The Age of Discontent: The Economic Collapse and the Disintegration of the Political Order


Raja Kadri

Release Date

Sunday, June 24, 2018


One of the essential questions of governance is how to maintain a political and economic order in a world where different nations and societies are competing with each other for more political and economic power. That is, indeed, a historical fact of politics.

Once the nation-state came to be as a dominant political entity, the protection and enlargement of its political and economic sovereignty became the sole purpose of its national existence. The colonization was in fact a global extension by powerful entities to control the economic resources by occupying the physical territory of distant places. The two world wars had as much political motives as economic. Yet, the devastation of the two wars, in a sort of sinister way, paved the way for global economic integration as a necessity. But this global integration has come at a cost; both politically and economically.

The contemporary global economic and political order which emerged from the ashes of the World War II is facing its biggest challenge yet. The economic anxiety in many parts of the world is creating conditions for a dangerous political narrative where the majority of the political rhetoric is driven towards blaming someone or somebody for economic anxiety; instead of finding lasting solutions that can tame the rapidly changing global economic apparatus to provide economic relief and certainty to local populace. The promise of economic globalization where benefits were supposed to reach in the far corner of the world is losing its luster each passing day. Economic nationalism has emerged with the potential of having a full blown global trade war among major economies of the planet.

In the Age of Discontent with global implications - an economic turmoil or a sectarian war in nation A can cause a huge spike in unemployment or launch a sectarian conflict in nation B and soon, both nations A&B are caught in a deeper chaos and turmoil as people demand jobs and security. The interdependent nature of the global system has created a paradoxical situation where policy makers must not only be concerned about the conflict and chaos at home but how it will impact the entire region. These challenges are causing enormous stresses for strong states and choking weak ones.

The quest for a world structure that secures peace, advances free trade and provides the conditions for economic progress-for what is loosely called the world order-has never seemed more challenging and elusive. Furthermore, the geopolitics has made a comeback with a vengeance and intensity never seen before in history. The collapse of authority in the Mid-East, parts of Africa and South America, for example, has implications beyond their borders. The stress on global order has been further enhanced by rising income inequality; stagnant incomes esspecially in the west; debt fueled growth and the collapse of the job market where machines are gradually replacing human work and that trend will intensify. All of the above are testing the limits of the global economic order and as we see the rise of economic nationalism, the lessons of 1930s are quite stark.

We are entering an era of conflict and chaos where the impact of them will not be limited to confined borders. The ability to govern is facing serious challenges and not all of those challenges are emerging at home. Increasingly, international events are defining the local debate-whether we realize it or not. Huge swaths of global territory are dominated by populist unrest, anger and effective loss of state control. Moreover, we are witnessing a deadly trend where chaos is breaking out simultaneously in many regions, and governments are less capable of meeting those challenges than before, including the restoration of order, security and economic certainty. The lack of stability and order-politically, socially and economically, is the hallmark of the Age of Discontent.

The political narrative and policy advice must understand this ground reality in order to face the current economic order where machines are gradually taking over human employment; cheap labour is not enough to generate a decent growth and rising income inequality is threatening the social fabric in many parts of the world. Political leadership and policy advice must tackle this growing situation. If not, populace anger will continue to rise with potentially dangerous and tragic consequences for generations to come. Massive amount of unemployment or underemployment can have tragic political and social consequences.

Prediction is an occupation of immatures; Describing the future through the past is the task of the prophets; and giving a wise counsel to a ruler about what must be done presently to balance the future is the work of a great statesman. It is a solemn responsibility of great statesmen to tame the passions and curtail the chaos of social, political and economic order through serious analysis, assessment and, advice. If teachers are the prophets of souls and knowledge; statesmen and leaders are protectors and guardians of order and stability and the last line of defense against discontent and turmoil. The unending chaos in multiple fronts will continue to define the character of this new stage in international history. If there were an epoch which desperately needed wise policy advice and leadership with foresight and wisdom to face these challenges and offer solutions, it is now-in the Age of Discontent.

Editor's Note: Raja Kadri is a freelance contributor with MNI Media. 

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