If income and job growth do not pick up soon, populist parties may come closer to power at the national level in Europe, with anti-EU sentiments stalling the process of European economic and political integration. Worse, the eurozone may again be at risk: some countries (the United Kingdom) may exit the EU; others (the UK, Spain, and Belgium) eventually may break up.
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Even in the US, the economic insecurity of a vast white underclass that feels threatened by immigration and global trade can be seen in the rising influence of the extreme right and Tea Party factions of the Republican Party. These groups are characterized by economic nativism, anti-immigration and protectionist leanings, religious fanaticism, and geopolitical isolationism.
A variant of this dynamic can be seen in Russia and many parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where the fall of the Berlin Wall did not usher in democracy, economic liberalization, and rapid output growth. Instead, nationalist and authoritarian regimes have been in power for most of the past quarter-century, pursuing state-capitalist growth models that ensure only mediocre economic performance. In this context, Russian President Vladimir Putin's destabilization of Ukraine cannot be separated from his dream of leading a "Eurasian Union" — a thinly disguised effort to recreate the former Soviet Union.
In Asia, too, nationalism is resurgent. New leaders in China, Japan, South Korea, and now India are political nationalists in regions where territorial disputes remain serious and long-held historical grievances fester. These leaders — as well as those in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, who are moving in a similar nationalist direction – must address major structural-reform challenges if they are to revive falling economic growth and, in the case of emerging markets, avoid a middle-income trap. Economic failure could fuel further nationalist, xenophobic tendencies — and even trigger military conflict.