Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been perceived by the world as a struggle between democracy and tyranny. A rupture of the world order based on rules and respect for the sovereignty of States that has prevailed for the last seven decades and that has given us the greatest increase in global prosperity in the history of humanity. The past was never peaceful, we have simply forgotten it. We have also forgotten that it was not democratic. According to Our World in Data, there are only six countries in the world with liberal democracies that have reached their 90th birthday. In the remaining 173 countries, the autocracy continues or is sometimes a very close memory.
The sanctions adopted against Vladimir Putin and the image of Volodymyr Zelensky addressing the UN, the European Parliament and national congresses are the best testimonies that this time the democracies have understood what is at stake. Also of the value of liberal democracy. As Martin Sandbu points out, sanctions blacken white the costs of being excluded from the prosperity that an economic order based on the rule of law creates. Transparency, freedom of opinion and independence also help society understand that defending our values and principles is not free: Putin’s war will inevitably have negative consequences on our immediate well-being. Some may be buffered, but not all, not for all, not all the time. And this will have consequences on the functioning of our coexistence system.
To the reconstruction of the international order that this war has ended up breaking, we will have to add the effort to confront the attacks that domestic autocrats promote stealthily and from within. Moses Naim in The revenge of powerhis most recent book, describes how populism, polarization and post-truth are undermining the foundations of our freedoms, our institutions and the balance of power.
In 1920, Keynes observed in his Economic Consequences of Peace that one of the characteristics of his generation had been to get used to the world around them, unaware of how infrequent, unstable, complex, unreliable and temporary the previous 50 years had been. to the First World War. Today, we are learning that the post-World War II world exhibited the same attributes, yet we tended to regard it as natural and permanent. Perhaps for this reason, we close our eyes to the setbacks that since 2007 have been registering the quality of our democracies.
The future requires recovering memory, abandoning arrogance and investing efforts and intelligence to recover an efficient democracy for the 21st century. The challenges are great. The first is that what we shamelessly called “developed countries” cannot rebuild the new international order alone. We are simply too few and with a decreasing economic weight. To win against tyrannies, we must seek alliances, offer incentives and rule out the imposition of our model on everyone else.
The other is even more important. The expansion of democracy has historically depended on its ability to generate economic optimism, something that today is conspicuous by its absence. We grow little, we do it with incredible inequality and precariously —or directly expelling from the labor market— the millions of people who do not have the required skills. We have already been there. It was in the 20s of the last century and we all know what happened. Especially when frustrated expectations of progress are combined with fear. Not just the fear of war or the next pandemic, but of everyday risks. The most unmistakable feature of contemporary Western society is its aversion to risk and its willingness to seek protection from the state. It is not irrational, but it has a fatal consequence: when the solution does not come, it is not because it is impossible or not affordable, but because of the incompetence of the system. Gasoline for anti-politics, everyone leaving… and the autocrats coming.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
The solution to both problems is complex. But it exists. It’s called growth, that is, investment, incentives and rules that release optimism and confidence that ours, despite its flaws, is the best system. And it is, not because it eliminates our differences in values and interests, but because the discrepancies are overcome by the acceptance of the legitimacy of the decision process that makes the policies possible. form over substance. Optimism versus fatalism. The future against the apocalypse. In short, reason versus brute force.
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