Who would have thought that the price of bread and oil, many household goods, could be so influenced by the war in Ukraine, the result of the division between East and West which had its roots in the Second World War ?
If we had lost the war, it might have ended the increasing democratization of the market which has allowed more and more people to express themselves through their purchases, as well as through their votes. The war cut the world into big chunks of politics that now divide it: Russia, Europe and America, with China hovering and succeeding. A post-war success that grew out of the defeat by the Chinese Communists of the Chinese Nationalists, which would not have happened had it not been for the West’s preoccupation with other things.
For ‘other things’ read the growing antagonism between the ambitions of the East and the ambitions of the West. And the fact that at the end of the war, only the United States, which had half of the world’s wealth, came out of it richer and healthier.
Now we seem to be reviving some of the East’s ambitions to once again be a force in the world. And the tragedy in Ukraine is part of Russia’s rise to power and political prominence. Obviously, the problems at the time, in the immediate post-war world, were not completely resolved.
Will we ever return to a balance of power? For it was the balance of forces that held the great
off-table clashes. The relative peace of the postwar world, with surrogate wars between East and West in Korea and Vietnam, hid the calamity of such a divided world.
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Interestingly, one of the main arguments against the big wars was that we had become so immersed in each other’s commercial life, buying goods overseas and doing international trade, that we no longer needed the war. Globalization was going to make us so dependent on each other for supply and demand that we would never raise a weapon again. Differences within and between nations would be settled in areas of trade.
Unfortunately, stopping production in the West and exporting it to the East to big business shareholders was so attractive that they jumped on it. And of course customers, consumers of everyday products, were attracted by the drop in prices. Clothing has become a case of cutting the cost to such extraordinary proportions that it has turned almost all clothing into sweatshop goods (lookGreednot a great movie but a good one about the killing fields of exploitation in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka).
Alas, the ill-conceived potential disasters that could befall us if we export jobs are legion. It can be said that Brexit, Trump and even Putin were born out of the dangers posed by globalization, as well as its opportunities for increased consumption.
The world is now re-divided and the west, our west, seems more unstable than it has in recent times. And domestic politics seems ill-prepared to deal with anything to do with a return to stability.
John Bird is the founder and editor of The Big Issue. Read more of his lyrics here.
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