Populism: Let’s Celebrate?

 

Robber Barons

Robber Barons

Populism arises from the dissatisfaction of the people at the back end of the train. It’s a long train. We have all participated in the building of society therefore we should all share in the benefits. It is not a case of envy but of right. The popular vote is a warning salvo; a means to give a good shake to the elite and political class. Will the gruesome twosome listen or will the people have to push harder. Time will tell!

Decisions have to be taken by the political class as to how the river will meander. Politicians have to understand that the people want a decent life with as little hassle as is possible. They want more transparency from the state. They also want easy access, to what might be defined as everyday things. They want their children to have better prospects than they experience, therefore social mobility is crucial.

Moreover, the demands of the poor are not an attempt at robbery, nor is it about taxing the rich till they bleed. However, the wealthy may like to pay the full tax they should. And if the State has to come and get the tax, let there be stiff penalties. There is little thought at the moment of the guillotine being wheeled out but there is an anger borne of frustration of the daily grinding of the millwheel but having barely a crust to eat.

Populism is just one consequence of inequality. A whole economic argument has been written by J.E. Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality. He like others, Ha-Joon Chang* and Paul Krugman* have highlighted the growing disparity since the 1980s. As the latter states, “… the income of the typical family grew much less after 1980 than before”. While Chang and others suggest that inequality creates barriers to economic growth by restricting social mobility.*Chang, Economics: The User’s Guide (p320)

*Krugman, End This Depression NOW (p73)

child from the streetsBy not mobilizing the 80% who don’t get a fair shot at a top class education we fail, we fail because we don’t know what talent awaits discovery. We fail because many poorly educated end up in prison. We fail because we have failed to listen and failed to act.

 

The experience of the poor throughout the world has led to a mountain of distrust. Therefore an initial step for the political class is to give clear indications that this rift will be healed. I accept that this will be difficult for career politicians whose hand has never been far from the till. Such characters must be weeded out. Perhaps we need to think in terms of a fixed term for holding office, say 15 years after which they must stand down?

I can well understand why the ‘gruesome twosome’ have misgivings about populism. They may well concur with the view, “… while a wing of scholarship in political science contends that populist mass movements are irrational and introduce instability into the political process”. www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populism

There may be a tad of logic in that opinion but only in that such ‘irrational’ behaviour and ‘instability’ upset the status quo. And if the status quo is upset what was the underlining cause? Obviously the system has gone skew-whiff. Who would have made it so? I suggest the ‘gruesome twosome’ ask the mirror. A question on the political bias of the writers also needs to be asked.

Notwithstanding, the wealthy may hide behind the notion of the ‘ideas man’ that as they thought of the idea or solution ergo they should reap their just dessert. However, in discussing such a scenario Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)* adds some thinking to that weak logic when suggesting a clearer view of events.

The scenario:

people need to get their goods from point A to point B so a businessman came up with the idea of a railway but before the businessman could stash the cash, Emerson restrains him by reminding him, “The human race has gone out before him, sunk the hills, filled the hollows, and bridged the rivers”. Ergo!

*Emerson Representative Men 1850 – published in English Critical Essays, Edmund D. Jones (ed:) p459

The Scam!

The term rip-off looms large in the thinking of the general populace. It seems that everywhere they look Fagan is in the shadows. Ben Goldacre, Bad Science (p208) illustrates this with an incidence in the pharmaceutical industry concerning SSRI drugs, an antidepressant. He tells us that the data from the trials of the drugs was purposely delayed, being issued much later than expected. When the trials were issued data that suggested that the drug might be dangerous was hidden deep in the blurb. Also buried was data that suggested it was no better than placebo.

Another fleecing example comes from an unusual source the crime novelist Michael Connelly.* The character Micky Haller explains to his daughter about the sheer number of foreclosures in the housing market as a result of the 2008 financial crisis:

“These lenders all want their money back and so some of them do bad things and some of them hire people to do bad things. They lie and cheat and they take away people’s houses without doing it fairly or under the law”.

*Connelly, The Fifth Witness (p65) Good read.

