Globalisation and its discontents: what should our response be?
Commentary | Teo Teck Leon, Guest Writer
As the Trump administration continues to lurch from one crisis to another and Brexit rapidly approaches with no favourable ending in sight, it is easy to blame particular segments of a country’s population for the current predicament.
In such instances, the individual responsible for electing Trump to power or voting in favour of Brexit is stereotypically cast as an uneducated xenophobe who fails to appreciate the basics of politics and international economics.
As a result, they are misled or willfully ignorant and voted for an unwise choice, thereby allowing them to be held responsible – to some extent – by the more educated members of the population for the present ills.
Indeed, there exist excellent and justifiable reasons for one to adopt such a stance. However, the critical individual may arrive at a better understanding of why those whom they criticise did what they did through reflecting on their socioeconomic status.
To an individual appreciative of international political economy’s finer nuances, for example, it seems natural to conclude that Brexit would have disastrous consequences.
Another individual lacking such insight and toiling for a pittance in a humbler station of life would likely be concerned with more pedestrian issues of socioeconomic mobility and job security.
Most pertinently, these seemingly trivial issues are no less critical to them merely because they are perceived as relatively unimportant by others in a grander scheme of things.
Even within the exalted circles of government and academia, it would be difficult to find a consensus that the European Union has benefitted all its members equally.
Precisely why that is the case, whether that should be the case, and what could or should be done continues to be debated.
However, when offered an unexpected opportunity to exercise their democratic agency, the average individual – lacking full information of their action’s consequences, the effects of others and deep appreciation of the present debate – is likely to support something which they believe can maintain, or even improve, their current position in life.
If the individual in question personally and anecdotally observes increasing competition for jobs by immigrants and declining wages, it would be unsurprising for them to choose a course of action that they believed offered them an improvement of their currently deteriorating situation.
Consequently, the outcomes of such democratic exercises may be better understood when one considers both the socioeconomic demographics of a country’s population and their possible concerns or motivations.
Like other countries adjusting in a rapidly changing world, Singapore faces a similar challenge in this regard.
Disruptive technologies are but the tip of the approaching iceberg: coupled with diverging values across generations, carefully balancing different national priorities in response to these fluid circumstances presents an increasingly difficult task.
To meet this challenge, she has continued to emphasise the necessity of stability and inclusion into the national status quo so that Singaporeans might grow and prosper together.
Such a policy of backing such rhetoric with concrete action - as she has admirably done – should continue, in addition to greater explanation and engagement with the public on international issues of national importance.
Doing so – through, for example, explaining what foreseeable benefits and costs may arise from participation or lack thereof in differing international agreements – would not only serve as an essential educatory function but strengthen existing sentiments of citizen stakeholdership.
Indeed, this is not without a national precedent: During deliberations on the introduction of the casinos, substantial effort was made to engage different segments of the population that held different values.
While values themselves may be resistant to change, this deep engagement for understanding, identifying, and assuaging concerns reflected the perceived importance of bridging inter and intra-generational value gaps.
Given changes in global information networks and consumption patterns, even value convergence or divergence may prove problematic
Aside from explaining the anticipated benefits, regulations and details on how foreseen social ills would be mitigated were both put forth and later enforced.
As a result, the introduction of what continues to be an integral part of Singapore’s tourist experience was both non-polarising and reasonably successful.
Undoubtedly, communication, engagement, and education – taken as a whole or alone – will often prove to be insufficient in the building of consensus.
Given changes in global information networks and consumption patterns, even value convergence or divergence may prove problematic: the former may result from echo chambers, while the latter may result in paralysing polarisation.
Indeed, a few socioeconomic fault lines might remain, albeit tempered – to some extent – through the stellar and tireless work of dedicated social workers.
This perceived futility, however, should not discourage Singapore from attempting to tackle problems when it already is in a favourable position to do so.
Through continued emphasis on the inclusion of beneficiaries from the system’s status quo and facilitation of dialogues on internationally essential issues, it may be possible for more energy to direct towards more massive crises.
About the Author: Leon is a final year student studying Political Science at the National University of Singapore. He enjoys music, genuine conversations and understanding human relationships. While generally interested in international relations and comparative politics, he enjoys the political theology of thinkers such as Augustine and Aquinas. He hopes to emulate the Desert Fathers someday.