Western political system faces an institutional crisis
The world has gone through dramatic changes in the recent years.  
 
Eight years have passed since the global financial crisis in 2008, yet the the global economy is still suffering from slow growth and systemic financial risks, and Europe, Japan and some developing countries continue to suffer from the effects of the debt crisis. In an era when new industrial revolution converges with information revolution, the economic neoliberalism advocated by the United States has lost its appeal. Nowadays, all countries are exploring new economic development paths while pondering over the role of state in protecting the economy.  
 
As the negative effects of globalization begin to show effect, the gap among the rich and poor countries is widening. Against this backdrop, the anti-globalization sentiment is giving rise to populism, which has affected the political ecosystem in many developed countries. Recent years have also witnessed escalation of geopolitical conflicts among the world’s leading powers, adversely affecting the world peace and development. 
 
The changes have been more dramatic in recent years, with an inherent institutional crisis in the Western political system threatening to shake the foundation of the international system and world order. 
 
Developed countries in the West including the US have been following the theory of elite administration, which essentially means Western elites controlling the world. So, in both political system and economic mode, they have designed a set of liberal democracy rules to apply to not only their own countries but to advocate it in the whole world through military intervention and color revolutions. This is actually the core of Western governance. 
 
These days, however, it seems the American style of freedom and democracy and the institutional arrangements that suit it are facing unsurmountable difficulties and crisis in both theory and practice. Below are some specific examples. 
 
In 2008, the global financial crisis shook the belief in economic neoliberalism and the economic governance plans agreed under the Washington Consensus. Emerging economies represented by China rose to prominence with a strong momentum. Occupying over 50% of the total global economy, for the first time in history, the developing countries have achieved a Great Convergence in power with the developed world, hundreds of years after the industrial revolution in the West. 
 
China’s success story has proved its development path and mode is applicable to other developing countries. The historic change is transforming global political and economic landscape, remodeling the world order in a new century. 
 
In Western countries, party politics has made major decision-making hostage to interest groups. Opposition parties get accustomed to bad-mouthing each other, using veto and achieving nothing. President Obama was ambitious when he just took office. He was confident about his reforms, while in the face of partisan bickering, his Obamacare has gone through radical modification and ended being completely different from the original edition. 
 
The problem is that the governing elites who have a hold over capital and power are diverging from people they’re leading. No matter how the economy develops, the elite can accumulate wealth, with 1% of Americans grasping 40% of the total wealth. Common people like working class have failed to benefit from globalization, and instead, their wealth has shrunk, leading to rising social unrest. The opposition between the elite and common people refers to the “1% and 99%” contradiction described by the Americans. And this is the reason why voters hold an anti-establishment sentiment in the current US presidential election. 
 
Major Western countries are witnessing populism replace nationalism and patriotism. Common people are beginning to reject traditional political institutions and systems, with political observers being suspected of colluding with elites. In the United States, big companies, banks and globalization have become phrases that could inflame working class people. So, to win in this election, the candidate is advised to avoid mentioning globalization.  
 
Considering the “war” between globalization and anti-globalization, the political system crisis has already extended to the whole group of Western countries. 
 
From “Brexit” to the North-South divide within the European Union are all painful repercussions of the development of anti-globalization movement. And the representatives have gained foothold in politics, and are winning more votes. It is expected that in the foreseeable future, populist regimes will come into power. The result would be a mockery of the so-called Western “freedom and democracy”, considering it is the democracy and will of people that would bring these forces to power. 
 
The crisis that is clouding the Western world is not anything accidental but a destiny. Renowned American political scientist Francis Fukuyama recently wrote in the Diplomat what is surprising is not that populists have risen to power but why it took them so long to make such gains. He had warned several years ago that the “decay” in the Western politics and political system has created a crisis for the governments. 
 
Nowadays, it seems the “decay” is really beyond cure, and it’s time to take some action to fix the ailing system. 

He Yafei is former vice-foreign minister and deputy director of the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council.
 

 


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