Walking down Barcelona’s Paseo de Gracia, busy with tourists and locals, we come across a McDonald’s. Just a few blocks up we see two friends talking with two easily recognizable Starbucks cups in their hands as they chat nonchalantly. Walking towards us, bustling young shoppers carry Zara bags, we maneuver around them past a newsstand kiosk lined with the Financial Times, Le Monde and the New York Times. If we drive around the city, we will surely find a BP gas station, and most likely see billboards and adverts of other big multi-nationals like J.P. Morgan, HSBC, Exxon Mobil – giants of globalization. Chances are, if we walked down London’s Oxford Street or New York’s 5th Avenue, we would see many of the same brands. This truly makes us question the extent to which globalization has expanded and the future we are heading towards.
With increasingly interconnected nations, we have achieved what seems to be an almost completely globalized world, a utopia where countries have become one, many even share single regional markets. Like the European Economic Area (EEA), trade blocs make it easier for goods to be shared from country to country, including other blocs such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), MercoSur or the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). However, as globalized as we are, sharing so many services provided by the same multi-national companies, I ask myself why we do not speak one same language, why nations still have conflicts of interest, and why there are still so many clashing religious and political ideologies. Truth be told, in the everyday, it would be difficult to differentiate London’s financial district from New York’s, save a few buildings. This extent of shared goods and values to a global level would have barely been imaginable a century ago, when the world’s nations were busy defending national pride and power in what we know as the First World War.
Since then, generations have grown in a fast-changing world, and the circumstances of those who were born in the 40s were not necessarily the same of those who were born in the 60s, and not remotely close to those born in the 90s. Such circumstances have defined the mindset of different generations, leaving the older ones to remember a world where visiting any country was a distinctive experience; you would never find at home what you would find at your destination. There are the memories of travelling itself as something more difficult than it is nowadays; communication through letters, and later on faxes; regional companies and organizations that worked within the nation’s borders, and very few international ones. In comparison to what we see today, the physical changes are immense, yet that change has not been as strong in the minds of older generations. Many stay true to the mindset and the world they grew up in, and see our current one with pessimism. A survey from 2013 made by American poll Heartland Monitor and published by Education Week, a weekly news site on American education powered by non-profit Editorial Projects in Education, found that only 20% of adults surveyed felt that children today will have more opportunity “to get ahead in life when they are grown” than they did when they were younger. The poll, while noting the limitations of interviewing only 1,000 adults and 300 teenagers for the survey, felt “distinct differences in attitudes between the generations, with younger people expressing more hope.”
It is true that 2016 was a year of surprise, disappointment and general noted change, and it certainly made an impact on the global community. If we look at the world’s geopolitical climate we have an obvious increase in the popularity of isolationist tendencies in a world that has become extremely globalized over the past decades. Examples go from the most obvious, the result of Brexit in June, Donald Trump’s recent victory in November, and other more subliminal ones such as the rise of more extreme right-wing political parties in France, led by Marine Le Pen and the gain of more fundamentalist forces in Iran; both countries have upcoming presidential elections in 2017. However, Austria did show a sign of hope for the pro-global mentality by not voting for the “alt. right” party candidate as president this past December.
I am by no means an economist or an expert at geopolitical issues at hand, I am merely a young, curious mind trying to make sense of the current global climate for myself. A French political scientist and international relations specialist, Bertrand Badie, said, “It’s not possible now in our present world to conceive an action, even local action without situating it in a global context.” This quote does not strike as a revolutionary one, it is somewhat banal, but it resonated with me because it bluntly speaks a truth. When we take a look at this year’s U.S. presidential elections and Brexit, these were the outcome of locals, but their impact has been global and it is necessary to situate these local actions within a global context so that we have a better understanding of behavioural dynamics and where the world is leading to as a whole. However, a concern of mine has been who, what age group and what kind of people, have voted for these things to happen?
As a millennial, I have grown in an exponentially globalized world where I see people from different places every day, I interact with people who do not share my same religion, cultural background or language. I would like to think I speak for a majority of the world’s youth when I say that these populist tendencies that have arisen are not a reflection of what we believe in, but rather one of the older generations who grew up in another context, and have not seen the benefits younger generations have been lucky to experience. An example is the statistics from the U.S. presidential elections in November, had it been for those who voted aged 18-29 years old, Hillary Clinton, the fast-forward, open to free borders, free-trade, essentially the closest continuation to president Barack Obama, would have won by a majority of 55%. Similar statistics follow the Brexit vote. The reason behind why populist ideas have become more (popular) has certainly been of interest to me, which is why I decided interview different people from different age groups, American citizens who voted this past November about why they chose the candidates they voted for, if they were aware of either candidate’s foreign policies, and what they thought about globalization.
Eli, a 27-year-old living in Miami, who’s mother voted for Hillary, was not initially certain about whom he would vote for, so he set out to do his own research and decided to vote for Trump. He felt that a change was needed, that is how he started our half-hour phone call. “At the end of day, I feel more comfortable with someone that has said stupid things than done stupid things politically,” referring to Clinton who has served government as Secretary of State during Barack Obama’s first administration. He overall backed Trump’s ideas and believes that globalization “gives too many hands to people that don’t hold up to their end of bargain”.
Gonzalo, a 51 year-old American citizen, contrary to my general argument, voted for Hillary. We discussed what I believe embodies a younger generation’s mindset, as Eli described to me what I thought an older generation might think, and his vote went to Hillary, mostly because he believed Trump would threaten what America has fought hard in its history to overcome: white-supremacy and the belittling of minorities. He found it hard to believe that Trump’s handling of foreign policy could not be linked to personal interests and overall thinks of globalization as “smart for everyone, it helps economies stick together.” Though I was able to interview voters who support my argument, I felt it important to highlight the exceptions, to further examine how those who do not fall into the majority statistic think. After all, some millennials have lost faith in our present world while some more mature age groups have managed to hold on to theirs. Of seven people interviewed, five of them fell in place with the argument.
So what happens globally when generations clash, when a large part of the elderly oppose ideologies of the more liberal – a clash of views between contemporary socio-economic globalists and conservative socio-isolationists. An important question to raise then, is why do the decisions of, what statistics show, a great part of the elderly seem to have overshadowed the youth to such an extent? How will their decisions affect us who have lived so accustomed to this shared world? Will we one day become that same generation, one that cannot conciliate with the youth’s hope? These are questions that only time can tell, but creating awareness and sticking to the beliefs we’ve grown into, is a hopeful promise for the future.