Sir, Gillian Tett, in “ The big illusion of empowerment for the masses” (January 23), echoed the World Economic Forum’s research that we have entered into a new age of protest. One wonders if the great and the good at Davos will have drawn the right conclusions from this trend and how best to interpret it. While I am sympathetic to Ms Tett’s view that frustration with the low impact of social media on the political process may be one cause, there are surely deeper forces at play here.

According to MIT and Harvard professors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their classic book Why Nations Fail: “Inclusive economic and political institutions . . . are often the outcome of significant conflict between elites resisting economic growth and political change and those wishing to limit the economic and political power of existing elites.”

The authors argue convincingly that these “inclusive” institutions have been the bedrock of all sustained human progress through the centuries.

If one uses Acemoglu and Robinson’s lens to interpret the biggest protests in Europe in decades, those against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the conflict becomes clearer.

TTIP can be seen as a major power grab by the existing global elites, represented by the multinationals on both sides of the Atlantic, to reinforce their political and economic power, which is being resisted by civil society. To gauge the size of this resistance, remember the 200,000 or more protesters who took to the streets of Berlin against TTIP in October.

Of greater political importance are the large numbers of small and medium-sized businesses throughout Europe that are protesting against TTIP. More than 5,000 small and medium-sized businesses in Austria and Germany have signposted their intention to resist TTIP, while in the UK an organisation called Business Against TTIP has come into being, spearheaded by some of the country’s most forward-looking entrepreneurs.

Richard Elsner

International Development Advisor,


Berlin, Germany

Get alerts on Letter when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)