An Opportunity for Globalist Centrist Liberalism

Source: National Review

The world may appear to be sharply divided among the far left and the far right on the social media, and even on the mainstream media these days. However, you could make the case that with the election of Emmanuel Macron as the French President, some hope has been revived in centrism and globalist liberalism. Because the polls in late April were nothing less than a scare with Marine Le Pen ending up neck-a-neck.

One of the features of the shifts to far left and far right camps in public discourse has been the cynicism toward centrism and pragmatism. Candidates such as Hillary Clinton have been condemned as “neo-liberal” by progressive and leftist activists, who could have prevented the Trump Presidency by turning out in greater numbers for her favor. The shift toward absolutism might sound romantic to some in a twisted way, but it has given us politicians such as Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and perhaps even Trump on the right and Jeremy Corbyn and Tulsi Gabbard on the left. Of course, each honest in their own dangerous way. I am deliberately not mentioning Bernie Sanders in this list, whose proposals of single payer healthcare is anything but an extreme view for a centrist liberal, but he has a rather unhealthy obsession with the Wall Street.

While still both the left and right in the West are variants of liberalism, relatively speaking, but both have seemed to lose the essence of its ideals of late. The left continues to demonize the idea of private property while the right frequently compromises the liberties of people who either look different or are less fortunate. And another group simply refuses to pay for just about anything. Did I mention Ron Paul in the list?

Since when have these ideas become abominations to the people?

There is no wonder even today a majority of the population might agree on centrist ideas and fortunately that is still what a lot of voting pattern around the world follows. Though that voting pattern has been consistently shifting rightward, evident in Turkey, India, and Israel. Common sense, yes, you hear this expression very frequently in the campaigns of more conservative politicians in the West. But actually, you would rather associate this term with more centrist and pragmatic liberals beyond party lines.

The disillusionment and cynicism of the recent years have particularly been on the rise as a “people’s awakening” of sorts. This has been generally true for the attitude toward the United Nations but the precarious unity of the EU has particularly brought it into light. Blame it on the operational and bureaucratic flaws of these globalist bodies but there is no reason why the ideals behind them should be targeted without anyone putting up a reasonable defense for them.

On the other hand, there is really nothing about centrism or economic liberalism that necessitates apathy toward those who are less fortunate in the society. This ideological direction does not necessarily eliminate a social democracy. It is not as if most of the moderate British conservatives would be effectively killing the NHS, despite their fiscal conservatism. Certainly, not the Liberal Democrats. I guess centrist liberals would only be more respectful of private property and freedom for businesses than obsessing over bringing the budget into surplus too much.

Most moderate Republicans would not dare criticize late night host Jimmy Kimmel making a case for healthcare safety nets by bringing up his sick child. It is precisely the mindset that attacked him for it that a centrist liberal would discourage. Long story short, centrist liberals are more likely to side with a pragmatic, practical direction, keeping a balance between the bleeding heart and the facts of the world. Most of them would at least entertain the idea of a single payer healthcare approach while respecting private caregivers for humanitarian reasons, despite the controversy around its ideological correctness.

Another reason why globalist and centrist liberals are important is their interventionism, another point that gets under the skin of people on both extreme left and right. While there is no point getting behind a warmonger, an isolationist progressive or libertarian would be as caustic to world peace as a relentless hawk.

As much as we would like to hate President Bill Clinton and President George H. W. Bush, their timely humanitarian action in Bosnia and Kuwait goes unappreciated. It is amazing how the critics of American imperialism completely fail to recognize how the intervention has saved the freedom for the people of South Korea and West Germany. Furthermore, globalist liberals would be all for aid and accepting refugees and intervening to prevent a genocide, while an isolationist nationalist or an apathetic progressive could prove to be a humanitarian disaster. But enough of what they might mean for a government.

Despite the apparent lack of enthusiasm, the ideological polarity itself ironically presents an opportunity to the third way liberalism to bring people from left and right together. At least as a practical electoral alliance holding your nose. In a way, the rise of Donald Trump represents that possibility as opposed to someone like Sen. Ted Cruz who could become the President too. Although some could argue the same about Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

The person of Donald Trump has always appeared to be pragmatic and centrist, even liberal, in his approach to things but it is unfortunate that he relied on more far right policies and people to run his campaign. Perhaps that was the only way he could win this election. The policies he is enacting are not any more encouraging either. But who knows, that might change with time as he is beginning to figure out the realities of the political world and governance. And say, if Jared and Ivanka do not stay too far. Hanging on to a thread, are we not?

