Earlier this year, an economist named Dani Rodrik published an article of some importance, that in part helps explain Trump’s victory.
I am leaving aside the racial-cultural element of anti-whiteism discussed recently in Identity Politics, the Polite and Rude Versions. That explanation has real but limited application, just as has this economically-oriented approach.
Briefly, Rodrik called it the trilemma of the world economy, and the trick is: you can only have two of the three outcomes.
According to Rodrik, the choice is among the nation state, democratic politics, and international economic integration. You can get any two but not three, in full. I will question this assertion more fully below, because in the end I think one is left, in the globalized economic order, with neither state nor democracy. Let us begin with the issue of national sovereignty.
Rodrik cited the economic writer Andrew Evans Pritchard on why the latter supported Brexit.
“Stripped of distractions, it comes down to an elemental choice: whether to restore the full self-government of this nation, or to continue living under a higher supranational regime, ruled by a European Council that we do not elect in any meaningful sense, and that the British people can never remove, even when it persists in error.
We are deciding whether to be guided by a Commission with quasi-executive powers that operates more like the priesthood of the 13th Century papacy than a modern civil service; and whether to submit to a European Court (ECJ) that claims sweeping supremacy, with no right of appeal.
It is whether you think the nation states of Europe are the only authentic fora of democracy, be it in this country, or Sweden, or the Netherlands, or France ….”
This is exactly the argument I have made about Brexit: that to remain in the EU was to revert England to a form of government last seen in the pre-Reformation Tudor era, where parliament had very limited jurisdiction and the Papacy (think Cardinal Wolsey) had very large jurisdiction. In this case replace the Papacy and Church with the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. Nowadays the Remainders get to play the role of Catholics in a protestantizing Britain. Think of Henry VIII as an early Brexiter.
Rodrik himself thought the the European Union could successfully combine a hyper-integrated common market with democratic politics. After the treatment that Greece received in the past couple of years, he no longer believed so.
In regards to the United States and Trump, there is no ambiguity to be found. If the United States has to abandon deeper economic integration in order to preserve its nationhood, then it will do so. It will restrict illegal immigration, and raise the price of the labour of those already within its borders. If that means Americans will pay more at Wal-Mart, so be it. If economic integration with China requires some tougher enforcement of rules, then Trump will get China’s attention by beefing up the security and recognition of Taiwan.
Hillary Clinton stood for tighter economic integration and democratic politics, at the expense of the nation state. Trump stands for a stronger assertion of the nation state and democratic politics, with economic integration the relatively less important.
To my mind, the degree of loss of national sovereignty implied in hyper-globalization ultimately means a lessening of the range and effect democratic politics as well., because in the modern age the state acts as the expression of the popular will, as transcribed and translated though constitutional arrangements. In order to make economic integration work, there must be dispute settlement, and for dispute settlement to work, the will of the people – as expressed through local legislatures – must be frustrated by the property rights of corporations and other economic actors to be compensated for any limitation on their treaty-based “rights” to earn money.
It is entirely possible to have states without democratic arrangements, as ancient and recent polities attest, but is difficult to conceive democratic arrangements without a stet in which they are housed and expressed.
Consider international copyright regimes. If Canada pursues a cultural policy favouring domestic television and movie production, it will inevitably limit, or try to limit, the economic presence of foreign copyright-holding interests on its airwaves. This is Canadian broadcasting policy, tout court. Full economic integration of the kind foreseen in the Transpacific Partnership implies the right to sue for the violation of economic rights of a corporation by a host government. [See for example, investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms, in the Wikipedia article just cited.]
Thus I arrive at the Dalwhinnie proposition: the perfection of global trade demands a degree of extra-parliamentary adjudication that puts and end to popular sovereignty. Democratic institutions become irrelevant.
In the long run, it is not a trilemma among state sovereignty, democratic politics, and globalization. You do not get a choice among any two, if global economic integration is to be perfected. You get one: transnational global economic and political integration. National level democracies and state sovereignties would be held down by a web of rule making that is extra-parliamentary. Votes would cease to matter – as they have in most national referenda in Europe about the European Union, whether to leave or join.
That would explain the recent revolts against the consensus of the Volvo-drivers.
Accordingly, the Trump victory is no small thing. It is, truly, an American Brexit.