The Year of the Rooster dawns amid the flux of perplexing events. Brexit is passing into the reality of European history, and US President Donald Trump has inaugurated a possibly insular phase of American history. What these events have registered with a vengeance is a visceral rejection of globalisation by discontents in the Western world. Whether immigration was the cause, as in Britain, or the flight of jobs was, as in America, large numbers of voters in the industrial democracies turned their backs on the economic integration of the globe.
Asia, Africa and Latin America are unable as yet to pick up the international baton of change should Europe and North America drop it. In the circumstances, deglobalisation could entrench itself in the lexicon of the international political economy, much as globalisation once did.
Yet, the benefits of globalisation are substantial. As is known widely, it lowers prices for consumers while offering them a wider range of choices for goods and services. It expands export markets for domestic producers, and creates economies of scale by encouraging specialisation. It produces greater competition, thus benefiting consumers in terms of both price and quality. Deglobalisation would reverse these processes, offering the siren temptations of protectionism in place of the real advantages of globalisation.
What the cynics and the despairers note is how globalisation carves out economic spheres within political states, in effect creating a single class of winners across the world while consigning losers within countries to a global economy of the dispossessed. A report by the anti-poverty group Oxfam, which says that eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, should focus minds on the excesses of unchecked inequality. Such disparities are not only worrying but also unsustainable. They cause the electoral pendulum to swing ultimately towards economic protectionism and xenophobia. If political opinion in the advanced economies can shift this way, it could have an unnerving effect on the developed world, whose trust and support are essential to making globalisation work.
Singapore is a beneficiary of globalisation, which allows it to make the rest of the world its economic hinterland. Indeed, Singapore's self-definition as a global city is predicated on a global market for the city-state to serve. The vast improvement of living standards and the rise in public expectations since independence might not have occurred - or might not have occurred so quickly - without globalisation. These achievements have become a fact of everyday life. Singaporeans must not lose faith, therefore, in the ultimate correctness of the economic course which the country has chosen.