But don’t get too depressed. The world may still give sanity a chance.

It’s not too late.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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My Pakistani Person of the Year 2013: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Source: geo.tv

Source: geo.tv

For reasons right and wrong, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is my Pakistani Person of the Year for 2013.

He has taken office after a massive victory in the May 2013 elections in which people, of the Punjab at least, have clearly voted for economy ahead of any other issue. And his party PML-N had heavily relied on promises of economic prosperity in its election campaign too. Since government is the sole provider of many utilities, it was just a change of subscription from the same source.

While his party, like every other party in Pakistan, believes in big government and big spending and has to offer its fair share of idiotic socialistic election stunts, it still happens to be the best hope for greater economic liberalization in Pakistan.

Perhaps, another hope is its conservative sister PML-Q, which may or may not vote to support many economic reforms out of political rivalry, while PPP and PTI could oppose based on their ideology. It is a shame that both parties have parted ways on anything but issues, and it is mostly Nawaz Sharif’s fault.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, he has inherited a financial wreck from the PPP led coalition government, which doubled the total debt in its term ending in 2012-13. So it is hardly a surprise that the PML-N government is desperate to finance the state any way it can and adding on further debt.

However, Pakistanis have grown sick of excuses and passing on the blame to the predecessor. The PML-N government will have to make tough decisions and it partially seems headed that way as well, at least in terms of reducing the size of the government. But it could damage the economy to some extent in its own right by irresponsible spending.

At the same time, Nawaz Sharif is far from perfect. He has a reputation of a democratically elected dictator, whose second term legacy is still crippling democracy in Pakistan. His party tolerates Islamic fundamentalism, though there is no other way to win an election in Punjab, and he almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen.

I can never forgive his 14th amendment and never will. But if you still look at him with hopeful eyes, it tells you of how bad things are. Perhaps he is the wrong choice, but I am not liberal, or idiotic, enough to think someone else would be a better choice at this point. I didn’t vote for his party, but would have voted for him had the Prime Ministerial ballot been there.

There is this fool’s hope of keeping your fingers crossed that he has learned something from the second term mistakes. And so far, he has not managed to offend my sensitivities.

Given the usual election cycles in Pakistan, most people are likely to vote for a more populist and pro-socialist government in 2018 in any case. While PML-N can compensate its loss of reputation with its trademark wasteful infrastructural and welfare stunts, even though it could either carry out those schemes or control inflation effectively without widening the deficit, it should at least do the needful about the economy on the larger scale in the mean time. Regardless of the cost.

If PML-N is able to privatize major departments currently administered or influenced by the government, especially PIA  and the Steel Mills, and partially at least, it would leave government with a productive legacy.

I would rather have much lesser government control in the oil and power market as well, though this is harder to achieve. The privatization is the easiest measure and would go a long way in the improvement of the economy and standard of living of Pakistanis.

But he has just rejected a recommendation of OGRA to increase oil prices. I don’t even mind the continuous subsidies if either the size of the government is drastically reduced or the income tax revenue is drastically increased. Failing to make one of the two unpopular decisions would mean continuing the same old disaster.

You cannot have big government without a lot of taxes and cannot expect government to look after every single aspect of the economy without paying taxes. Pakistani people do not seem to understand this.

Most Pakistanis are under the impression that a “good government” can solve all their problems. To them, a “good government” should be like a messiah that would come to their rescue. Can you blame them?

But this is why there is an excess supply of messiahs in Pakistani politics.

This is why you have MPs walking out of the legislature all the time, including PML-N, whenever oil and power prices are increased, so that the government can further subsidize these commodities.

This is why you have parties restoring laid off employees in ancient history with pay and benefits in retrospect at the taxpayer’s expense and call it a fulfilled promise.

And this is precisely why Nawaz Sharif is the best man to lead the country at the moment, until we can find someone better and less messianic. At the moment, only he is really able to bring about the changes that the Pakistani economy actually requires. He could fail, but his direction does not look too bad.

We can put off whatever political correctness we are missing right now to a later year.

My Pakistani person of the year for 2012 was Malala Yousafzai.

Happy New Year.