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The Paris Peace Forum underscores an epic clash of economic narratives

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Twitter photo via @JustinTrudeau.

On November 11, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the Paris Peace Forum organized by French President Emmanuel Macron.

The "main partners" for the forum include the Aga Khan Development Network, Facebook, Google, and the Ford Foundation, while its "partners" include BNP Paribas (the world's 8th largest bank), and its "institutional partners" include the World Trade Organization, the OECD, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission.

As reported by the Canadian Press, Trudeau told those assembled, "When people feel their institutions can't protect them, they look for easy answers in populism, in nationalism, in closing borders, in shutting down trade, in xenophobia."

It's not specified in the news report what "institutions" Trudeau was speaking about (one would hope not the IMF and WTO), but the overall narrative appears to be the one playing out across the world right now -- "liberal democracy" versus "populism."

Liberal democracy is generally understood to revolve around elections, multiple distinct parties, civil rights and a market-based (capitalist) economy. Populism is broadly used to describe a challenge of the unequal power dynamic between the people and the elite.

While we may be more familiar these days with the authoritarian right-wing populism of Donald Trump (a billionaire who acts in the interests of capital), a recent example of what could be termed left-wing populism would include the Occupy movement (that challenged the elite, or the so-called one-per-centers, with encampments at public spaces around the world).

Trudeau defending "trade" (aka corporate rights agreements) at a meeting on peace and democracy co-sponsored by the World Trade Organization (notably challenged by anti-corporate globalization activists at the Battle in Seattle in 1999) is contradictory to say the least.

The Paris Peace Forum partners reflect an elite: BNP Paribas recorded a pre-tax profit of U.S.$13.97 billion in 2017, the Ford Foundation holds a U.S.$12.4 billion endowment, Google is valued at about US$11.8 billion, and the Aga Khan has an estimated net worth of U.S.$800 million. (You'll also remember that Trudeau visited his private island in the Bahamas in December 2016.)

Trudeau -- who inherited $1.2 million from his father and whose net worth has been estimated to be as high as $10 million -- has now tweeted his thanks to French President Emmanuel Macron -- a millionaire investment banker who oversaw Nestle's acquisition of a Pfizer subsidiary -- "for a great discussion about job creation, economic growth that benefits everyone, trade, security and gender equality."

The notion of "economic growth that benefits everyone" rings hollow for perhaps everyone except those at the top of the economic ladder.

This past summer, Global News reported:

"The country's most affluent families are worth $3 billion on average, while the median net worth in Canada is just under $300,000, meaning that half of families own more and half less than that. And while wealth at the top grew by $800 million per family between 2012 and 2016, a rate of 37 per cent, Canada's median net worth grew by only $37,000, an increase of 15 per cent."

If you're earning minimum wage, saddled with debt, struggling to make your rent or mortgage payment, or trying to figure out how to pay for the care of an elderly parent or your child's post-secondary education while a small economic and political elite holds billions of dollars in wealth and seemingly controls the levers of power, liberal democracy can appear not so democratic.

Whether it's willful ignorance of their class privilege, or a deceptive charade, the lack of acknowledgement of the profound inequality in wealth and power under our economic system -- capitalism -- feeds right-wing populist sentiments.

What epic narrative will ultimately prevail?

Will it be the Trudeau liberal-democratic narrative that suggests the current system is working -- or the Trump right-wing populist narrative based on hate, nationalism and racism – or the Occupy left-wing populist narrative that says an unjust economic system that generates extreme inequalities in wealth must be challenged?

Image: Justin Trudeau/Twitter

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