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I have been hearing the same question a lot lately. CEOs of international companies, ambassadors, foreign visitors in any meeting about Turkey are asking me what I think of the Turks making plans to leave their country. With the coup attempt, state of emergency and wave upon wave of arrests, people want to leave. I understand why people are upset, however I just do not see an exodus of sorts. It looks like an optical illusion to me.
2016 has been an intense year. The fear of more Mexicans in the United States and the fear of Turks and other oh-so-disreputable people flooding Britain have been front and center. In both countries, both campaigns seem to – very purposefully – have touched a nerve. Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States and British nationalists got their Brexit. It worked like a charm. The next step is to actually build that “big, fat, beautiful” wall between them and whoever their “other” group is.
Let me take you to the other side of that fence. I was born in the early 1960s in Turkey. At the time, Turkey was 30 percent urbanized, and its total exports were just a meager $330 million, 93 percent of which was made up of agricultural products. Turkey’s GDP per capita was just 507 dollars. Today, 75 percent of Turks live in urban areas, and total exports are around $150 billion, of which agricultural products make up less than 10 percent. Per capita GDP has reached $10,000.
That is called globalization. And no, it isn’t always pretty. Globalization is a process of uneven convergence.
I don’t remember having strong notions of going abroad when I was younger. Studying abroad, working abroad or even vacationing abroad were elusive concepts to me. That is no longer the case for younger Turks. Why? Because Turkey is hooked up to the international system. Turks are now much more aware of the outside world, with all its challenges and opportunities. Increasing connectivity via trade and the internet opened up visibility. You get a passport, buy a ticket and go. It is a kind of a democratization, if you ask me.
It is happening everywhere. More than 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities. Technology makes that possible. That freedom has brought about a global migration from the periphery, to the center, from countries with weak institutions to countries with stronger ones. Often the creative classes are the most eager to pack their bags.
This trend might have come to an end. The Trumps and Brexiteers of the world have opened up a new era. The backlash against globalization is no longer at the periphery, but at the center. Now populists following harmful policies at the periphery have found their fellow populists at the center.
That is unprecedented, and like all such things, it could be dangerous.