Globalisation is good

And then there were two. We now know that either Barack Obama or John McCain will be the first US president of the next phase of globalisation. One of them will be the first US president whose foreign economic policy will be dominated from day one by a fundamental transfer of economic power from west to east and south. The Atlantic world is no longer the centre of the economic world, because the economic world no longer has a centre. How McCain and Obama interpret that fact matters to all of us.

The protectionist and anti-trade rhetoric evident in the primaries suggests that many Americans see global economic change in zero-sum terms. Asia rises, we decline. Economic inequality is reduced between countries, but widens within our own societies. Globalisation is no longer something we do, it is something that others do to us. An increasing number of Europeans feel the same way.

Nobody would disagree that globalisation has its dark side. But the open markets and economic integration that drive it are still by far the best tool we have for increasing global economic welfare. That is an essential contribution to global stability. Only stable, cooperating states can manage the squeeze on resources. For 60 years, the US has underwritten economic internationalism with openness of its own. A crisis of American confidence in globalisation could knock it off course.

Rather than worry about a relative decline in their economic weight, or retreat from international engagement, the US and Europe should recognise that in an interdependent world, they have nothing to gain from a stalling of growth in the developing world. Instead they should focus on renewing the global institutions needed to hold this new mix of states together through difficult debates on climate change, energy security and trade. We have to adapt these institutions — the UN, the WTO, the IMF — to give the emerging economies a chance not just to exercise their rights, but to assume their responsibilities.

We can’t shape globalisation without tackling the causes of protectionism. That means tackling our own economic insecurity and inequality. It’s an entrenched political myth that globalisation and active welfare states are incompatible. Look at OECD data for the last 20 years and it is clear that where they have encouraged labour market flexibility, high levels of education and retraining, and helped women and older people stay in the workforce, strong welfare states have equipped countries for globalisation much better than weak ones.

This is not just a challenge for the US: European social models still do not pass these tests. Progressives in the US and Europe need to revive the New Deal case for governments that help people engage with open economies, rather than leave them exposed. Protective states do not have to be protectionist ones.

Gordon Brown gets this. Whether tackling African development or social justice in Britain, he sees globalisation as part of the solution. Whatever the issues or challenges, the British PM has never erred in rejecting the false comforts of populism and setting out a positive politics of globalisation. The world needs to hear the same message from President Obama or McCain. Globalisation needs America. America needs globalisation. — The Guardian

Peter Mandelson is the EU trade commissioner