Revenge of the places that don’t matter

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Güven Sak

It was Andres Rodriguez-Pose of the London School of Economics (LSE), who saw “the revenge of the places that don’t matter, in the 2016 Brexit vote in the U.K., the 2016 election of Donald Trump in the U.S., the 2016 Austrian presidential election, the 2017 French presidential election, and the 2017 German general elections.” All of those votes were about regional inequalities.

The idea is simple. Regional disparities or inequalities are more effective than interpersonal inequality, leading “the places that don’t matter” to show their resentment at the ballot box, “to rebel against feelings of left behind, of lacking opportunities or future prospects,” according to Rodriguez-Pose. Strong argument on why “Trumpism,” however it manifests itself, will survive after Donald the Trump.

In December 2016, I wrote, “When I was a kid, Fidel Castro was the symbol of backlash against globalization. Now we have Trump. This is beyond anything we could have imagined in my times. If Castro’s Cuba provided the occasional pothole along the road, Trump is the drunk driver sitting next to you. Welcome to the age of global reckless driving.” What a dangerous drive we had in the last four years! It has not just cost the lives of more than 200,000 Americans during the pandemic, it has done immense damage to American institutions, and to the infrastructure of global cooperation.

With the virus, the world has become an even more uncertain place. As the numbers of cases surge, economies across the world are going to slow down. There is no one-country solution to this pandemic. The world needs to go back to a kind of multilateralism, both to deal with the virus as well as its economic consequences.

If left to themselves, markets and individual companies will only exacerbate the negative economic consequences of the pandemic. They will invest more in digitalization and robotization to deal with declining productivity and profitability. This will inevitably lead to more unemployment and greater regional inequality. That is what any future Trumpesque candidate is about — the resentment of the losers of globalization.

That’s why we need to sober up to deal not only with the negative economic consequences of the virus, but to avoid further regional inequalities. The never-ending American election shows the need to jumpstart economic activity despite the surge in the virus. We need to find a way.

I find the end of the Trump presidency as a rather timely decision on the part of American voters. With Trump out, the world is going to have one less element of uncertainty to deal with.

This is the time to devise a multilateral response to COVID-19, and to put the sustainability agenda at the forefront, including an agenda for the sustainability of cities and regions. Globalization simply cannot afford to have “places that don’t matter.”

This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 07.11.2020

Originally published at https://www.tepav.org.tr.

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