Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group, a political consultancy, has talked of the “J-curve”. His point is that as countries open up they become more volatile before they become more stable. Perhaps Britain’s debate on Brexit reveals a second J-curve towards the top of the development path: where folk feel safe enough to challenge the globalised establishment but not rich enough to be part of it. Hence it is the lower-middle class of wealthy and sophisticated societies, rather than citizens of poorer ones, who seem to be the vanguard of populist politics. It is notable that in Britain, as in other northern European countries, this is storming ahead a few years after the economic crisis, once some growth has returned and unemployment has fallen. It takes a dab of security to rebel against the system.
But, as with developing countries on the J-curve, the country will one day emerge from its limbo. In Mr Bremmer’s scheme, growing openness powers countries through the bend. For this new J-curve it is growing economic and cultural confidence about globalisation among the majority. Increasing numbers of Britain’s young people are going to university. Its immigrant population is growing and integrating successfully. The prevailing conception of nationality is becoming more civic (a function of values, not background) and less nativist. With each generation, the world’s integration is becoming steadily less controversial.