Hence, one might start to grasp the sense of betrayal building in the gut of thethHCBKO3M8 people. Unsurprisingly, many feel used and abused. These incidents in the pharmaceutical industry and the sub-prime scandal demonstrate a considerable degree of contempt by the wealthy against society.

Moreover, the propaganda or spin lays the weight of the blame on the people themselves or the most deprived sections of society. It’s all the fault of the workshy or those fiddling social security payments.

Thus there seems little room for engagement as the ‘gruesome twosome’ appear entrenched in their attitude. However, if contempt is allowed to fester the democratic route to righting wrongs may hit a serious buffer. The big boys who find themselves in the first class carriage need to reflect long and hard on the way forward, and find an avenue towards a just society. The answer is out there!

I will happily direct them to some good reading material. Bryan Magee, Popper (p78) highlights Karl Popper’s view of a good democracy, “… free institutions, especially those which enable the ruled to effectively criticize their rulers and to change them without bloodshed”.

Another philosopher Michael Sandel, Justice (p266) adds a crisp point, “Too great a gap between rich and poor undermines the solidarity that democratic citizenship requires”. Now that’s a piece of craftsmanship. In essence a better distribution of the wealth that is generated can help keep the peace.

The question is, can on old dog learn a new trick? Mitt Romney a presidential candidate in 2012 suggested that the poor suffer from ‘envy’. Chang (p318) Of course the people rejected him; little surprise there. Romney just doesn’t get it, perhaps an illustration from the consummate thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson might help to enlighten him and others of his ilk.

While discussing the genius of Shakespeare, Emerson explores the reality, “In point of fact, it appears that Shakespeare did owe debts in all directions,…”. He cites the contribution of Malone and others past and present. And as John Donne said much earlier, 1624 “No man is an island”.

Nonetheless, as evidence of their righteousness the wealthy cite the fact that the majority of economists believe in individualism of the libertarian (republican) belief. That a nation should be based economically as a minimalist state, that the state should not pass any policy without consulting all the people. The state did, the people elected Trump! Happy?!

Furthermore, the concept of individualism is so tempting; we like to think of ourselves as special. But if we can grasp the significance of what Ralph Waldo Emerson is saying then we can recognise that in the social environment (not biological) we do not stand alone but are reliant on many others.

This body of economists also put forward the idea that all consumers are rational shoppers. Poppycock! The argument that shoppers are rational stems from a badly constructed model. There are numerous restrictions and ploys which come into play concerning shopping:

  • Education level
  • Income level
  • The £/$ billions spent on advertising by all industry
  • Sales, special deals, Black Friday, January sales. Fashion

Anyone who looks at the annual fashion splurge has to admit that there’s nothing rational about shoppers. The extent of consumer debt aided by, the have plastic, will spend attitude. Businesses would have to be stupid to spend £/$ billions on advertising their goods if the shoppers could not be convinced to buy their product and not an alternative.

Many of the multinational businesses spend £/$ billions building a ‘brand’ name e.g. Nike – to convince the customer that their product is a sound buy.

Indeed, it is worrying that the ‘gruesome twosome’ and their acolytes suffer from a serious dose of groupthink. The problem with groupthink is that it is dangerous, and, so it has proved. Note what Dr Nicky Hayes* says about the condition, “… the consequences of groupthink can be disastrous”. Shall I mention the 2008 financial crisis again? Oops!  *Hayes Understand Psychology (p137)

 

th1b2fvzdtThere is a clear justification for harping on about the financial crisis (there I go again) because the same gang of economists advised governments to implement a package of measures we now call ‘austerity’. Another term for austerity is ‘CUT’! Millions of people’s lives have been affected. Youth unemployment is 25%+ in Spain, 40% in Italy, nearly 20% in France, eight years on. Eight years and people are still struggling to make ends meet.

The latter are the ‘jam’ guys but there’s nothing sweet about their troubles. This group of the population are ‘just about managing’ (JAM) to survive on their meagre income. Eight years on!

