Anti-Elitism and De-globalization


The world is rising against elitism, which is just another word for “learned segmentation”. It means that elitists are rather segmented folks – like a specific group of well-to-do people, a set of people who do certain things with a unique taste, a group of alumni from prestigeous institutions, a bunch of guys who drive Ferraris, a group of ultra-orthodox religious folks, a caste group (in the Indian context), and generally a bunch of well off folks who do similar things and think almost in the same manner, to the exclusion of almost all other people.

Personally, I have tried to stay away from any group with a label stuck on it. I exited the IIM-B Alumni activities as my socialist leanings are not compatible with an entrepreneurial or corporate money bags kind of people, though they may be my class mates. I have rarely seen any one of them doing charity, or engaging in philanthropic work for the downtrodden. They may well wish to do so, but evidence is limited. I even avoid brands – I don’t want to be seen driving a Mercedes or BMW or Audi; I do not wish to have a Rolex watch; and so on and so forth. I was without a Mont Blanc pen for a long, long time and could not say no when my children decided to gift one for my last birthday. When I am seen on the road, I just want to be a normal guy with no accessories which could define me in some way or the other.

The reason why young people are rising against elitism is the strong perception that they have about the relationship which exists between elitism and wealth, almost in an unholy manner, which in turn leads to inequalities in income. Wealth generates more wealth and income for the elitists or the rich folks. Others are excluded, and the exclusion is almost surreal. Things go on as though nothing has changed, everything is hunky dory. People who make obscene money on Wall Street continue to make that money year after year. Similar groupism and exclusions can be cited in almost every scenario. The insidious reach of money and networking power has to be seen to be believed.

One can argue about the merits of meritocracy in this context. I refute strongly the link and the necessity for any society or government to promote meritocracy at the cost of the rest of the society at large. What about the 95% of the people who cannot make it into that “special” list of people who will keep getting promotions and scholarships? In a nutshell, why would the special people be any different from their predecessors? They belong to a particular school, university, way of thinking, family, et al. That does not mean the rest of the people are stupid, or below average, or even average. There is this argument that societies and institutions prosper because a set of meritocrats has been handpicked to manage them and deliver results that are expected. While in a limited set of circumstances this may be true, in the larger context a social mix would provide better stability and sustainability with deeper understanding of societal issues and challenges.

I have not seen a huge difference between people with prestigeous MBAs and non-MBAs in the corporate context. There is only one difference – there is more structured thinking when you have some MBAs around you, and less of that when you have staff without MBAs. Apart from that, outcomes are not particularly impacted because MBAs are driving the businesses or even governments.

So, let us come now to the issue of “de-globalization”. Is there a relationship between “anti-elitism” and “de-globalization”? What do you think?

I believe that the movement against globalization has to be seen in the context of social elitism which predicates that globalization is the way to go for the world as a whole, since societies, countries and organizations can work together to produce better than average results for their combined economies. As a social theory, it is fantastic with an altruistic bent to it, no doubt. However, as a practical application of an interesting theory, it comes short as the results have been less than spectacular. The idea is not “win-win” but rather “win-some win for some time-lose-lose ultimately”. This means that not all sides are winners in a globalization effort. In the outsourcing example, India and the Philippines can be winners to a large extent, the U.S. and the U.K. are initially winners from a corporate cost-slashing perspective, but later become losers when the enhanced business competitiveness cannot continue at the cost of increasing job losses for locals.

The argument that outsourcers make the U.S. businesses more competitive does not hold water for the long term (it is fine in the medium term), as competitiveness in this context refers just to increased business profits. Competitiveness in terms of enhanced proficiency can also be obtained by training the locals to a large extent. Let us not forget the increased business profits come because of lower wages paid to foreigners as compared to the locals.

The liberal thinking is that globalization is great for increasing the volume of trade, and as more nations trade goods and service, eventually the world will become one homogeneous market. Great idea, no doubt. But it is naive and misses out on key economic fundamentals – that average per capita income across supplying and consuming countries need to be similar in order to enjoy true globalization. When India has a per capita income of USD 3,000 (on a PPP basis), and China has USD 8,000, the difference is huge between these two nations and the developed countries which have upwards of USD 40,000 per capita. So, a job loss in a developed country is going to have a major impact in its society.

For the elitists, it is okay – as they are perched on the top anyway. Armchair theorists won’t do anymore given the disarray in the developed countries. Fresh thinking is needed. The answer is not coming from anti-elitists only, but governments and economists have to think harder in terms of sustainable solutions.

Is it any wonder that social democrats such as Bernie Sanders enjoy rock star status? It is easy to jump into a movement and start shouting at the top of your voice, but harder to derive economic solutions which will stand the scrutiny of society. Anti-elitism and de-globalization are not new fads or book topics, but social forces which would make policy makers think deep and in a totally new way.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th February 2017

 

 

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