Canadian news sources have been calling the country’s deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland, the “minister of everything” for months. The recent spread of the coronavirus has only given that title more weight. A week ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made Freeland the overseer of the federal response to the pandemic. And now, with Trudeau entering a 14-day quarantine after his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for the disease, Freeland appears poised to take on still more responsibility.
Before entering the Canadian Parliament and, soon thereafter, the cabinet in 2013, Freeland worked full-time as a journalist. Articles she wrote for The Atlantic both before and after her election offer some insight into her view of geopolitics and the world economy—systems in which she’s now playing a more powerful role than ever before.
The global financial crisis, Freeland observed, shed new light on the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of an elite few—a trend already evident for years at that point. But it also, she wrote, made it clear that “the rich of today are … different from the rich of yesterday … They are becoming a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home.”
She argued that community represented a “new plutocracy” around the world, one that was preoccupied with creating wealth, starting philanthropic foundations, and combatting economic regulations. “America really does need many of its plutocrats,” she wrote, but what it needed them to do most is what they least wanted to: share their wealth.
Freeland returned to the economy’s global elite, but this time focused on those among the group who, rather than working to preserve the current state of Western capitalism, were concerned that it had become dysfunctional.
“What made it possible to sell this version of capitalism to society was the promise that if businesses were allowed to simply get on with the job, all of us would be better off,” she wrote. But following the financial crisis, some executives were working to restore a model more like the one that dominated in the 1950s and ’60s, when “America’s business leaders widely believed they were responsible to the community as a whole, not just shareholders.”
“I believe that capitalist democracy has proved itself to be the only compelling, universalist vision of how to live the good life,” Freeland wrote. “But,” she argued, a “stable world order” had failed to emerge following the fall of the Berlin Wall, despite promises that globalization and the spread of market democracy would bring on a “golden age.”
What had resulted instead, she observed, was radicalism, polarization, and “economic malaise.” She argued that to succeed in the uneasy new state of the world, businesses would have to embrace the more sustainable philosophy of capitalism that she wrote about in 2013.
“Companies not only need to account for … internationality,” she wrote. “They also need to show that they are invested in the greater good.”