The Responsible Globalist: What Citizens Of The World Can Learn From Nationalism by Hassan Damluji

The Blurb On The Back:

Today, globalism has a bad reputation.  ‘Citizens of the world’ are depicted as recklessly uninterested in how international economic forces can affect local communities.  Meanwhile, nationalists are often derided as racists and bigots.

But what if the two were not so far apart?  What could globalists learn from the powerful sense of belonging that nationalism has created?  Faced with the injustices of the world’s economic and political system, what should a responsible globalist do?

British-Iraqi development expert Hassan Damluji proposes six principles – from changing how we think about mobility to shutting down tax havens – which can help build consensus for a stronger globalist identity.  He demonstrates that globalism is not limited to ‘Davos man’ but is a truly mass phenomenon that is growing fastest in emerging countries.  Rather than a ‘nowhere’ identity, it is a new group solidarity that sits alongside other allegiances.

With a wealth of examples from the United States to India, China and the Middle East, The Responsible Globalist offers a boldly optimistic and pragmatic blueprint for building an inclusive, global nation.  

You can order THE RESPONSIBLE GLOBALIST: WHAT CITIZENS OF THE WORLD CAN LEARN FROM NATIONALISM by Hassan Damluji from Amazon USAAmazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Hassan Damluji is leader of the Middle East team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and co-founder of the multilateral development fund $2 Billion Lives and Livelihoods.  This book has some interesting ideas and sets out 6 principles to establish a “global national sentiment” that draw on ideas that make nationalism popular but leans into the fears of immigration and takes at face value the calls from billionaires to pay higher taxes.

I picked this up because as someone who is liberal-leaning and left-of-center and who thinks that globalism in general terms is a force for good (albeit there are people who have definitely lost out under it), I’ve been trying to read up more on why people are becoming more insular, with a corresponding rise in populist and nationalist feeling and what can be done to counter that.

As a starting point, I liked the fact that Damluji acknowledges the issues with globalism within this book.  For example many people feel that the system is governed by “elites” who have no regard for democratic views and Globalists don’t help themselves by dismissing people who are against globalism as simply racists or bad people who are narrow-sighted. However, his focus on the United Nations and the outmoded power dynamic of the Security Council’s 5 permanent members (something that keeps cropping up as a criticism throughout the book) didn’t really resonate with me.  This is probably because I think the United Nations is essentially a talking shop and the reform needed to make it meaningful for the 21st century is not something that seems likely to happen in my lifetime (although I’d be very happy to be proved wrong).

Damluji sets out 6 principles aimed at setting out a “responsible globalism” to win over more global public support.

The first principle is: leave no one out.  This involves setting out an inclusive definition of who “we” are rather than defaulting to the notion of “we” as being western (read: white people in advanced economies) or, in the case of China, as being simply people of Han descent.  Damluji points to the need to articulate and promote a globalist identity and points to the role that culture and media can play in this as technology makes content from cultures around the world available to the whole planet.  However he also acknowledges that this diversity doesn’t translate so much into movie box office, which remains US-centric and with a highly problematic tendency to show Arabic peoples in roles as villains and terrorists, which should be countered by allowing for more individualistic storytelling from diverse groups with themes/ideas that a global audience can resonate with.  I didn’t disagree with this but would point out that for that to work, you have to convince American film money folk that this will generate high returns and they remain slow to convince, even after the success of films like Black Panther and Parasite.  I’d have liked it had Damluji addressed how this could be met within his argument.

The second principle is define the mission, and the enemy.  Damluji moves onto saying that we need to be clear about what the global nation is for and what it is against.  He does this by referring to the Global Goals, which were signed off by all 193 UN member states in 2015 and set out a framework for protecting the planet and human wellbeing.  I consider myself to be a fairly well informed person who pays attention to the news and I am embarrassed to say that this was  the first time I’d ever heard of these Goals.  Damluji would like to see the Goals turned into a national mission but the cynic in me says that it won’t happen because unless there’s something that binds and forces countries to meet those goals, then they’re little more than a PR exercise. 

As a way of achieving the goal of financing global development, he proposes a global wealth tax of 0.5% on personal wealth over $1 million, 0.25% of which would be contributed towards global development on a voluntary basis but tied to that country’s voting weight within the United Nations.  I find the notion of a wealth tax to be an interesting one but quite apart from the difficulties in getting nations to agree to it (and you only have to see the competition between tax havens to know how difficult getting global agreement can be), Damluji doesn’t go into much detail on how that $1 million is assessed – is it on all of your assets or just cash in the bank?  The reason, I think, this is important is because certainly in the United Kingdom there are a significant proportion of older people who would reach that $1 million threshold if you take into account house value, but whose actual liquid assets are very low.

