With the fall of France in 1940, Britain and America were left to defend democracy and capitalism – systems built on the ideas that ordinary people choosing their leaders and pursuing their own destinies in free markets best serves the progress of civilization.
Once the dust settles from Brexit, the world may not be in much different a place.
Continental Europe is in disarray. Unable to grow, innovate or defend its borders, the yellow jackets paralyzing the Macron government in Paris will likely prove precursors of populist upheavals in places like Italy, Hungary and Poland, gradually pulling the European Union into complete dysfunction.
Britain’s future is brighter than defenders of the status quo realize.
That will not be defined by seamless supply chains in manufacturing across the channel but rather by services – finance, artificial intelligence and the like – which are now driving growth in global trade and where its universities are on a par with the best in America.
China and Russia look a lot like fascist Japan and Germany in the 1930s. Each features disciplined government finance and state-directed businesses. And their advance is assisted by decadence among the most significant actors in Western democracies.
China may have big government and private sector debt but it sits on huge holdings of U.S. Those substantially limit the possibility of a bubble bursting and enable Beijing to project power.
Putin keeps Russian debt in check while investing its oil wealth in military modernization and disciplined expansion of social programs. Those appeal to Russian nationalism and expectations established during the communist era for guaranteed employment, healthcare and a steady diet of propaganda.
Corporate chieftains understand absolute loyalty to Moscow and Beijing is essential to business success and personal survival. And those centers of tyranny have successfully ensnared America’s corporate leaders – consider Ford’s decision to stick with Russia after the annexation of the Crimea and Google’s cooperation with Chinese firms that can ultimately advance Beijing’s population-monitoring and control technologies.
So far, Moscow and Beijing are scoring wins where it counts.
Russia is in the eastern Ukraine and Georgia, undermining public confidence about elections in Europe and the United States (how else could Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer deny the legitimacy of President Donald Trump), and extending its menacing influence in Syria, Iran and the wider Middle East.
Notwithstanding some pushback to its Belt and Road initiative, Beijing continues to win acolytes among autocrats in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. Even growing more slowly than in the past, it still boasts more progress for workers and a lot less terrorism and crime than Western democracies.
Rationalized as engagement to encourage democratic reforms, bankers and multinational CEOs, academics and civil society grow rich and influential by lobbying to keep American markets open to cheap Chinese manufactures.
Ultimately, the U.S. negotiations with China will yield a document reminiscent of the 2001 World Trade Organization accession agreement and the bilateral trade deficits will continue. The resulting U.S. borrowing builds Beijing’s dollar horde, European leaders happily buy Russia’s natural gas, and together those finance China’s and Russia’s soft power and military buildups and adventures.
Now Russia has developed a hypersonic nuclear-weapons delivery system to foil America’s defenses. China has landed a rover on the dark side of the moon and plans a permanent colony to claim its resources before manned American voyages can return to lunar soil.
And it is claiming the lead in quantum computing and important dimensions of artificial intelligence.
All because Moscow and Beijing can focus resources where it counts, while Washington and European capitals remain engulfed in sterile quarrels about the viability of the WTO and sanctity of the EU, homophobia and shaming historical figures, and whether the advent of robots entitle adults to a guaranteed annual income.
Have you ever heard Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez talk about national security or the importance of technology to their socialist utopia?
Meanwhile, Google refuses to cooperate with the Pentagon, and alongside Facebook, and Twitter, Google builds private systems that monitor the behavior and thoughts of every private citizen every bit as threatening as China’s emerging social-credit system.
Ultimately, democracies in the West are at risk, because their leaders too are hostage to the false gods of multilateralism, political correctness, and good old-fashioned greed.
Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist. © The Washington Times, LLC.