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Illustration and words by Yasodara Puhule-Gamayalage

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Walls, trade barriers, populism, sovereignty, trickle-down economics, immigration control and fake news. Welcome to the age because of and in spite of Trump. “The Armageddon”, as Emma Alberici puts it.
Indeed, whether we are truly interested or forced to be interested, we cannot deny that the current global political climate is a little like an agitated hive.

At the 2017 Sydney Writers’ Festival, four renowned figures Thomas Friedman, Sebastian Mallaby, Richard Holden and Ged Kearney formed a discussion panel on this topic, moderated by Emma Alberici. As ubiquitous and broad as this topic is, this was (in my opinion) a most thought-provoking and solution-bearing discussion. The issues that we face today require such face-to-face human dialogue to be had, if we are to even hope for solutions.

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It begins with the opening line of Friedman’s latest book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations: “Everyone goes into journalism for different reasons - and they’re often idealistic ones”.

The USA:
After putting Trump into context Friedman moves onto “the glorious era of high wages and middle-skilled jobs, of the American middle-class that ended in the 70s”. He reminds us that it was a time when, “if you were a privileged white male growing up in Minnesota, you needed a plan to fail”.

Today, no one needs a plan to fail unless they belong to ‘the 1%’.

Thus, we’ve come far but certainly not far enough.

Then, a voice from the audience shouts “Free Trade!” This is another area to be discussed.

But with all this talk about building walls and hoisting trade barriers, a key question needs to be asked: “Is this the end of globalisation?” The answer, as the panel reiterates, is indeed, “no”. Why? Technological innovation.

In the same political vein, Friedman reminds us that technology has always enabled the ability of leaders to lead. When the phenomenon of radio came, politicians won voters through that. After this, came television. Then, the Internet.

However technology has become more of a dichotomy. Information, both true and untrue, explodes around the world in nanoseconds via social media. They are a testament to the way that technology has fragmented communication, resulting in the post-truth dilemma that we face today.

He notes the way that America has moved from a representative democracy to a de-facto indirect democracy. “Congress today is like American idol,” he says. More than partially to blame, is technology.

Social media have created echo chambers, enabling the tribalisation in American politics. “We have a president who lies as he breathes,” Freidman states; there are Americans who will not marry somebody because of their opposing political party alignments. The ‘divide’ is not a metaphor.

But how did America get to this point? Friedman explains that it was born post 9/11, when people’s social, personal and physical security was threatened. Since then confusion and fear have exacerbated. Many who can, have successfully taken advantage of it.

Though technology may hold some of the solutions, Friedman notes that social media are the “cause of the problem, not the solution”. Their capacity to spread rumour and innuendo has resulted in the fragmentation of voices.

Onto Brexit:
Mallaby, not being the first to speak against Brexit, aptly defines it as the “de-globalisation” of the UK. The reason, why? “They [British voters] wanted sovereignty.”
He brings into light, what have been disregarded by their decision; cross-border terrorism, disease and environmental degradation aside from the blatant economic losses.

Mallaby also notes the cross-benefits of the migrant workforce; “migrants gain a lot and the native-born workforce are left just fine”. So, everybody wins.

Indeed, this only works in the right immigration environment.

At home:
Kearney focuses on the temporary immigration system in Australia, reminding us that it facilitates the exploitation of immigrant workers which leads them towards illegal means of income.

Another issue that Kearney brings up is the way that technology is changing occupational environments, namely, the need for 24-hour availability and live roster changes. “People like to deal with people,” she says but of course not everyone in the social hierarchy is on the same rung. “Automation and artificial intelligence have taken over,” she states.

This indeed, leads to the final question; is the gap going to widen, or will wealth be re-distributed?

The panel members bring in different points of view and the answer that strikes the most is that billionaires such as Bill Gates will be giving away a large portion of their wealth into the community, rather than passing it all onto the next generation.

But would every billionaire do this?
This is the more realistic question that Holden asks. His answer is, "tax on land".

But what is the answer that they all agree on? Inheritance tax.


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