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In sympathy with the anti-globalists

The look in her eyes

Defenders of global capitalism can be just as short-sighted as its critics

Defenders of global capitalism can be just as short-sighted as its critics

Adrian Wooldridge | February/March 2017

This is not a good period for the global elite. Over the past year it has been trounced by angry crowds of voters setting light to its world view. For once, I feel I was ahead of the curve. One shameful day in Chicago some years ago, I realised that there would be a popular explosion against global capitalism. I saw it in a chamber­maid’s eyes.

I was staying in one of those hotel chains with identical branches all over the world designed to reassure the globetrotting businessman that all his needs will be met, no questions asked, wherever he rests his head. I had had a rather self-indulgent night – the steak in Chicago is exceptionally good, and good steak deserves plenty of red wine followed by a few brandy chasers – and I awoke somewhat befuddled. Befuddlement turned to terror when I realised that I had to be on stage in an hour. I dressed hurriedly and looked for my spectacles. They were nowhere to be seen. I started to panic. How could I lecture without them? I had visions of tripping onto the stage, mistaking men for women, women for men and the slide number for the oil price. I had to find my spectacles.

I decided on a methodical approach. I examined each piece of furniture in turn, piling every item on the bed after examining it to prevent duplication. I took all the drawers out of the desk and piled them on the bed. I removed everything from the cupboards, including the iron and ironing board and put them on the bed. I dis­­mantled the sofa and put each cushion on my ever-growing pile. Toilet rolls, litter bins, writing pads, cushions, remote controls, towels, bath mats, city guides, picture books extolling the wonders of the Windy City…I piled them all on top of each other on the bed. I topped what had now become a dramatic-looking pyramid with the lavatory brush and its container.

I hit gold just as my time was running out: there on top of the bathroom cabinet sat my elusive spectacles. I shot out of the bathroom cheering and hollering and performing a dance of joy –and almost knocked over the chambermaid standing in the middle of the bedroom. She was a generously built African-American woman who looked as if she had been cleaning hotel rooms all her life. I stopped my wild dance, looked briefly into her eyes, grunted something meaningless and headed out of the door. The lecture was imminent and I didn’t have time to explain myself.

I walked briskly to the lecture hall, working out what I wanted to say. The subject of my talk was globalisation and I rehearsed all the familiar arguments. Globalisation makes everybody richer and therefore happier. It promotes choice and freedom. Critics complain that it makes the poor poorer. But studies show that multinational companies pay their workers higher wages and provide them with better conditions. Critics complain that globalisation means homogenisation. But in fact it gives everybody more choice: global citizens can spend their leisure time feasting on sushi and guzzling craft beer.

My talk went rather well; my banker hosts agreed with every word and took me out for a pleasant lunch. But as we progressed from salmon to steak to cheesecake and joked about the short-sightedness of the anti-globalists, I couldn’t help thinking about the look in my chambermaid’s eyes.

In her years of making beds, she had seen irrespon­sible capitalism at its worst. She had walked in on the most grotesque couplings. She had tidied up after people who left their towels all over the floor and their clothes strewn everywhere. She had cleaned up vomit and other bodily fluids. All these things might be horrible but at least they had some rational explanation. But why would somebody create a pyramid of furniture on their bed?

I walked back to my hotel feeling rather the worse for wear, the public-speaking adrenalin rush turning to gloom and the steak and cheesecake sitting heavily in my stomach. Should I find the maid and apologise? Or should I just pretend nothing untoward had happened? A combination of cowardice and laziness led me to settle on the latter option.

My room, of course, was perfectly restored to its pre-lapsarian state. There was nothing on the bed but a couple of chocolates, placed delicately on my pillow to remind me how well global capitalism looked after me.