The World Turned Upside Down is an English Ballad which was allegedly played at the Battle of Yorktown. It highlighted the strange turn of events that had brought defeat at the hands of the provincial forces of America, to the most powerful country in Europe. - Liberty Chronicle of the Revolution, Yorktown, 1781 (Source PBS)
It is difficult to look back on 2016 without confronting an avalanche of think tank terminology – globalism, neo–liberal order and metropolitan elite. The list goes on and on. 2016 is the year in which the inequalities brought on by globalization collided with the echo chambers of our social networks (virtual and otherwise). The result was a deepening of divisions in society based on class, physical and political geography as well as identity.
In any democratic society, informed debates and discussions are welcomed and essential to its proper functioning - division, however, is detrimental.
A divided house cannot stand.
So please allow me to declare my interests at the outset. I am an economic migrant. I live in London so by definition I am part of the metropolitan elite and I consider myself a global citizen. To reinforce the latter, I was born on a small multicultural island so my worldview has always been outward facing and diverse. Growing up with the knowledge that the fate of my future is my own but usually heavily influenced by the prevailing winds of the globalised world is part of my DNA.
The impact of the events of 2016 will be studied for years to come. The media postulates that it all took us by surprise – Brexit, rising populism and the US Election. However, I beg to differ. The writing was on the wall for a long time. My mere existence is the product of globalisation and I have experienced both the benefits and costs of this latest wave. It seems that the rest of the world is now catching up with global south. The sweeping tide of globalisation and crushing effects of austerity via structural adjustment has long been experienced by the Caribbean countries and Latin America. The power and dominance of large multinational companies have ravished resource rich countries on the African continent and left nothing in the vein of legacy or economic and social development. So persistent economic decline, stagnation, neglect are not new, it is however, especially potent for the American Rust Belt and in 2016 had far reaching global consequences.
The trans-Atlantic relationship, the most important underpinning the US-led world order, is a hollow shell of its former self. – Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group
Similarly, the European economic crises punctuated by anti-austerity protests and riots in 2011, morphed into a political one by 2015 and exposed its vulnerabilities for the world to see. The EU’s political intransigence on all challenges facing it in 2016 (most notably the Syrian Refugee Crisis) only deepened the cracks and emboldened far right movements all over Europe.
Thus, the great European project may not survive this decade. The domino effect of Brexit, the recent Italian referendum and upcoming national elections in France and Germany has resulted in uncertainty being the norm and not the exception.
This is the existential crisis facing the advanced economies of the world. For the west, 2016 was the year that the world turned upside down.
The US has essentially elected a president similar to 20th century Latin American caudillos and other western nations appear to be in a rapid retreat and embracing nationalist and protectionist policies. Mature democracies held together by common, universal values of dignity, rule of law, freedom of religion and protection from persecution appear vulnerable to the anger and anxiety of certain groups. Public trust in democratic institutions have all but corroded, endangering the bedrock of rule of law, accountability and transparency.
Are we doomed forever to be at somebody’s mercy? Little keys can open up mighty doors. – from “Rally ‘round the West Indies" by David Rudder, Trinidadian Calysonian
This seems like all doom and gloom however this was not my intention. On the contrary, I know that these seismic shifts have awakened groups previously disengaged from the political process in an unprecedented way. Many recognise that the current democratic and economic systems are no longer fit for purpose - too many of our fellow citizens feel betrayed, marginalised and disaffected.
The RSA’s current projects on Inclusive Growth and Citizens Economic Council are both directed at understanding the experiences of the disillusioned and challenging the current status quo so citizens can have a say and influence national economic policy.
2016 has taught me some big lessons, however my faith in my fellow global citizens is unwavering. I know that connection triumphs over division. As Europe leans far right and the recent US elections have elevated nationalism on both sides of the pond, for the centre to hold citizens must be at the nexus of political engagement and policy development.
The RSA is Prospect's Social Policy Think Tank of the year
Find out more about the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission and Citizens' Economic Council projects.