How times change

As someone who grew up in the ’90s, one of the things I find most surreal about current political debates is the left’s whole-hearted embrace of global capitalism.

I was a teenager in the 90s and a student in the early 2000s. I remember reading about the ‘Battle of Seattle’ anti-WTO protests, the Make Poverty history campaign about debt forgiveness and learning in geography about the plight of Vietnamese coffee growers (caused by, so we were taught, the World Bank). For the left at that point, the IMF, World Bank and WTO were an unholy trinity and there were regular campaigns against multinatiomal corporations, whether that was Monsanto, big pharma or Nestle.

Now, I was never a lefty, even as a teenager, so I never really bought into all this, or got involved in any of the campaigns. But it was pretty pervasive, just like concern over climate change is today. And the things people were worried about are nearly all still happening.

What’s so weird about the Brexit/Trump era is the way the left has (largely) swung to embrace these former enemies. I regularly see posts and articles from left-leaning people talking up the virtues of multilateral trade agreements and global IP arrangements, or expressing concern about the impact of current events on the supply chain of multi-national corporations. Christine Largarde of the IMF is quoted with the uncritical approval that used to be given to Desmond Tutu. This week I even saw a number of staunch left-wingers sharing a post worrying about whether or not the UK could stay in the Global Procurement Agreement, an obscure piece of trade legislation that literally takes power from national governments and hands it to multinational companies.

This isn’t meant to be just a snark. I mean, it is pointing out an inconsistency in the positions of those I generally disagree with, but I’m sure my side has done similar things.

What I find more fascinating about it is the extent to which people adopt the positions of their ‘tribe’ and, even more so, how that perceived tribe is defined less by what we’re for, than by what we’re against. That’s not how we’d like to think we are, but it often is.