x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Hazare is just one man hungry for globalised change

Now that the globalised economy is faltering, we are seeing the problems created by uneven distribution of wealth.

During the heady days of the economic boom I wrote a weekly column for a local newspaper that repeated the frequent theme that western civilisation was crumbling. At the time, my tongue was somewhat in my cheek and there was a certain amount of provocation intended.
Now, though, I think I might actually have been on to something given developments over the last four or five years. It is not that western civilisation has crumbled in the intervening period, but there are definitely cracks beginning to show in the economic system underpinning the success of its favoured method of proliferation, namely globalisation.
During times of feast no one complains of course, but now, since the famine years began there has been quite a tumult. I am no economist but there has been enough evidence to suggest that Karl Marx may not have been talking complete rubbish.
This month alone has given us the chaos of riots in the UK, Europe seemingly on the brink of bankruptcy, economic retardation in the US and, in the last few weeks, India, that model of what globalisation can do for a plucky emerging market, has now also shown that there will always be consequences to any action.
Two weeks ago, protests erupted across the country after anti-graft activist Anna Hazare was arrested for daring to "fast unto death" in his battle against corruption, what he calls India's "second war of independence". On Saturday, Mr Hazare ended his 12-day hunger strike, claiming a victory after the lower house of India's parliament unanimously adopted a resolution that three of his demands should be included in a new anti-corruption bill.
The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had been accused of fostering a culture of corruption which has cost India billions of dollars and threatened to derail growth. If the recent headlines are to be believed, India's democracy, hailed as a beacon by the West from its birth in 1947, is facing one of its toughest challenges since independence.
But India is not alone among the major emerging markets, so who could be next to feel the squeeze?
China seems the logical choice and already there are some worrying signs. Two weeks ago, Chinese equities fell for three consecutive days after analysts cut their economic growth forecasts for the country over concerns that a slowdown in the US and Europe will affect its exports. There should be some concern over what slower growth will mean for China's social system and what discontent among the people could trigger across a nation of 1.3 billion.
There is a lot of uncertainty on the horizon. What is certain, however, is that while globalisation has its clear benefits, it does not offer a solution for when it falters.
Could we mollify rioters in London or protesters in Mumbai by giving them a grande soy latte or a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes? Is it that easy to enfranchise the disenfranchised? Is it that one more BMW showroom is what is really missing here? Some would like us to think so.
What is true is that those of us lucky enough to enjoy the perks are only a minority, a seemingly chosen few, whose numbers pale in comparison to the millions around the world who have had only marginal benefits the gravy train of globalisation. That this minority has done little to redress the balance, and the criminal fact that some of us have even worked hard to ensure the status quo remains, is why our social and financial systems have been brought to their knees.
As a species, we are pretty hard-headed. We could not have tamed this planet without a dash of stubbornness and denial after all, and we only seem to heed its lessons when we are battered into submission by it.
Despite the weaknesses of today's civilisation, we can still hope that this time it won't come to that.
Mustafa Alrawi is a UAE-based media consultant at the PR agency M: Communications