The next phase of globalisation: democracy, capitalism and inequality in the industrialised world



Oxford, United Kingdom

The central question at the heart of this years - already 5th Annual FEPS, Policy Network and Renner Institut Oxford symposium will be what challenges does the new era of globalisation pose for centre-left parties across Europe and the United States? The seminar will examine the ‘next phase of globalisation’ bringing together leading thinkers and experts from across the world to debate the structural causes and political consequences of the new wave of globalisation. The output from the conference will be a set of papers alongside a major book publication (IB Tauris, 2018). 

The debate about globalisation over the last thirty years has had a major impact on our understanding of political developments in advanced economy states. The consequences of globalisation have been argued about vigorously among scholars in economics and the social sciences, as well as within political elites, NGOs, and civil society. But there is still relatively little agreement about the causes, effects and long-term impact of globalisation. In recent years, globalisation appears to have entered a new phase of disruption and disorder; the impact of economic globalisation and technological change in driving dissatisfaction with established political systems is increasingly apparent. These structural changes have been felt acutely in the advanced industrialised countries, given the rise of new forms of political populism that seek to exploit the economic and political polarisation and resentment created by globalisation. The shift in politics was symptomized by the decision of UK voters to leave the European Union (EU) in June 2016, the November 2016 election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States, as well as the rise of populist movements on left and right throughout much of Europe.

The Harvard economist Dani Rodrik has insisted that the three goals of liberal democratic industrialised economies – global economic integration, national sovereignty, and political democracy – are becoming increasingly incompatible. The reaction against globalisation is leading to demands for national barriers and protections that safeguard jobs and living standards within the nation-state. This has thrown the post-war project of European political integration into turmoil. Since the financial crisis and great recession post-2008, globalisation no longer appears to be delivering the goods in a climate of deflation and ‘secular stagnation’ where growth rates are declining; wages and living standards are falling; the blue collar working class is in open revolt against the political establishment; and economic anxiety and insecurity are rising fast across most developed economies, breeding popular discontent with government bureaucracy and representative democracy. The eight years since 2008 have witnessed the slowest and most anaemic recovery in the history of western capitalism. To many voters, the economy appears to be broken and politics is failing.

Parties of the left and centre-left have struggled to forge a convincing response to this new phase of globalisation in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. In the 1990s, social democratic parties embraced globalisation almost without qualification, arguing that government intervention to increase the supply of human capital and skills would enable everyone to benefit from global economic integration. That initial optimism has been confounded; it is increasingly apparent that globalisation is not working for those on lower to middle-incomes, leading to a crisis of confidence in mainstream social democracy.

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