to replicate in a large country like the United States. Ian what about the role of social media and the digital revolution in all this. As I said was our last week suggested that the way to fix democracy requires more regulation of social media. Do you think given your metaphor of the Palestinians do you think that that might reduce the rock throwing. If we can fix fake news if we can address all the problems associated with social media.
Absolutely there's no question in my mind what you have seen with social media is the weaponization of inequality because it really does polarize society into not engaging with people with different views. Only talking to people they already agree with much more susceptible to radicalization to extreme political movements and to fake news being propagated by those that seek to profit and otherwise benefit from attracting more people to narrower and narrower perspectives. We need to do something about that. I think that your Facebook your twitter app your Youtube app should come with a warning label that says use as directed will be hazardous to your health like tobacco. Absolutely. It's very clear that these companies are bad for human beings as their business model to be successful necessarily product ties as people in ways that are fundamentally unhealthy and need to be regulated. Now the problem is that the alternative to those companies right now globally are Chinese companies that are very effective have a lot more data and are actively supported by their government.
And if we're going to regulate and undermine the profitability of some of our most important industrial companies that are critical for our economy and our national security while the Chinese are only investing in them to make them stronger. Well that may be good for near-term civic harmony in the US but we may be undermining our national security against our most important antagonist globally. I don't have an answer for that. I think we need to be talking about it. I'm deeply concerned about this.
You bring up China. I know you're quite an authority on China. Are they constructing a kind of a viable alternative to Western democracy but that social credit system and the way in which they're using digital technology to kind of rebuild.
A more effective 1994 situation in the 21st century.
They seem to be even if we think that it's not going to work very well long term and I think the jury is out. The fact is that they are very likely to become the largest economy in the world surpassing the US in the next 10 years. They are spending a hell of a lot more outside their country on infrastructure and other enticements than the Americans are. Those checks. I mean money talks. If you want to talk about what's a viable model a viable model that includes writing checks to you seem suddenly a lot more attractive. Even if you might prefer the American alternative and you asked about Social Credit. Yeah I mean it's clear that technology and big data and the surveillance that comes with being able to manipulate collect and manipulate that effectively is something that is allowing the Chinese government to steer the behavior of its populations and its companies in directions that strengthen an authoritarian Chinese system. That worries me greatly.
I mean it certainly has facilitated the imprisonment of over one million Muslim leaguers living inside China who are seen to be potential threats to Chinese behavior with nary a peep in terms of internal dissent. I think that's a serious concern.
If you're American or if you're living in any Western democracy and are hopeful about the viability of our system long term you have to be deeply concerned about what the Chinese are doing to that.
This is extremely chilling.
We're becoming Palestinians the Chinese are constructing a totalitarian alternative to a Western democratic system isn't working.
Let's spend the rest of this conversation focusing on concrete fixes. Give me two or three ways that we begin to fix the problems that globalism has created in Western democracies. Actual initiatives. I understand that there are no quick fixes no app to fix the future but things that will begin to address these issues.
Well an obvious one would be in a low interest rate environment. We need to be spending an awful lot more on infrastructure to actually improve the lives of the people that feel like the system is rigged against them. So that means real spending on improved local infrastructure in rural areas. And second and third tier cities. It means going after the teachers unions and spending locally and statewide on improved especially early stage education focusing not just on the books schools because this is not like the German model where you're going to have one job for the rest of your lives but instead taking advantage of a high building out Socratic method and teaching more critical thinking teaching more curiosity creating more dilettantes and people that will have the ability to be more flexible with their jobs over the course of decades. You know we have under invested in that kind of infrastructure in the US for decades and decades and despite massive deficit spending under a couple of years of Trump we've still have no infrastructure plan. That's a ridiculous thing. I have no problem with deficit spending. If you're spending on things that are going to lead to a return and then when we invest in a corporation we don't just look at their debt and look at their assets and somehow when we talk about countries we only look at their debt. We don't look at their assets and that that seems to me a very stupid way to think about and to scale and grade governments. We need to think about how we are investing in human capital and right now we're not investing in human capital. That's where we need to function again. I mean a country that spends more money than the next seven combined on defense and most of that being spent on types of defense they're increasingly 20th century and irrelevant like aircraft carriers and tanks as opposed to what the Chinese are spending on which is cyber and space and we don't have the ability to invest in our own human capital. That just seems very clearly to be a serious misallocation and mis prioritization of what we're doing. And I think we can do better than that.
And I've heard this many times before. And of course it's absolutely true that something serious has to happen to trigger this doesn't it.
Well yeah I thought about writing this book in 2009 after the financial crisis when it was pretty clear that this was the trajectory we were heading on and we had the Occupy Wall Street movement and all the rest. I decided not to write it because I thought to myself you know by the time it comes out in nine months or twelve months the Occupy Wall Street movement is going to be gone and no one's going to care and no one's going to read the book. And that was right. But I feel bad about it because I'm one of the people that is a part of the problem. Over the course of the last ten years I've got a platform I've got millions of followers. I've got the monetary wherewithal I'm aware of this stuff and what was I doing. I was going to Davos and I was building a consulting company for a bunch of wealthy CEOs that ultimately were part of the problem. And so I feel badly about that. And you know I'm not saying that writing this book now by itself is going to make that much of a difference but it's something. I mean I started a media company that even with puppets on international affairs that I never would have done five or 10 years ago because I'm like well maybe this is something it'll help to engage younger people and a better understanding in this network what's it called. It's called g zero media and the puppet shows called puppet regime and people like you and me and thousands that you and I know the circles we travel in a big part of the solution is going to be getting us to do more to be a little bit less angry. Stop pointing the finger at Trump. I think that's been a huge problem for the globalist elite saying Trump is the problem and when Trump leaves then it'll be fine. Well it might be fine for us but it's completely wrong. I mean the problem is that Trump got elected because we failed our people we fail our citizens and we're not taking any responsibility for that finally and not everyone listening to this will be part of the global elite.
What can ordinary people do to help fix this. Everyone will say while I'm relying on government I'm relying on this candidate to a back candidate or trillions of dollars being invested in infrastructure. But as you suggested we can't just pass the buck. What can.
Everyday people do to begin to address this issue. Do they need a check. Psychology. Do they need to rethink their role in the world.
I think that the average person needs to do what they can to break down this very dehumanization process that has been built up by the business models of social media that's driving us crazy about politics. We need to become 10 percent less crazy 10 percent less angry. One way to do that is to make sure that you are actually actively listening to following engaging with people that you respect but disagree with. I mean any person out there listening to this I ask you Are there people out there that you can immediately think of that you think are really smart but you fundamentally disagree with on some political issues and if you can't come up with four or five of those people then you've got a serious problem. And that means that you're following the mandate of these companies these algorithms that are creating a prison for your mind that you cannot see that you cannot smell. It's very Matrix like right and you cut or break out of that. You have to actually proactively find and follow and engage with the people who are smart that make you think and the food companies back in the 70s and 80s they were giving us the food that we said we wanted but in reality they just wanted to sell us more to. It was all the fat all the salty all the sweet. And you know within 20 years we had the highest type 2 diabetes and morbid obesity in the entire world. I blame the companies for that and I blame the companies and the government for not properly regulating them. But until we get proper regulation and the companies change the business models we as consumers as human beings have to try to use these products more responsibly. The companies are not going to help us. They don't care about us. They're making us into products. We have to fight the.