“During the late 1990s and early 2000s there was a lot of buzz about an economics writer called Thomas Friedman. Friedman was the Pangloss of globalisation. His books and journalism constituted one breathless paean to global free markets – an endless parade of twenty-year-old dotcom millionaires interviewed in Singapore coffee houses. There’s one passage where he has his shoes shined by an elderly beggar woman, and then speculates on her pride at being able to contribute to the global economy – written in prose so self-satisfied that Francis Wheen wondered how the woman restrained herself from punching him in the face.
Post-crash, Friedman’s work seems strikingly naive. In the protectionist backlash people are increasingly suspicious of globalism. The average UK citizen wants more immigration control, troops pulled out of Afghanistan, withdrawal from the EU and locally sourced food. Read the comment threads on any national or regional newspaper website and you’ll find our collective dream is of a silo nation: nothing gets in, nothing gets out.
For localism has a dark side. As well as Prince Charles’s babble about British cheese subsidies and supermarket regulation it has produced a fierce hostility to migrants. People think of economics as zero sum. Let too many migrants into the UK, they reason, and soon there won’t be enough food or money for the rest of us. If a migrant gets a job, someone else must lose theirs. If a migrant applies for housing benefit, it goes straight out of your paycheque. It is fair to say that loathing of immigrants has become a national pathology.