A Liberal Doomsayer Has the Solution to All Our Woes
Ian Bremmer is a respected thinker who, as President of Eurasia Group, has a large following that includes Lawrence Summers, Bill Gates, and Christine Lagarde. In Us vs. Them (New York, 2018) and a host of other books, Bremmer presents a frightening vision of the future. Machines displacing people, the rising power of China, unrest among the displaced at home and abroad, increasing division and violence...not a rosy scenario, but it sells books.
Like nearly all futurists, Bremmer describes a world of "unprecedented" challenges — a world "unlike any we've seen before" and one requiring unprecedented government and corporate solutions. Prognosticators like Bremmer have played this game since time immemorial. Malthus with his population bomb, a phrase echoed in the title of Paul and Anne Ehrlich's 1968 best-seller; Rachel Carson's Silent Spring; M. King Hubbert's concept of Peak Oil; and Al Gore's Earth in the Balance — they all said the world was coming to an end, but we're doing just fine. Not just "fine," but better every decade.
So what's the point of liberals calling for a cataclysm? It's because then they can demand a "solution" in the form of more government.
Income inequality is a central topic in Bremmer's most recent book. According to Bremmer, the widening income gap, both within developed countries and among countries around the world, points to growing unrest and violence. Bremmer cites the Occupy movements of the 2010s, for example, along with the more consequential Arab Spring of 2010.
What liberals fail to see is that along with income inequality, there has been enormous improvement in the quality of life for the vast majority of those in all wage groups, and especially so in America since the election of Donald Trump. Yes, billionaires are getting richer, and that worries Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg to no end. But most of us don't spend much time calculating how much money Jeff Bezos has. We're delighted when we get a raise and when our 401(k) is doing well — and both of these have happened under President Trump.
Similarly, in China, India, and the Middle East, billions of people have risen out of poverty over the past 20 years, the exact period that has produced the greatest income inequality. But liberals don't spend much time talking about the rise of the middle class. Could it be that liberals don't really care about the ordinary people whose boats have been lifted along with the yachts of the super-rich?
Another issue that worries Bremmer is the presumed weakening of global institutions such as the E.U. and the U.N. Bremmer seems to believe that these institutions are unequivocally good — they brought "stability," he says, in the wake of WWII. But with stability, to the extent that that has occurred, global institutions have also brought suppression of liberty and the rise of a global elite. Is it stability that liberals care about or their own status as a privileged political elite?
Has the U.N. ever done anything to improve the chances of ordinary men and women? Wasn't it really democratic capitalism that lifted the fortunes of the world's population, not the elite institutions whose decline Bremmer laments? It is not the G7 or other globalist confabs that have determined our futures in the past — it is our own hard work, education, fidelity to our families, and faith in God, and none of these is undermined by the demise of globalism. If anything, they are strengthened.
Likewise, the rise of populism is hardly the threat that Bremmer believes it is. Trump, Brexit, and the crumbling of the E.U. are the result of growing prosperity and hope among the world's peoples. While nationalism presents dangers, it is also a sign of optimism. Is it better for the world's common men and women to remain poor, powerless, and beholden to a global elite or for them to take charge of their own future?
That question of enfranchisement is at the heart of Bremmer's thinking and of liberal/progressive politics today. The rising power and voice of ordinary people that President Trump so strongly promotes are seen by progressives as a danger and a threat. All of Warren's long list of "plans" for new government powers are designed to quash what liberals see as the frightening rise of those common folk "clinging to their guns and religion" and to restore power of the elite — and not merely "restore," but expand on a scale that resembles the powers of the Soviet state. What right, after all, do the half-educated bozos of the heartland have to influence what goes on in Washington?
Bremmer's thinking is a great deal more sophisticated than that of Warren or Sanders, whose rhetoric never rises above "they've got more than we do, so let's take it," but it seems closely aligned with the progressive left. In Us vs. Them, Bremmer opines that the financial crisis of 2008–09 was caused by "the shortcomings of unregulated markets" (p. 38). Precisely the opposite is true. The financial crisis resulted from a speculative bubble in real estate caused by government requirements for lower lending standards so as to approve mortgage loans for low-income and no-doc borrowers. Government regulation caused the financial crisis of 2008–09. Bremmer's "solution" of more regulation would inevitably result in another financial collapse as it directed more capital into speculative and unprofitable investments.
Bremmer is also mistaken about recent political changes. In a recent Barron's interview, he states that "there's extraordinary division with the rise of populism." Is it populism that's causing division, or is it the tyrannical rule of a political elite that refuses to cede power? Has Trump "made things worse" (Us vs. Them, p. 163) by standing up for the little guy? One of Bremmer's real zingers is his assertion that the president has "poisoned the attitudes of his followers toward government and the media" (Us vs. Them, p. 163). As if there were no "poison" coming out of the media beforehand, and as if government were our friend and protector.
In response to the coming "crisis," Bremmer believes that government must "rewrite the social contract to provide for the needs of society in new ways" (Us vs. Them, p. 139). In practice, this means greater income redistribution, "providing for [people's] most basic needs," and "fundamental changes in the ways governments collect taxes" (Us vs. Them, p. 141). This sounds a lot like Warren and Sanders, and even like Buttigieg and Biden. It's the same extortion argument that FDR used in the 1930s and LBJ in the turbulent 1960s: we face an unprecedented crisis, and only government can save us. But are things really that bad? And is government the answer?
The reality is that human beings are living far longer, safer, more prosperous lives than ever in history. Ordinary Americans have never had it so good, especially since Trump's election and the tax cuts he got passed. There will always be challenges, but are our challenges greater than those of the past? The left will never admit the plain truth: life is good, and it will get better as long as freedom is preserved and government is limited.
In the end, Bremmer strikes me as being just another tired liberal with a raft of government solutions. My own prediction for the future: There will be future economic crises, political battles, and even wars, but America will remain the "shining city on a hill." Americans will preserve their freedom against the rise of Big Government, no matter the cost.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).