On Tuesday, 19th December 2017, the Meghnad Desai Academy of Economics (Mumbai), played host to the launch of the Academy’s Chairman (and namesake), Lord Meghnad Desai’s book – ‘Politicshock’. The event involved an all-encompassing summary of the book, livened by anecdotes and personal experiences of the author himself. In addition, Lord Desai also answered several questions related to the book, posed by esteemed academics serving as panellists for the event, as well as those from participants part of the enthusiastic audience present.
The book, said Desai, questions the stability of the political and economic Liberal Order that has come to be formed in the world since the last 50 years, based on events highlighting growing nationalistic tendencies in major economies across the globe. His book focuses primarily on the reasons behind ‘Brexit’ as well as the rise of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump, as two powerful political figures in dominant economies of the world. He analyses the reasons for their rise to power by comparing their political strategies, in light of people’s changing attitudes towards globalization, migration and nationalistic dispositions.
The two World Wars in the first half of the 20th century lead to collapses of several empires – Austrian, Ottoman, Soviet – and created several problems that required the world as a whole to solve. The liberal order began to be created as a way to overcome the narrow limits of nationalistic ideologies each country had, and was strengthened by the formation of associations such as the World Trade Organization and European Union, that focused on promoting the democratic and economic growth, at least in the Western half of the globe. The idea was based on grouping together differing ideas to create one centrist ideology, that would include the preferences of majority – very similar to the economics of location theory, as pointed out by Desai, that brought together majority of the buyers for one product market by grouping all sellers in one area. However, this concept, as Desai failed to include those on the periphery, those people that had lost out as a result of the new world order and were what could be termed as “the losers” of free trade and globalization. It was only until the global financial crisis of 2007-08 that the world first realized the major repercussions this centrist ideology could have, and began reconsidering the need for a return back to nationalistic policies.
American politics had for a long time followed this centrist model – until the entry of Donald Trump in the last presidential trumps. Trump violated the norms of the centrist policy by focusing on the section of people in his country and showing that he didn’t by any means “belong to the centre”. His policies, aimed to meet towards the protests of the people living in the Midwest, those that had lose their livelihoods to the forces of globalization and free trade and were now looking at having a nationalistic agenda take shape in their country. Modi’s rise in India, on the other hand, was based on the idea of creating a completely new centre, breaking away from the age old through the expansion of the very notion of being a ‘Hindu’ in order to include more people from the periphery in its folds. Both systems worked to respond to people who were far away from the centre, struggling to gasp for air from where they had been forced to relocate as a result of the liberal order.
Brexit too, as Desai mentioned, was a result of an agitated and tired mindset of several people belonging to Britain that believed they were being taken for granted in the name of a centrist ideology. The exit poll result, said Desai, was just another way to bring out the capacity of the system to surprise people while staying within the rules of the system. Thus, according to Desai, the liberal order had endogenously thrown up its own crisis – one that was not a result of any external forces. He did not fail to mention that the growth of Asia, as a whole and as individual countries, was based on violations of this so called liberal democracy, yet managed to see great strides. He went on to affirm that there were more than enough world examples to prove that there was no ‘one model fits all’.
The final chapter of his book, Desai said, deals with the probable consequences of these changes. He discusses the geopolitical effects it could have – in terms of the rise of China and India and the possibilities of war between the two countries in the near future – as well as trade politics – as a result of technological innovation and the replacement of labour with capital. Desai’s book offers no concrete solutions to these probabilistic problems, but highlights the need for a change in public policy and democracy as a whole, making significant use of the new methods of instant communication and social media as ways to continuously adapt to people’s views and preferences. He prophesized that liberal democracy will likely not remain the same in the next few years, but stated that this might come with its own advantages.
Desai’s synopsis was also followed by a question and answer session, where he answered several questions posed about the future of India’s democracy. In the light of increasing bans, regulations and the potential threat a system such as ‘Aadhar’ could pose, Desai brought to attention the flawed sense of freedom Indians associated with – not a personal sense but that of a sense of freedom from foreign powers, that put immense trust in the actions of the government. He highlighted the need for people to develop a sense of individual, one that wouldn’t justify the government’s arbitrary actions. In the light of the growing economic inequality in the country, Desai pointed out that the need was to focus more on eliminating the high level of social inequality prevalent in the country. He further mentioned that more than inequality, that was bound to exist in any society, it was the question of poverty that needed to be addressed.
About the Book:
Recent events around the world have shaken old certainties. Questions are being asked about the survival of the Liberal Order, which has been dominant for over fifty years. The election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote have alarmed many commentators. Across Europe too there have been developments—the emergence of fringe parties of the left and right in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece—which have disturbed the liberal thought. In India, the arrival of Narendra Modi at the head of the ‘Hindu nationalist’ Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 had raised fear similar to those in Trump’s case.
In this perceptive account, Meghnad Desai opens up the debate beyond the West and looks at parallels between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump as two outsiders who broke through the barriers to reach the top. He analyses Asia’s challenge to Western hegemony and asks if the conventional wisdom about the hegemony of free trade liberalism needs re-examination. He peers into the future to look at the greatest challenge facing the world today: Will the Liberal Order survive, collapse or mutate? Is the world at a cusp? Is history—the old saga of blood, sweat and tears—about to resume its course?
Politicshock analyses Trump and Modi and other outsiders who have come to the fore not as freaks but as results of systematic forces—economic, social, political and cultural—who will now shape the critical destiny of the time that we live in.
Bookings are closed for this event.
Date(s) - 19/12/2017
2:30 pm - 5:30 pm