Principle 3 is defend the nation state.  Essentially this means protecting the identities and institutions of nations and ensuring that they’re not undermined because people feel connected to them.  Here Damluji starts by giving a potted history of nation states and how some – notably the US and India, both of which have diverse populations in terms of ethnicity and race – have constructed ideas of national identity.  I found all of this very interesting and he makes an interesting point about how the trend towards globalist institutions such as the European Union, can be perceived by nation states as undermining democracy.  

Here he points to the referendum in Ireland to sign off on the Lisbon Treaty, which resulted in a “no” vote, only for the vote to be rerun a year later but neglects to mention that there had been discussion between Ireland and the Commission, resulting in certain declarations being made to allay Irish concerns on some issues and resulting in the second referendum being on the sufficiency of those declarations and also – in essence – a referendum on whether Ireland wanted to stay in the EU.  Damluji also points to how France and the Netherlands decided against having a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, even though it was “almost identical” to the European Constitution, which their populations had rejected 3 years earlier.  The words “almost identical” are doing an amount of heavy lifting there, given that there were differences and also the financial situation faced by populations at this time was vastly different.

My biggest issue, however, came with principle 4: if you love mobility, let it go.  Here Damluji’s point is that people have a democratic right to limit immigration if that’s what they want and globalists should not seek to undermine that but instead focus on winning the argument over a longer term.  My big problem is that Damluji parrots many right-wing talking points about the problems of immigration, without examining whether they are true.  For example, he talks about how people feel that immigration lowers wages and economic standards without testing that.  He also talks about how immigration lowers levels of social capital, citing Robert Putnam’s research on how areas with high levels of immigration face lower levels of trust and reciprocity (and supports his argument that to counter immigration you need to build a common identity).  

However he never looks at how many of the issues surrounding immigration are whipped up by a right wing press or right wing populists that promotes fear of being “overwhelmed” and he certainly never examines how many of the problems stem from successive lack of investment by western governments in particular in housing or social infrastructure, which exacerbates people’s concern about immigrants “taking” things from them.  Damluji also seems to put forward the idea that immigration will be unlimited, which just doesn’t seem justified based on the evidence and he makes no distinction between immigrants and refugees, which seems to me to be a major failing.  He also acknowledges fear of immigration being linked with fear of terrorism which, again, just plays straight into the right wing playbook without challenging the extent to which this is actually true.  Finally, he uses the idea that globalists are looking for open borders generally, which just isn’t the case and again, it plays to the right wing notion of what globalism is.  Ultimately, I found his argument that globalists should play a long game and try to win long term consensus to be weak and lacking in any real foundation or argument as to how this can be achieved and I have to say that this chapter left a sour taste for me.

Principle 5 is the winners must pay to play.  This chapter deals with tax avoidance by the world’s wealthiest elite and corporations and here I was much more sympathetic to his argument that this was a problem that couldn’t be solved by individual nations and instead a global solution had to be found.  He returns to his idea of a global tax on everyone earning more than $1 million as a means of establishing redistribution, which I mentioned above and establishing a global wealth register to keep track of wealth.  However, as he himself points out the lack of political will is the biggest barrier to establishing any such system but while he acknowledges that populations everywhere are angry at the levels of tax avoidance he’s short on ideas as to how to convince them that globalist solutions should be adopted.  I also had a raised eyebrow at how he seems to take at face value the claims of his boss, Bill Gates and billionaire Warren Buffet that they should be made to pay high taxes when neither man has made any public commitment to end their existing tax avoidance stratagems or indeed throw their wealth behind any political candidates calling for higher taxation on billionaires. 

The final principle is the ‘rules-based system’ needs better rules.  This is essentially a call for a fairer geo-political order that involves reforming the UN and its voting systems and its enforcement powers.  Again, as I said above, I didn’t disagree with his points but I just can’t see the will being there to make any changes.

Ultimately, Damluji does make some interesting points within this book – particularly about the importance of building a coherent story about the benefits of globalism and global identity but he also leans heavily into right-wing talking points and is too willing to accept at face value their arguments and the arguments of the rich elite when it comes to tax.  As such, this is an interesting book to peruse but I can’t say that it left me convinced by its arguments.  

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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