Saturday, August 26, 2017

Uncertain connections

Racing back across the North Sea, it is still uncertain if I will make my connection up to Umeå tonight. At Heathrow, there were problems starting one of the engines of our A320. In the end, with a bit of help from an airport mechanic, we were able to spin up the engines and join the taxi queue for runway 09R/27L.

In a widely cited YouGov/Economist poll from November 2016, less than half of Americans, Britons and French said that globalization is a “force for good”. There is clearly no shortage of pundits trying to explain this discontent, most of them focused around widening inequalities. While economic factors may be paramount, I have long argued that part of this phenomenon can also be explained by an inability to offer a comprehensive political vision of a globalized future or even simple assurance that, in the end, “all will be cool”. The lack of such visions and assurances of course has to do with how quickly globalization has unfolded and how immature we still are as a species. Still, many people, even among the global elite, cling to a romanticized past or remain hesitant to draw the full implications of moral universalism.

Reading Peter Frase’s book again reminded how important it is to offer a progressive vision of the future in which all people in this world are needed and valued. However, such a vision can never be about charity or the creation of an indolent “consumtariat” living off some kind of universal basic income. Instead, it must be based on the scientific and economic contribution that each person can make. Rather than locking the poor into low-paying service jobs that not only supress aggregate demand but also deprive people of their sense of self-value, a social democratic future would seek to lift people everywhere to ensure that they have the capacity to create something of true global value to others. This is in fact my greatest reason for long-term optimism about the many challenges that humanity is currently facing, climate change in particular. If we can imagine a world in which 10 billion people have access to higher education, it would not be unreasonable to also imagine a hundred million of these people working on solving such grand challenges. When envisioning such a future, the futility of trying to run away from modernity or putting up walls to protect us from each other should be clear for anyone to see.

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