So forgive me if I have little time for these economists. Their concept of the minimalist state would have left the world in a diabolical mess following the crisis had it not been for government intervention. Francis Fukuyama* shoots from the hip when he states: “If the state did not control the richest and most powerful elites in society, the latter would appropriate and misuse the political system at everyone else’s expense”.Fukuyama Political Order and Political Decay (p56)

Governments have more to concern themselves with than an economic model. Thank goodness!

We have come a long way but not very far. If you read Robert Roberts* a sense of horror makes you ever so sad and at once angry at the extent of destitution in the UK 95 years ago. Tens of thousands of destitute souls where sent to live and work in the workhouses, a place, generally recognised as hell. It is difficult to get national figures because the poor were dealt with at the local level. *Roberts:  The Classic Slum

Today we see ourselves as more fortunate, there are no workhouses. However, destitution has not gone out of our lives. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundationth6xovw9al there are an approximate 1.25 million destitute people in the country, 300,000 of which are children. The destitute are classified by certain measures: someone who can’t afford the basic essentials they need to eat, keep clean and stay warm and dry. www.jrf.org.uk/press/destitute-uk

 

Changes need to be made; the road to a just society cannot be allowed to rut for another 100 years! And the change must come from the elite and political class. It is incumbent upon them to show willing and to deliver in the short and long term. Let their bedtime reading include all those mentioned in this text. The philosophy of an Open Society by Karl Popper might be a good place to start, followed by Justice by Michael Sandel.

Without doubt populism can prove to be a very positive thing to have happened. We can stop, think, and reflect. We can celebrate this opportunity to get back on track – 1950s style when people felt they had a good life. What was termed the golden age. We can move forward from this juncture more determined, more realistic, more in tune with what makes a just system work. We can employ greater participation and have greater transparency. We can use our nous.

 

Elites: The Selfish Gene

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“Greed has taken over”.*

These are not my words but those of David Rubinstein (2007) who made $billions on Wall Street. He recognised the grab epidemic that had gripped the centre of finance. The selfish gene had infected just about everyone, and the infatuation with the big bucks overpowered the otherwise educated.

*Suzanne McGee – Chasing Goldman Sachs (p177)

Of course greed has long been a deadly sin and thus part of the human make up. Wherever there are winners and losers greed has been dangling its lustful bait.

Though greed and elites have been around quite a while the world has now changed significantly and the divide is much more noticeable. Ordinary Joe has become more aware of their daily grind and the comparison with those of wealth. Television, films and books help to keep them informed.

The dramatic change came with the advent of socialism, Marxism and democracy. These developments brought the growth of political parties and trade unions which have changed the dynamics by keeping people aware. Social media has a world audience that means we are neighbours in many respects.

Moreover, information on the great divide is well documented. Noam Chomsky, How the World Works deals with it by mentioning the philosophers David Hume (p129-30) and Aristotle (p209-210). Hume acknowledges that leaders are only in power as long as the people tolerate them.

Aristotle was challenged by a question on how to deal with the great divide – reduce poverty or reduce democracy. His answer was to lessen the impact of poverty, a purely logical conclusion.

It is quite obvious that if you are a part of the elite that you would chose to maintain your status. However, history teaches us that empires always fall and therefore the wise counsel of Aristotle should be heeded.

Unfortunately, greed clouds judgment.  Joseph E. Stiglitz – The Price of Inequality (p5) clarifies the great divide by pointing out that in America the top 1% gets 40% more in one week than the bottom 20% get in a year. Bloody hell! you may whisper to yourself but the worse is yet to come.

The top 0.1% in one and a half days (1.5 days) gets what the bottom 90% make in a year. Now you can scratch your head in disbelief. NO WAY you say, but. Obviously the elite is deaf to the wisdom of Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)

Francis Fukuyama – Political Order and Political Decay (p479) hits the nail on the head when he states, “In the contemporary United States, elites speak the language of liberty but are perfectly happy to settle for privilege”. The same argument can be espoused for the elite everywhere. One consequence is that the poor and poorly educated become marginalized. (p488) Further consequence flow from this reality.

