It is was kind of David Cameron and Barack Obama to join in the efforts to promote my new book, Zero-Sum World – albeit by contradicting its argument. In speeches in China and India, this week, both leaders have gone on record to say that we are not, in fact, living in a Zero-Sum World.
David Cameron’s speech today said that Britain regards the rise of China as an opportunity. In that strange staccato style of speaking that he seems to have inherited from the speeches of Tony Blair, Cameron told his audience that he believed in – “Enagement not disengagement. Dialogue not stand-off. Mututal benefit not zero-sum game.”
Barack Obama also explicitly rejected the idea of a zero-sum world in his speech in China about a year ago. And he made very similar remarks in India this week. Acknowledging the backlash against globalisation in America, Obama continued: “There are many Americans whose only experience with trade and globalization has been a shuttered factory or a job that was shipped overseas. And there still exists a caricature of India as a land of call centers and back offices that cost American jobs. That’s a real perception,” admitted the president. “But these old stereotypes, these old concerns ignore today’s reality: In 2010, trade between our countries is not just a one-way street of American jobs and companies moving to India. It is a dynamic, two-way relationship that is creating jobs, growth, and higher living standards in both our countries. And that is the truth.”
It was left to some of the accompanying CEOs actually to use the phrase, “zero-sum”. Jeff Immelt, the head of General Electric, told reporters that globalisation is “not a zero-sum game.” Mind you, this is the same Jeff Immelt, who told a private dinner earlier this year (in remarks later reported in the FT) that he sometimes wondered whether the Chinese govenment really wanted any foreign firms to “win” in the Chinese market.
And that, I think, is the point. There is a growing gap between the public statements made by western leaders – and their private thoughts and doubts. Indeed, the increasing frequency with which they publicly avow that they do not see globalisation in zero-sum terms is, I think, rather telling. It’s like hearing somebody go on and on about how happy their marraige is; after a while, you begin to wonder.
Of course, if Obama or Cameron changed their line on globalisation, it would be massive news. But, as Obama actually pointed out, more and more people in the West are beginning to doubt the argument that globalisation is a “win-win”. And their doubts are being reflected in government policy. So while the trade deals and speeches in Beijing and Mumbai are significant, I think you might get a more accurate snap-shot of the state of the globalisation debate in the deadlock and acrimony at the G20 summit later this week.
But here, I should make an admission. While I do think that that relations between the major powers are increasingly governed by zero-sum logic – both economically and politically – I don’t welcome the development, since it risks new economic shocks and dangerous international tensions. So if Cameron, Obama et al can persuade their voters to believe in a “win-win world”, then good for them. The trouble is it will take more than words. It will take economic recovery and changes in policy in China and even India. And none of that is guaranteed.
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