The second edition of Brent H. Cameron’s book, “The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade: Options for a new globalization is available now on Amazon worldwide.
It is approaching the end of 2018, and the end of our comfortable complacency.
Here, in Canada, we are entering a period of great uncertainty as our largest trade partner, the United States, has turned on the stop watch with regard to NAFTA renegotiations. The strategy of a united front with Mexico, while sending comforting words to those in the US on the opposite side of Donald Trump in their culture wars, has had unfortunate and predictable consequences. Mexico cut a side deal, and the US President, now further antagonized, is forcing Ottawa to an agreement that will likely involve sacrificing the nation’s dairy farmers in order to protect its autoworkers.
In Britain, the government wrestles with negotiations on two fronts – one in Brussels, and one at home among those who feel they can still overturn the will of the people without any negative consequence whatsoever.
The EU, whose political project may constitute the biggest and grandest ‘Potemkin Village’ in recorded history, has adopted a stance that makes President Trump’s NAFTA line seem tame and reasonable. It is often said that a frightened animal is a dangerous one, and the fear that Brussels has is two-fold: the immediate loss of British tax revenue and GDP, and the consequences that will flow from it; and the signal to other unhappy member states that an exit is just a popular vote away.
Russia continues to be a kleptocracy, whose outwardly assertive and manipulative actions belie the ancient words of Sun Tzu to “appear strong when you are weak.” Declining birth rates, dropping life expectancies, and economic stagnation have – predictably – given rise to the kind of strong man politics that dominated Africa and Latin America for a good portion of the late 20th century.
When China opened its economy, we celebrated and encouraged it. We believed in all honesty and sincerity that a rising GDP and living standards, combined with more interaction with the rest of the world, would be transformative. When Hong Kong was returned to the PRC, we did not have concerns We had a commitment from Beijing that the status quo would be preserved for a few decades, and by that time China would have transformed into a liberal democracy itself. We forgot that for every example of a nation that was transformed by the power of the free market, there were others where more money and more technology just made repression all that more easy to initiate or sustain. We forget Germany’s slide from Weimar Republic to Nazi regime. We forget that Argentina was a successful economic power before Juan and Evita Peron, and the decades of fascist dictatorship and dysfunctional populism that now have interest rates pegged at 60% as I write these words.
The three main poles of geopolitical power today are a superpower that lacks the ability to distinguish friend from foe, a proto-federation where the majority of people do not wish to federate, and a Communist dictatorship that exacts concessions from its partners, while giving nothing but empty promises in return, all the while bankrolling its plan to extend its influence and clout in the world.
Populism did not create this mess. Populism is what one gets when a cadre of people who think themselves to be ‘too clever by half’ continually take shortcuts and make short-sighted decisions for the sake of expediency and self-aggrandizement. Those decisions emboldened those who bargained in bad faith, and created a group of disenfranchised citizens in the process. Amortized over a long enough period, and you get the distemper and dysfunction that has inflicted our world.
The average voter did not negotiate bad treaties, or mismanage good relationships. The average voter did not make Faustian bargains. The average voter did not naively believe that – with enough time and enough incentives – that corrupt systems and individuals would change their behaviours.
For better or worse, this is our world today, and it presents us with a moment of decision.
Globalisation needs a recalibration. It needs to function under a set of rules that prizes reciprocity, the rule of law, and respect for human rights above all. It needs to express an ethos, and not compromise it.
It begins with CANZUK – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK – economically, socially, and – yes, ethically – coherent. It creates a foundational core around these values, and then builds out – to those Commonwealth members who legitimately meet the terms of a Charter of Values and Principles.
Over time, it grows – in population, in reach, and in economic prominence. It begins to gain on the EU, the US, and China. It promotes a path and a set of values uncompromisingly distinct. It partners with those willing to agree with its vision for a reciprocal world of sovereign states adhering to values and practices consistent with the common law tradition. With every expansion, it increases its gravitational pull on other countries, attracting them to an alternative that requires of them only that they act in good faith with their partners and their own people.
In short, it creates the kind of geopolitical order that the post-War Bretton Woods consensus was meant to achieve. It creates Bretton Woods 2.0.
It will not be quick and will not be easy. It will not change the geopolitical order tomorrow, next week, or next year. Nations will not be able to completely substitute one trading partner for another, and per capita GDP are not going to double in six months.
The problems that afflict the global order have been years – even decades – in the making. Ten years have passed since the world’s stock markets were plunged into chaos, and venerable names like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were consigned to the history books.
This will take time and effort, and every delay in action further compounds the amount of energy that will be required.
We know what the future holds if we do nothing and continue unabated on our path. China will surpass an inward looking and diminished United States, while Europe fumbles its way from internal crisis to internal crisis. Russia will become more authoritarian, holding ransom those countries that need its energy in exchange for their casual indifference. Over time, the dominant power in the geopolitical order will be a dictatorship that censors its citizens at home and monitors them abroad, and whose ‘interests’ include the territorial waters of a dozen neighbouring states, and even the waters that run between islands in Canada’s Arctic archipelago.
Our moment of decision has arrived. What will we do?