“May you live in interesting times”, as the old Chinese curse goes. Europe and the rest of the world are definitely going through one of the most interesting periods of political upheaval since the fall of the Berlin wall. We now live in an era where the unthinkable happens, repeatedly.
Take Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union, for example. Europe’s political elite as a whole was convinced that so-called ‘Brexit’ could not happen. In Brussels, most people mocked Brexit supporters and portrayed them as being on the political fringe. In the media, those who ventured that Brexit might actually become a reality also predicted that economic mayhem would follow. Needless to say, both the elites and the media have since had to eat their words.
Nonetheless, Britain’s withdrawal from the EU leaves many questions unanswered. Will the United Kingdom become a more dynamic, open, and freer economy after Brexit? Or will demagoguery and economic interventionism prevail?
Meanwhile, over the pond in the United States Donald Trump’s victory in the Presidential election was also an unpredictable ‘black swan’ event with key parallels in terms of the political context and media response to his candidacy. Deemed to be impossible until the very day of the election, some people now see President Trump’s victory as a further step towards a global populist uprising against the elites. Is this schism here to last? Are large sections of society in the developed world revolting against traditional political parties, the media, and the establishment?
Tear down this wall?
Fear has become an important element of Western societies; most are responding by raising a variety of barriers whether against immigration, against trade or against particular social or ethnic groups.
Free trade is accused of being responsible for the loss of countless jobs – especially in the industrial sector and protectionism is making a spectacular comeback on both sides of the Atlantic. Trade agreements such as the TPP are being demonized across the political spectrum while differences between right and left are increasingly disappearing in a sea of populism. At the same time, innovative companies such as Uber and AirBnB who disrupt traditional ways of doing business face ferocious opposition from cartels teaming up with governments.
Free movement of people is another casualty of our times. In the UK there are serious conversations about the status of EU residents. At the same time, the migrant crisis continues to hit Europe with endless waves of refugees looking for political stability and economic hope.
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During the 2017 Free Market Road Show Panels we will be discussing:
Panel 1 – A Major Economic Reconfiguration: The End of the Free Trade Era?
Topics include: Free trade and its discontents; Protectionism; Trade agreements; The sharing economy; Intellectual property and the Public interest; Economic consequences of Brexit and Trump’s policies.
Panel 2 – Troubled Times in a Divided World
Topics include: How to close the gap between people and elites; The parallel world of the media; How to find a balance between tolerance and the danger of eroding European values? The European Union after Brexit – are France and the Netherlands next?
The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.
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