Waiting for the outcome

ANDREU MAS-COLELL
ANDREU MAS-COLELL Economista. Catedratic emèrit de la UPF i de la Barcelona GSE. President del BIST.

On Tuesday, as we all waited for the closing of the ballot boxes in the US, I put together a first draft of this article. It said: 'Biden has won. The nightmare is starting to fade. The population of the planet will celebrate it, and so will the planet itself. However, I would not want to continue this reflection in a spirit of triumphalism, of "good has won over evil because good always ends up prevailing'. The truth is that Biden has barely won and Trump has lost because he has had bad luck. Without covid, everything indicates that he would have won... Trump will not be an insubstantial parenthesis in American and world history, as many of us had naively anticipated in 2016. He leaves the burden of the Supreme Court and the burden of having provoked an extreme polarisation of American society. Trump has catalysed one of the many background currents in American society. Every four years they face each other off in some very particular circumstances and through a highly imperfect electoral procedure. The result has been Biden but, given the situation of the precovid economy and the inertia effect of a second mandate, it could have been Trump".

On Wednesday morning, as I am writing, the situation is still uncertain and I can't approve what I wrote the day before.

Once again the polls were wrong. It seems clear that the availability of lots of data, which is characteristic of our time, does not trivialise the task of forecasting the future. The social scientists who prepare them will have to do an in-depth job of reviewing hypotheses and methodologies.

Another conclusion: the misfortune of covid and its management has not had as pronounced an effect as had been anticipated. Political formations around the world will take note of this.

We will have to continue waiting, but the decisive confrontation may be postponed for four years. There is every reason to believe that the underlying currents, starting with demographics, point to a democratic future (Texas following the path of California). But this will only become a reality if the political leadership is up to the task. Has it been up to it this time? I think it could be improved. Biden is, for everyone, a decent man, but for some people he may have failed in substance (too moderate) and for other people in style (lack of charisma). It should be looked into (for example: has the African-American vote been mobilised enough?), but I would choose the second hypothesis. Charisma is difficult to define but it exists. Kennedy, Clinton and Obama had it. Biden doesn't. And, unfortunately, Trump does for a not so small a section of the American population.

With the US led by Trump now, or possibly by other Trumps in the future (what happened once may happen again), the EU can neither delegate its foreign policy nor cease to provide itself with defence mechanisms against a Trumpism that may come from Washington but also from within the Union itself. It is essential and urgent that the EU has much stronger government structures and, at the same time, that we all promote the vitality of its civil society. We must aspire to an EU in which the small and large Trumps who can appear are summarily and democratically defeated by the combined action of public opinion and the action of its institutions: executive, legislative and judicial. All within a framework of promoting democracy and respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, something which in today's world is increasingly characteristic of Europe. Europe needs to go beyond the commitment to the UN's sustainable development goals. Finally, a word of warning: the EU moving forward will have to become more self-sufficient, but this should not mean a retreating EU within its borders. In particular, the EU must not want to monopolise the concept of Europe. In the short term this matters because of Brexit. A re-election of Trump would complicate the negotiation. In these circumstances, the UK may be forced to choose between a European loyalty and an Atlantic loyalty, which have not been historically antagonistic but may now appear so. We in the EU should be careful not to get into this game. We need a UK that is close to the EU and a concept of Europe that includes it. It would be easier with Biden in the White House but, in any case, strengthening the EU and at the same time not closing it off will be a great challenge in the years to come.

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