A turbulent decade comes to a close

. Dec 28, 2019
A turbulent decade comes to a close Photo: Antonio Scorza

A lot can happen in ten years. Nowadays, some specialists say that, over this period, we can already begin talking about generational differences. With the speed of technological evolution, it is no surprise to see two distinct generations in less than a decade.

To have an idea of what this means, exactly ten years ago, Apple launched the iPhone 3GS, considered a landmark for the smartphone market. Today, newborns are already digital natives, plugged into a world dominated by technology and a networked society, as described by Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells.

</p> <p>Now that 2019 has come to an end, we can look back on these last ten years and categorically state: a great many things have happened. Though there are methodological doubts about whether the 2010s have actually come to an end—the Cartesians among us correctly claim the new decade only begins in year 1, or, in this case, 2021—I ask that you allow me the poetic licence to reflect on some issues that came to mind in my recent reading.</p> <h2>People on the streets </h2> <p>We have therefore come to the end of another decade. From a political point of view, we saw the hegemonic Workers’ Party change leader with the election of Dilma Rousseff in 2010, before gradually fading until her impeachment in 2016. We saw the U.S. re-elect Barack Obama, only to elect the unlikely President Donald Trump four years later. Some countries, such as China, have grown in power and economic clout. Others, such as Venezuela, have chosen the dark path of abandoning democracy, for which they are now paying the price.</p> <p>The 2010s was also a decade of widespread protest around the globe. The June 2013 demonstrations in Brazil laid bare the population’s dissatisfaction with the country’s system of political representation. Some say that the movement planted the seed for the protests against Ms. Rousseff’s government and her eventual impeachment.</p> <p>&nbsp;But this mobilization was not restricted to Brazil: at the beginning of the decade, we had the Arab Spring, protests in Greece, Spain, France, and Italy, with students, workers, and other classes banding together against economically irresponsible governments that paid little attention to the welfare of their populations. Recently, Latin America has seen several demonstrations, as has Hong Kong. Even in the U.S. we saw movements take to the streets, as was the example of Black Lives Matter in 2015 and 2016.</p> <h2>Democracy under threat?</h2> <p>Of course, each country has its own conjunctural elements that sparked the popular reaction. There are, however, some aspects that are common across all of these phenomena. The narrative of the depletion of political representation and, consequently, of the system of government and/or political system is a common factor, for instance. The 2008 crisis is also a recurring theme, especially considering the impact it had on the beginning of the decade. With it came arguments against the liberal consensus, summarized by the 1989 Washington Consensus, signed after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union. The 2010s was the hangover from the subprime crisis, in which countries were slowly moving away from globalization and highly integrated economies.&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps we are facing a transition period, moving away from political and economic liberalism and toward a new hegemonic model that is still unfamiliar. What has been observed in recent years, however, is a shift towards more closed and protectionist economies and regimes less committed to democracy. Examples of leaders such as Mr. Trump, Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro, Viktor Orbán (Hungary), Benjamin Netanyahu (Israel), Mateusz Morawiecki (Poland), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines) and Recep Erdogan (Turkey) portray a new right-wing movement of the political-ideological pendulum. Perhaps this is the response to the recurring protests that have shaped recent years.</p> <p>In December, newspaper <em>Valor</em> <a href="">published</a> an interview with Dominique Reynié, a French political scientist from the Institute of Political Studies in Paris (better known as Sciences Po). Mr. Reynié has just coordinated a survey involving more than 35,000 respondents in 42 different countries to address the relationship of citizens with democracy. According to Mr. Reynié, democracy has ceased to be a consensus and is currently undergoing a historical crisis, failing to regulate the political space as it used to.</p> <p>Also according to the political scientist, politically &#8220;we have a model based more on constraint than on consent, on obligation than on discussion, which is based more on discipline than on citizen mobilization. This model is not new, but it has been updated because citizens are beginning to think that democracy is not capable of being effective in meeting the demands of today&#8217;s world.&#8221;</p> <p>Added to this skepticism about <a href="">democratic regimes</a>, there is a clear discredit of globalization and free trade between countries. Similar to changes in the political system, it is plausible that the coming decades will be marked by a new dynamic of the global economy, in which it is possible that trade relations between countries will recede, nationalist policies will become a priority, and technological wars will take the place of cooperation and the exchange of knowledge. Instruments of progress, such as innovation and cutting-edge technology, seem to be moving from the theoretical sphere of sharing, of joint construction of a world that seeks prosperity, to the sphere of power, where they will be used to guide international relations.</p> <h2>U.S.-China relations</h2> <p>In this context, the U.S. now has to deal with its own Frankenstein&#8217;s monster: during and after the Cold War, the U.S. gambled on Asian countries being the catalysts of the new capitalist and liberal order—the Asian Tigers are a good example—but China did not fully adhere to this transformation.</p> <p>Despite the opening of China&#8217;s economy over the last two decades, the country has not entered the global production chains hierarchically below the U.S., instead it has entered as a competitor, largely due to the accelerated growth of its economy and the increase in added value of its industry. To have a sense of its speed of progress, Chinese GDP per capita jumped from USD 194 in 1980 to USD 9,174 in 2015. While there is still a technological lag, the U.S. clearly feels threatened by the speed of China&#8217;s progress.</p> <p>It is little wonder, then, that President Trump has been waging a trade war with China since 2018. The dispute is not only about trade, but also about geopolitics. Feeling their position as a hegemonic superpower threatened, the U.S. is trying to contain the impetus of the Asian giant. To this end, efforts are focused on attacking not only Chinese products but also multinational corporations that use China as a platform for assembly and production. Thus, the last decade has also been potentially transformational, as we have seen the rise of a country that may once again share the <a href="">position of great global power</a> with the U.S.—making the dynamics of international relations bilateral again.</p> <p>It is difficult to say whether we have progressed or regressed in the last decade. I venture to say that there has been some advancement among nations, but globally, we have gone in the opposite direction. The big institutions of global governance—the United Nations (UN), European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF), among others—have been weakened.</p> <p>On the other hand, it seems that we are witnessing a moment of transition. It may be the end of liberalism, of enlightenment values and of liberal democracy, into what is considered to be a more hostile context—both of governments to governments and of governments to the population. And, with that, we move on to another decade of the human race.

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Felipe Berenguer

Felipe Berenguer is a political analyst at Levante Ideias de Investimentos

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