Throughout my life it has been normal to think of the world in terms of the first world, a place of wealth and security, a second world where states claiming to be communist operated and finally the third world. Prospects if you happened to live in the third world weren't great. You were liable to be living on or below the bread line, badly educated, cut off from the mainstream of the global society, and facing a life with few prospects. Even if you were a member of the lower classes in a first world country you could pretty much rely on a secure job, a chance of a home of your own, a steady increase in your standard of living, a decent welfare system to look after you if you needed it and a comfortable retirement.
For the people of what used to be the Third World globalisation has been something of a mixed blessing. Working long hours in horrible sweat shops which have health and safety arrangements that might have shocked Victorian England isn't the nicest of experiences. But industrialisation has raised standards of living. The billion people who live in China enjoy a standard of living now that is beyond the dreams of the people I saw when I travelled around the country only 30 years ago. They are not alone in having experienced this. The world standard of living has been going up by 5% almost every year for several decades now. Education levels and health levels have risen phenomenally. Over half the world now lives in cities and parts of Africa that were once written off as hopelessly difficult to develop are now growing at over 10 per cent a year.
If you happen to live in a town in the United States or in Britain where most people used to earn their living in factories or in mining then it is most unlikely that you will have seen your own standard of living go up anything like that quickly. For all too many it has gone down or at best stood still. At the same time the welfare state has started to disintegrate. Things that you used to be able to rely on just aren't available any more. So in England you are most unlikely to get a council house, it is hard to get a doctor's appointment, you have to wait longer to get your old age pension and if you get laid off and have to claim the dole you don't experience the nice easy life on benefits that you have read about in the papers.
Small wonder then that ordinary working people are a touch scared of the future. Few people have a problem over other parts of the world getting richer and becoming more successful when the same thing is happening to them. A lot of people do have a problem with finding that the job they expected to do doesn't exist anymore and they are going to be poorer than their parents with little or no job security and a welfare system that lets you down when you need it. Working in a large factory alongside people you trust, making goods that are always in demand and being protected by a strong trade union is not a bad way to live even if the job stinks. Juggling two or three different zero hour contracts or working as a self employed delivery driver so that you lose all income the second you are sick isn't such a secure experience.
In these circumstances it is all too easy to become fearful of all those foreigners who you secretly suspect are undermining your standard of living. If you are earning megabucks as a financial trader in the city of London then the global village probably feels like a nice place to be. It doesn't if you are a steel worker in Port Talbot and Chinese steel is coming into the country at less than half the price than you can make it and you are the last large plant left and your Indian owners are having to look hard and long at the losses they are making.
Whether they are experiencing it directly themselves or not a large number of people in Britain and the US feel threatened by the future. The rational reaction for an individual to globalisation is to acquire as many skills as you can. The rational reaction of the nation is to invest in science, technology, design and education and to try to ensure that British citizens enjoy successful high earning creative careers in such fields as computer game design or solar energy installation. The rational reaction of the international community is to work out ever stronger agreements about health and safety standards, rights at work and the tax bills for multi- national companies.
Put together rational common sense measures like these can result in workers in the former First World Countries finding that they can do very well out of rising standards of living in poorer countries. Poor people make better customers for others when they get a bit of income. Ask the Jaguar Land Rover employees in Coventry. A lot of their sales are to places like China.
Rationality is not however the only emotion that human beings experience when change happens. Fear is also very much in evidence. It is all too easy for that fear to turn very nasty indeed. So don't write off Donald Trump any time soon. He could win. Or Marine Le Pen. Her party outscored all others in the last set of French voting. Or Nigel Farage who is nowhere near as bad as the other two but is trying to work the same emotions. Scared people, who have seen others in the world approaching or overtaking their standard of living, can easily be persuaded to vote in great numbers to politicians who promise to bring back the secure, safe past that they understand. By building a wall around Mexico, kicking out all those pesky Muslims or getting us out of Europe so that all our problems are solved overnight.
Fortunately at the same time as all that irrationality is emerging and being fed we are also seeing the emergence of an ideology which is interested in finding a way of adapting to a global world. It is no good wishing economic change away. It is necessary to respond to it in a positive way and to put practical measures in place to get back some of the safety and security which used to be present in our lives. Corbyn won because people saw some hope of building a society where the state actually tried to look after its citizens instead of simply cheering on the free market and saying there was nothing we could do to help anyone who couldn't compete successfully in a global marketplace. Bernie Saunders is doing astonishingly well for someone who dares to call himself a democratic socialist in the USA. His success is that he actually has some good hard headed policies that could look after those neglected communities that Donald Trump wants to ride to power on the back of.
We are facing a battle for hearts and minds that is as important as any I can remember in my lifetime. If we allow country after country to retreat within its own borders, become increasingly fearful of others and try to be successful by thinking only of ourselves then the future looks bleak. Economic barriers, bitterness, war. If we can invest in modernising the UK and getting it at the forefront of the latest set of technological change and helping people to adapt and be successful with that new technology then the future looks bright.
No one can know which of these approaches will succeed. What I do know is that looked at from this perspective the single best policy put forward by any political party at the last election came from the Greens. Invest 1% of the entire national income in science and technology. The only way to face down horribly negative politics is to offer people a positive vision of the future that can be simply understood and is a lot more plausible than fear. Modernise intelligently so that you can look after your people properly just about sums that up for me.