The future of Western democracy is not guaranteed. It won’t inevitably ‘all work out in the end’. Unless liberal democracy is actively preserved and protected, the West risks a slow decline into stagnation, exhaustion, and irrelevancy. That’s the stark warning from Bill Emmott, former Editor-in-Chief of The Economist, in his book The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World’s Most Successful Political Idea.
Emmott argues that widening inequalities of ‘income, opportunity, and political voice’ are being exploited by ‘demagogues and rabble-rousers’, who promise simple solutions or cynically point the finger at scapegoats. The growing gap between the richest and the poorest in society is, according to Emmott, undermining the fundamental ideas of democracy: openness and equality between citizens.
Debating Europe is excited to announce that we will be interviewing Bill Emmott about his book as part of our new book club – a chance to put your questions and comments to authors from across the globe!
Each month, we will pick a different book and interview its author, and put questions and comments to them from our readers on the topic of the book. Our book of the month for June will be Bill Emmott’s The Fate of the West.
The Fate of the West proposes a set of solutions that Emmott believes could help right the ship. For instance, Emmott argues that there is a hugely positive case to be made in favour of migration, yet admits that mistakes have been made in the past. He believes there should be controls on the speed and numbers involved, and that the concerns of those worried about the ability of countries to absorb and integrate large numbers of people should not be dismissed or ignored. This does not mean people should not be able to migrate from one country to another. It does, however, mean that migration should be a managed process.
Emmott makes the same point about financial markets. He argues, again, that there have been clear benefits to opening up the flow of capital between countries. However, he believes financial markets should not be able to operate beyond the scope of national or international regulators and central banks. His book makes the case for stricter regulatory controls, from limits on financial leaverage, to imposing steep capital requirements, to outright bans on the most complex and volatile financial activities.
The key message of The Fate of the West, however, is about equality and openness. Emmott argues that the ability to become rich is part of our shared liberties. However, he also feels that wealth should not be used to pull the drawbridge up and create an entrenched, privileged class. Emmott believes the state should act as a neutral guarantor of equal opportunities and social mobility. This includes measures that directly benefit the working class (such as a decent minimum wage), but also the opening up of labour markets if they are divided between “insiders” (who have accumulated all the rights, benefits, and protections) and “outsiders” (who work precariously and are effectively blocked from ever achieving “insider” status).
In a knowledge-based economy, with automation and advancing technologies shaking up the labour market, Bill Emmott argues that education is the most important tool available to close the equality gap. This should include robust public investment, stronger ties between the education system and the job market, and a commitment to ‘lifelong learning’, where education is seen as a way to refresh and update skills throughout a person’s career.
How can we reverse the decline of the West? Is liberal democracy under threat from growing inequality? Now is your chance to put your comments and questions to Bill Emmott about his book – so let us know in the comments below what you would like to ask him!