We should acknowledge the need to deal with globalization’s shortcomings. Since the early 1990s, globalization—the intertwining of trade, investment, travel, communication, and transportation that has together made the world smaller and more interconnected—has been expanding at warp speed. It has been much too fast for governments and societies to digest and manage.
Not long ago, for example, the international financial system almost melted down, and in its wake came a long, deep global recession. Governments were simply unprepared for that kind of crisis. We are now seeing the largest refugee flows since World War II, the humanitarian system designed to deal with such tragedies has all but collapsed, and governments are paralyzed. Another example: China and other emerging markets have grown much faster than anyone could have predicted and now constitute almost 50% of the world economy’s production, creating all manner of dislocations in advanced industrial nations that governments could not control.
As a result of challenges like these, the EU, the most advanced experiment in lowering barriers and enhancing cooperation across borders in world history, has been straining to the breaking point for a number of years now. The US seems to be turning inward out of frustration with trade and immigration; our dysfunctional politics also seems incapable of addressing these issues.
The UK’s exit could be signaling to the world that there must be some fundamental political adjustments. It could be a history-making wake-up call. Ultimately, most of the challenges that our societies face are global in nature, and require global cooperation to solve. But just maybe national governments will now redouble their efforts to get a stronger handle on their affairs in order to build a stronger and more confident base from which to engage in meaningful global efforts.