Last week will probably go down in history as one of those decisive shifts in the geopolitical landscape. For those that have not read the Brexit properly, Trump's victory only confirms the global rift between the international force for progressive inclusive development and those that feel disenfranchised by it at home. The global consciousness shaping pro-poor and pro-planet policies in the previous decade is gradually overtaken by the notion of self-interest, stability and security.
The ones that have suffered most under the ‘free market’ ideology, are now turning to those who benefited most of it for their rescue. The likes of Trump have been moving their assets abroad or made use of loopholes in the law that enabled them to protect their assets or avoid taxation. Their credo: not the state but the market will provide for jobs, health and happiness. In this philosophy there is no space for losers, which the state would normally take care of. The victory of Trump very much resembles the philosophy of Ayn Rand, who wrote her bestseller novel "Atlas Shrugged" in 1957. John Galt, the main character in "Atlas Shrugged", speaks against what he sees as the evil of collectivism and the idea that individuals must be responsible for each other, and says that should be replaced by voluntary association and adherence to rational self-interest. Exactly this has already for years dominated the development discourse in the Netherlands to the detriment of international solidarity underpinning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A new sort of tribalism that puts own people first.
Trump in many ways resembles “John Galt” and the way he addresses the mass in his famous speech. Knowing that the likes of Alan Greenspan, who some claim caused the financial crisis in 2008, were fervent supporters of Ayn Rands objectivism, we should treat Donald Trump with a good level of suspicion. Trump seems to follow Marry Poppins advice: “A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down”. However, nobody knows what the medicine is and whether it will cure the current disease. It is clear that the Washington consensus is back again and the notion of rational self-interest and market fundamentalism has overtaken the world. In the meantime, the world is watching. And to no one’s surprise nations like Russia and India are welcoming the change of wind in Washington. Less talk of human rights and more talk about good trade relationships, with economic diplomacy gaining ground. It will be important to monitor that public office will not be used for private gain.
Crack-down on the Indian black economy having huge impacts on peoples lives
Public engagement with the market was also demonstrated in India in the past week. On American election day Prime Minister Modi suddenly announced that all currency notes of 500 and 1000 roepies lost their economic value. They could only be returned to the banks in small quantities, first 4500 a day and currently only 2000 a day until December 31st. This will leave heaps of money worthless (I myself was left with a ten thousand roepies that were no use to me any more). In this effort to formalize the huge informal economy, which is rampant in India, many small and medium enterprises suffered losses. Also private drama's occurred as many marriage ceremonies (often paid in cash) were canceled with families seeing their capital going up in smoke: micro-level disasters at a massive scale. Nevertheless the Prime Minister was praised by many for his courageous step, which many felt would help improving accountability and fighting corruption while increasing the tax base. Noticably few winners could also be detected, with a surge in mobile banking following page-width advertisements for mobile banking featuring the photograph of the Prime Minister himself.
Diwali Disaster and Climate Change
In the week preceding the US elections, I attended the Asian Ministerial Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction in New Delhi. It was organised right after the Diwali festival ended. Diwali has its beautiful tradition of lighting candles, communicating the victory of light over darkness. However, fire-crackers have now entered the scene and together with fires of crop residues lit by farmers in neighbouring states darkened the skies for weeks, contributing to tremendeous pollution. The municipality even had to decide to close the schools for three days and advised people to stay inside since the pollution levels exceeded the allowed levels with a tenfold, hitting the ceiling of measuring equipment. The Sikh driver of the motor riksha that we used to get us to Delhi hut for bringing a few presents home only smiled and pointed to destiny that had brought us together. It just goes to show that despite all economic turmoil and geopolitical change Diwali had certainly arrived. For him no mouth cover. And rightly so, as it would have taken away the best smile of the day.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
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Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.