Has the Coronavirus destroyed free trade & globalization?

December 30, 2020

Q: Sir, you uncannily predicted the end of Globalization and Democracy some 15 years ago. Do you believe the Covid pandemic will accelerate this trend? What is the impact on Singapore?

A: Will Corona times accelerate the obsolescence of Globalization and Democracy? Yes most definitely. Mckinsey puts the pace of acceleration by at least 10 years. Pew is far more conservative. Its fair to say even the most sanguine think tanks all agree the rise of nationalism and populism has been on an upward curve globally four or five years even before the pandemic showed up. Combined with a global slowdown in economic and trade growth, Globalization certainly plateaued andmaybe in 2015 began to reverse and will continue to do so. To me the Coronavirus event has amplified the vulnerability of supply chains to most governments and many will begin a process of building fail safes and redundancies to not only support vital industries, but they will also consider the political threats they source their goods and services from. For example in March many US legislators were horrified that they were so reliant on China for simple staples like toilet paper and mask and gloves. I think its only natural that Corona times has readjusted many of our assumptions. For example, I used to write stinging essays berating AVA and LTA for their bovine attitude towards food security and if you peruse thru the comments. There were tons of charming commentators who felt that I lived in another planet. But in the grip of corona times when governments struggle in vain to keep all their food security assets functioning, they will invariably cut exports of staples and so what I once suggested doesn’t sound so dumb after all.

How will all this impact Singapore? Negatively because the Singapore economy is only optimised for a globalized economy. The key word here is only. Its not like Malaysia that has a mixed bag of commodities and primary and even cottage industries which insulates their economy from global shocks such as Corona times. Sure they will get clobbered, but their severity will be significantly less than Singapore. For me. The Singapore economy needs to be less fixated on Globalization and instead develop some sort of surrogate hinterland that allows its population to tap into the regional economy. So in my calculations Singapore needs to deepen its social and economic roots in neighboring countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. In my view its a terrible mistake to opt out from the Malaysian High Speed Rail project. I can understand if many of the Singaporean planners feel that Malaysia is a right mess and it’s a political maze that they rather not get enmeshed in. But my argument is that’s a strategy that only a self sufficient country can afford to consider. Furthermore, there’s no returning to the past as far as politics is concerned for Malaysia and its conceivable as messy as it is, this is as good as it will ever get and even then. I believe its not all negative, as despite the messiness. There’s still a lot of opportunities to prosper. Much more than before. Simply because where divisions proliferate so does the need to form alliances.

Q: What about your theory that democracy has come to the end of its life cycle? Could you elaborate on the alternative and why you see that democracy is more of a liability than asset?

A: Democracy really only works when the sum of what unites a nation stands at a higher percentage than what would divide or fragment it. And for nearly 200 years its done a pretty good job of producing good for not only the US but for every major economy in the world. But with Brexit and Trump and the growing sentiment of parochialism and insularity that licenses xenophobia, bigotry and plain racism. Its conceivable that tipping point has been breached where one can say the sum of what divides a nation will always be more than what can possibly unite it. Today if you look at both the UK and US, theyre not only divided and fragmented ideologically but they’re also also at poles. So much so, there’s no such thing as common ground between brexiters and those who still believe in integration. As for the US, its now a misnomer, it should be renamed the disunited states of America.

My feel is when democracy as a social political has outlived its product life cycle then it can only produce all sorts of undesirable aberrations and to make such a decrepit ideologue work politicians would have to descend to lies, subterfuge and plain gerry mandering just to get into power. To me this is very stupid and it opens all sorts of Pandora boxes. Might as well just say what everyone already knows – Democracy doesn’t work any longer because they are simply too many stupid people running around and when you think about it. Whether you’re a brain surgeon or a mad man, both are equally entitled to one vote. For me this is rather strange because if we take the trouble to filter people who regularly hear voices from jobs such as air traffic controllers. Or we take basic precautions like not allowing kids to juggle hand grenades. Then why can’t we ensure that a person who is eligible to vote is well informed enough to cast his share of the democratically process in an informed manner?

What’s the alternative? I dont think thats as important as coming to terms the party is well and truly over. My feel is too many countries are trying to make democracy work simply because they don’t see another alternative. To me that’s a sort of militant resistance to change and sure if you invest enough to make even a decrepit work, it will. Only at some point of throwing out cannonballs at one end of the boat to make it move forward. One would do well to ask – how efficient is that along with how long can politicians continue to appease and pander to a capricious public without compromising their integrity. If you ask me how politicians lost their credibility in the West in the last five years its because they have all without exception side stepped the proverbial elephant in the living room and it is simply this – democracy doesn’t work any longer!

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