The world was
thrown into disarray by the financial crisis in 2008 as it was forcibly pushed
out of its previous very definite state, with its own momentum and its own very
effective endogenous systems of control. This previous world order drove the
economic success of western countries, but the world must now find a new stable
framework with a new dynamic and different systems of control. The structure
for this new order still remains very unclear and while there are a number of
potential options, the transition from this previous – and very familiar –
state to the new ill-defined set-up makes for a time of crisis.
certainties of the past are now being called into question, and the new world
order is only just emerging, so the certainties of tomorrow are not yet fully
formed. This situation makes for a crisis as the past world has gone, while the
world of the future is struggling with seemingly – and sometimes actually –
The world as
we know it in 2019 is nothing like the pre-crisis world of 2007. Our
reference points have all completely changed and this is highly disconcerting.
So it comes as no surprise that more radical political movements have developed
and are all very similar in that they hark back to the past to try to find
their bearings. Our ability to imagine these changes creating an ultimately
coherent environment where we can see ourselves living comfortably is shaped by
anxiety and uncertainty, which drive our behavior.
Today’s crisis is multidimensional. It is obviously a source of disruption, but contrary to common belief, it is not necessarily characterized by financial watershed. The financial aspect is merely just another source of uncertainty and while it is probably the most impressive at the time, it is actually not the most difficult aspect to address. Rather it is our changing world that lies at the heart of everyone’s gloom – and this scaremongering is excessive and contrived.
witnessing a very diverse and extensive range of changes that have taken place
in a fairly short space of time, and it is this vast array of change that can
fast technological change is creating a new and unprecedented situation, e.g.
visual recognition, which impinges on personal freedom, and feelings of being
just another anonymous user, useful only as a target for personalized in-app
advertising. An incredible revolution is taking place at unparalleled speed,
yet this transformation does not feel like it provides a major or sustainable
improvement in our wellbeing. What recent innovation has contributed more to
our comfort than the refrigerator? None.
The world is
also changing massively for the middle classes. Polarization
of the labor market means that work for highly educated and for unqualified
workers is increasing – albeit in very different ways – while intermediate jobs
for those with few or poor qualifications are decreasing, with innovation
primarily driving this trend. This middle class played the lead role in economic
growth during the three post-war decades of boom in France, but now they just feel
like bit players. This feeling is further aggravated when these employees live
far from large cities with less access to healthcare, education and other public
services. Here again the context has changed and the future looks much more
bleak for this group. However, this situation is not just specific to France,
as the Deaton review in the UK also reveals startling inequalities. This does
not mean that the situation is the same across the board, but rather we must
entirely overhaul some of our projections as past trends will not continue into
balance is also changing dramatically. The same manufacturing
methods are now being used in both developed and emerging countries, so the size
of the world labor market has increased considerably, and this is another factor
fueling difficulties for the middle classes.
Yet there are
other aspects to this change in scale for the world economy. Tension between
the US and China was inevitable as the real issue at stake here is political leadership,
pursued via technological domination. China very quickly and relentlessly made
up its previous lag as a result of vast efforts in the country, and also
perhaps because of inadequate public investment in the US. This now casts doubt
over US leadership in innovation: given China’s size and its increasing contribution
to world growth, the balance of power in this battle of wills is fairly even. China
is also developing a new way of managing its dealings with the rest of the world
via its Belt and Road Initiative for example, which harbors a highly political dimension.
The country’s expansion does not depend on Washington, unlike the situation in the
west since the end of the Second World War.
means a reallocation of resources for the US – and all to the detriment of
Europe. So Europe must now stand united: the UK’s current ill-judged move is
set to have drastic consequences. The world will not go back to its pre-globalization
state, unless walls are built between countries around the globe. China is
powerful, making it a key partner in future choices on global systems of control,
whether in terms of people, goods, services or capital. Three-party
communication between Europe, the US and China is vital, and a Europe that
fails to stand united cannot have any influence in this trio, which would be
of China’s rise is the fracture in the world’s historical dynamics. The industrial
revolution took place in Europe and then extended naturally to America, so the shift
towards China marks a huge swing in the world balance. French historian Fernand
Braudel’s economic history went from the Mediterranean to Flanders via the Champagne
fairs before making it to London and then New York – maybe China will be the last
stop on this trip.
This all makes
for a radical shift in the world’s reference points, with the feeling of losing
our bearings and our grip on the future. America was easily seen as a natural successor
to Europe, with a full range of virtues, but the same cannot be said of China.
To be followed…
This column was posted on the French Forbes’ website. You can retrieve it here