Globalization and its Discontents

Switzerland is hardly a bellweather for Europe. But as the only non-EU country of Western Europe, it has a certain liberty of action that could offer insights into how voters with a real choice might react to the implications of the coming economic slump. So I’ll be watching the outcome of this referendum (via the IHT) — regarding the renewal of Siwtzerland’s freedom of movement treaties with the EU member states — pretty closely.

The sticking point for the Swiss right is the comparative economic level of the EU’s two newest members, Romania and Bulgaria. That resonates with something I suggested last week, namely that in the event of a major, extended economic downturn, immigration patterns within the EU might put political strain on some of its economic foundations.

As the IHT article on Switzerland makes clear, rejecting the freedom of movement agreements would put Switzerland’s economic relationship with the EU at risk, with serious consequences for the Swiss economy. But while most — if not all — economists are voters, very few voters — proportionately speaking — are economists. And let’s face it, the news these days isn’t exactly full of reasons to put one’s faith in the wisdom of the world’s financial barons.

As I pointed out in this France 24 discussion yesterday evening (part one here, part two here), while rational analysis might very well dismiss a wave of protectionism as faulty economics, the sometimes irrational nature of consitutencies’ passions can still make faulty economics good politics. So I’m not as convinced as others that globalization is irreversible. It had a not-so-small number of constituencies opposed to it during the best of times, when it was able to provide tangible proof of its positive effects. That opposition is only likely to get more vocal now that the ranks of those who have lost out from it are about to swell.