Therefore, few would dispute the analysis of Suzanne McGee (p354) when she says that attitudes on Wall Street have not improved since the 2008 financial crash that battered the poor hard. The cry of the financial elite is, “me first, me foremost, and only me”.

Though the election surprises of 2016, and going into 2017 may wake the elite from their slumber. The Brexit election in the UK and the Trump victory in the presidential election may bring a wakeup call with the cockerel. Throughout Europe we are witnessing a growing dissatisfaction with the elite and their political acolytes.

Furthermore, throughout the world people are standing up and letting it be known that they are fed up with the status quo.

Protestthiec512pf

South Africa:      Since 2008 an average of 2 million people has taken to protesting annually.

Main complaint: poor services and corruption.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_in_South_Africa

Venezuela:         Polls show that 75% of people are unhappy with the government of Nicolas Maduro. Massive oil reserves suggest it should be a wealthy country.

Main complaint: food shortages, power cuts and corruption.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-36319877

September 2016 over 1million protest against government. NY Times suggest mainly middle class but then they can be the most dangerous.

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014%EZ%80%9316_Venezuela_protests

El Salvador:         Main complaint: Corruption – effects food shortages and poor services.

Brasil:                    April 2016 poll shows 63% don’t like the government of Dilma Rousseff. Since been ousted, her successor has faced similar protests.

Main complaint: high inflation, bad recession = prices & unemployment + corruption

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-35810578

Equatorial Guinea:  has one of Africa’s largest oil reserves but is one of the continents poorest. Their leader is estimated to have amassed a personal fortune of $600 million.

Around the world a better informed populace are beginning to assert their rights. Power to the people!

thXB41ZEDFCorruption

A keyword in many instances is ‘corruption’. However, corruption takes many forms, from direct bribery to filling one’s own pocket surreptitiously. Moreover, corruption is not solely attributed to developing countries. Britain was rocked by the expenses scandal when our Members of Parliament took to giving themselves handsome handouts, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bill. Then of course, there’s the semi-legal type of corruption known as lobbying.

Interestingly, Senator Ted Cruz, who sought nomination for the republican presidential candidacy, was noted as saying, “…career politicians’ ears and wallets are open to the highest bidder”. In Texas 2015 www.theintercept.com/2015/07/30

Let me give you a handful of views on lobbying.

“…it defies belief that the banking industry’s legions of lobbyists did not have a major impact,”…on government policy. Francis Fukuyama (p481)

“In other cases, interest groups have been able to block legislation harmful to their interests”. Ibid (p486)

These groups, instead of pursuing wealth-creating economic activities, made use of the political system to extract benefits or rents for themselves”.  Mancur Olson – The Rise and Decline of Nations quoted ibid (p481)

Or it may be due to exploitative elites, typically in cahoots with the government, who block any improvement in economic condition that would threaten their power” Dani Rodrik – The Globalization Paradox  (p137) Rodrik was looking at reasons for poverty in poorer nations.

All told more than $3.2 billion was spent on lobbying in 2011 alone. The main distortion is to our political system; the main loser, our democracy” Joseph E Stiglitz (p119)

The pattern is clear, the political outcome of lobbying seldom works for the majority; as decisions are heavily influenced by interest groups. E.E.Schattschneider – The Semisovereign People   ibid (p483)

There are several other damning opinions I could add to those given but hopefully the point is made. Unfortunately, the material from which I got the quotes is not on the daily reading diet of the poor and poorly educated.

Ordinary Joe tends to rely on gut and experience, the latter a method favoured by Aristotle, to reach a conclusion. The poor may be marginalized but their brain has not ceased to work.

Dissatisfaction with the political class has grown over the decades to such an extent that, “…trust in Congress has fallen to historically low levels barely above double digits”. Ibid (p481) A similar point is made by Stiglitz (p117) that the rich have, “…become more distant from ordinary people”.

While these instances concern the American system they are readily transferable throughout the world. Perhaps, in understanding this ‘distance’ those who cannot grasp the seismic political upheaval called Brexit and the Trump victory can begin to comprehend that the ‘sleeper has awoken’!!

