Nationalism, Globalism & The Economy

February 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, French President Nicholas Sarkozy dismissed nationalism in Québec as tribalism, amongst other things, and suggesting that the world has moved on.  This set off a frenzy amongst nationalists here, not surprisingly, who have been keenly and actively using the economic downturn to argue that Québec would be better off as an independent country.

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Barack Obama’s first stimulus package contained a “Buy American” clause for major items and industries, like steel.  This set the United States’ trading partners, including the EU and Canada into a rage and was Obama’s first mis-step on the international stage, which he and his administration have spent a lot of time backing away from since.

Québec and the United States demonstrate, in many ways, the old way of doing things.  During an economic crisis, to withdraw, to become protectionist, and tribal.  Meanwhile, in the European Union, at least at a political level, the impetus has been quite the opposite: Europe has branded together to attack the economic downturn, to try to find solutions.  Sarko’s rejection of québécois nationalism is something that plays out in his politics, and those of the rest of the Europe.

And whilst the actions of European politicians may be at odds with some aspects of the European population, what I find more interesting are these two competing notions of how to deal with the economy today. During the Depression of the 1930s, nations became protectionist and introverted, led by the United States, the country that, in many ways, had the most to lose with the Stock Market Crash in 1929.  The Depression, I should also point out, lasted for most of the 1930s.  So maybe protectionism is not the correct model for surviving this recession?  Whatever we think of globalism, good or bad or ambivalent, it might be time to recognise its reality, that we do live in a globalised economy, with an emergent global culture, and respond to the recession in that spirit.  The world’s response to the “Buy American” clause of the US stimulus package was telling.  Canada and the EU told Obama and his administration that protectionism was not acceptable in this day and age (nor is it entirely legal according to the US’ trade pacts with Canada and the EU), and that rather than turn inwards, the world’s governments need to work together in order to solve the problems with the economy.

Of course, that then leads to the question of whether deep structural reforms are necessary, as the European Union seems to suggesting insofar as the banking and securities industries are concerned, or not, as Canada and the United States are suggesting.  Will this bring conflict and argument about a New World Economic Order?

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