Common sense question: Who benefits when a Nigerian TV show – Big Brother Nigeria – is shot in South Africa in the name of international competitiveness? The profits of the company, Mnet – or the lives of the everyday Nigerian who would have benefited from the investment in world class studios, training and employment from that investment within borders?
We know that globalization is good. Of course.
We know that trade boosts economies, increasing exports and creating opportunities for businesses.
We know that it reduces the costs of products because imported components and materials lower cost. We know that trade somehow opens markets abroad – as local producers can reach out and then employ more people. We also know that this, somehow, also leads to improved competitiveness, because of the global market. And ultimately these pacts help countries undertake domestic policy reform that aligns to a global standard in exchange for globally agreed benefits – to the effect of lifting everybody up.
We know that protectionism is, as someone has described it, historically, a special-interest bonanza that delivers benefits to specific industries only at a disproportionate cost to the rest of the economy.
But, do we really know these things?
Well I know all of the above because of what I have read and seen from people I should trust and respect. And that’s how human civilization makes leaps and bounds – people achieve expertise via domain knowledge of specific issues, thinking through the substance, consequence and future, and they share those ideas with the rest of us. Common sense demands that we agree, since we know no better ourselves.
This exchange of expertise – “you tell me what you know for sure, and I’ll believe you because you have proof of study or experience” – is the basis on which modern economies and politics are sustained.
Unfortunately, citizens across the world are deciding that it shouldn’t be so simple after all.
Let’s take Americans for instance, where the matter of trade has been debated to smithereens – leading to an alignment (imagine that!) between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
They see something completely different, at least in the short term.
They see benefits to businesses, but not to people. They see priviledged citizens enjoying the cost-savings but find no such benefits for themselves or their friends. They see median wage reducing because of pacts with low-wage countries. They see their jobs leaving because of trade deficits and the effects of ‘global competitiveness’.
And those promised better and higher paying jobs? They see so few of them that it makes no sense at all.
What the experts say, and the reality they see in front of them everyday are in such sharp conflict that every day from Nigeria to Britain, and from France to America, have decided to revolted against the experts. They have become deeply suspicious of their consensus – especially where that consensus disproportionally benefits those same experts.
It is easy for those lucky to live amongst the elite to mouth the goodness of globalization, even if – like me – they only know it because they trust the experts. After all, there is no immediate consequence. As a business person with open lines of client acquisition from across the world, whatever is happening has only been good for me.
But what if I were a South African with a job about to disappear? Or a trader in Kumasi whose live has only gotten worse as the one percent accumulates the benefits of global markets? Yeah, I wouldn’t be so sanguine.
Then let’s even investigate the legitimacy of elite consensus.
Anyone who has had a brush, for instance, with African Studies in the hallowed chambers of American colleges knows something for a fact – the elite academic consensus is a large dose of genteel misunderstanding.
The understanding of African politics is held hostage by 1970-80 paradigms of communist panic and Pan-African reflexes. Then there is the now-outdated understanding of African markets as one big whole. Yet any businessman on the ground knows that Nigeria is more connected as a market to Texas than it is to Togo.
Many people who know the reality of practice in various fields across the world know how often their common sense understanding hits the ceiling of elite consensus, one that is earnest, but earnestly disconnected.
So that consensus deserves respect because it is hard-won – but based on both its inherent fault-lines and the demands of common sense, shouldn’t it be often explained and interrogated? Should it be so arrogant that it need no longer convince?
Should citizens simply take for granted that open and closed economies have some kind of moral undertone that is ultimately good for them, irrespective of what their eyes see and their eyes hear?
Citizens across the world deserve better.
Unless the global elite economic – and political – elite finds the humility to answer questions like these with the clarity and simplicity that popular consensus requires, the burning down of the system – from Nairobi to Paris – will continue.
And Donald Trump will be the least of the upheavals that the world will be forced to confront.
*Jideonwo is editor-in-chief of Y!/YNaija,com. He is also co-founder of RED, which governance communication firm StateCraft Inc, ran campaign communication for the successful anti-establishment campaigns of the current Presidents of Nigeria and Ghana