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 Rex Column                                                                                 2 May 2017

 Changing configurations    

 by Cees Bruggemans          words 500

 We (at least some off us) tend to have fixed inclinations as to the structure of things, both globally and locally. In other words, capitalist/market economy with public oversight, through free trade working towards resource maximization and growth, adding to national income and wealth.

And large parts of this engine remains in place and functional. But its relevance appears to be fading as something else is coming more strongly into view. Within countries, the weak are making their voices heard, not mainly via labour unions or traditional political parties as used to be the case, but through populist voices and resistance. Externally, a new nationalism is growing, too, not so much observable in the little countries like Monaco, but much more assertively by the bigger ones.

 

 

 

As a consequence, the world appears to be shedding tolerance. In its place is coming an America, China, Europe, Russia, Japan First. But as the bigger blocs gain in self-reliance and self-preoccupation, it tends to leave smaller countries behind.

Geopolitically, this can result in war & peace issues growing in intensity locally, at the expense of many weaker entities. When the Pope as usual proclaims to prefer peace, but in a seeming aside refers to the risk of more war and losing up to half the world population, the discourse appears to be changing.

As much economically (more protectionism), socially (defending achieved benefits or demanding more) as politically/military (localised wars with global consequences, such as Middle East and North Korea), things are steadily changing from the post-war 2 context.

In the last six years, Syria has found half its population (10 out of 20 million) displaced, with 4 million thereof refugees in foreign camps. That had not been quite foreseen in 2010.

In our very own way, we are experiencing something similar, in the manner that the SA market economy lies under siege, social advantages of some are being eroded, and our global orientation long ago acquired an anti-western slant, supposedly favoured by the majority of our population.

The scary thing is that both globally & locally we only appear to be at the beginning of this particular wave, in which America is being described as being engaged in a retreat back into the 19th century, with less regulation, more social and economic inequality, and a growing geopolitical rawness rather than subtlety.

Most of us are mentally not geared for this makeover, at least not that I notice. Instead, these deepening confusions, endless questioning and debating, about what is happening and where it could be leading.

The world is getting nastier, and possibly more brutish again. Balmy prosperity long ago made way for renewed confrontation on many fronts. The risk of bigger surprises is felt in every dimension, presenting themselves more rapidly.

The things to watch for: rising populism, Me First, and sudden fire storms. North Korea appears particularly most intractable. All this well beyond refined civilized norms. For many, it will prove an ongoing adjustment.

 

Cees Bruggemans

Bruggemans & Associates, Consulting Economists

 

Website  www.bruggemans.co.za

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Twitter  @ceesbruggemans

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