The Double Deal:

Backhander

Backhander

A good outline of the direct and moral corruption that is bought on a daily bases of lobbying can be read in Francis Fukuyama (p478) when he deals with ‘reciprocal altruism’. Basically, I give you a big contribution to your election fund and somewhere down the line, you do me a favour. It’s a fancy name for you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.

We are all aware of cronyism and nepotism and as distasteful as they are, we also know that they are an apron string around our lives. Who wouldn’t help a friend or look after one of our family when times are hard? However, when a similar thing happens at the top end of business its use is to maintain status and power, and to advance wealth.

That brings us back to the catch phrase noted by Suzanne McGee (p354) “…me first, me foremost, and only me”. The actions and statements of the rich are catalogued beside all the other pieces of exhibitionism that symbolizes their contempt for the poor. These are duly noted until a jigsaw has been completed and then contempt is fired back at those in power.

The notion that the poor lap up the display of wealth and the misnomer that their anger is only a form of jealousy is so out of place. The trite use of ‘jealousy’ was a smokescreen floated by the wealthy to browbeat the poor.

I refer back to the wisdom of Aristotle that experience is a solid learning tool; and experience is what the poor collect in abundance. The machine operator knows that they are producing wealth and have become aware that their share of the proceeds is hardly enough to survive on. Hence the ostentatious flirting of the rich does not engage their jealousy but their anger.

A Learning Curve?

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is as stated by Ralph Schosstein, a banker on Wall Street, “Memories fade faster on Wall Street than on Main Street”. (McGee p383) The lure of the big buck is so enticing it’s almost irresistible. For the big boys it’s their raison d’etre. It appears that nothing much has been learned since the build up to the 2008 crash that we are still suffering from.

“A few years ago various cunning bankers were sitting around on their fat arses scratching their sweaty balls wondering how they could make themselves even more disgustingly rich….so they started looking around and they spied a vast amount of poor Americans who hadn’t been allowed loans before…” Geraint Anderson, Cityboy (p307)

Soon the world economy collapsed and we had to bail them out!

Control of the financial sector should have been exercised by the government. However, government must be free of corruption. Hm! I’m reminded of a child’s nursery rhyme – the wheels on the bus go round and round…. Lobbying all day long!

In today’s society we need the money men but they also need us. We are both sides of the coin. What they need to understand is that wealth distribution is a key element in keeping the fabric of society on a harmonious path.

Many countries throughout the world are experiencing an upsurge in people power. In the UK and the USA the people have exercised their democratic rights to let the elite know that they too want to participate in the nation’s wealth. Let’s keep it democratic!

 

Bubble Wars

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Bubble Folk are the creation of a lack of reliable informative information the cause of which is mass media and political spin. It also has to do with peoples need to be a part of something. Television and newspapers promote the views of those who own them or who run them (BBC). Thus the predominant opinions we are given are those of the elite.

It’s increasingly difficult to find an objective opinion out there. Without a truly independent analysis of events that uses ‘why’ at the beginning of each question we never get to the crux of the matter. Basically we are treated as cannon fodder by the elite. We the public don’t need to know the ins and outs of an issue; it is their job to look after our interests. They ain’t doing a good job!

A Case in Point:

Recently after the Brexit vote in the UK and the general rise of people power across Europe I’ve heard Jean-Claude Juncker the EU commissioner state on three different occasions that they, the political elite, should not be held back by the rise in populism. Such statements suggest a number of things to me:

  • He does not accept democratic accountability.
  • There is by association the view that people have no idea what they need or want.
  • The political class see themselves as an elite.
  • That he and his ilk are Bubble Folk!!!
  • They have no desire to listen and no intention to act on the public vote.

 

Thinking.

Thinking.

Notwithstanding, we can only make decisions on the bases of the information we receive. Being bombarded by one view or by two strongly opposing views makes it all the more difficult to reach a rational, objective conclusion.

The other problem is that time on TV isth1zoq2kiv restricted and so much of what we get comes down to political sound bites. We have become the peoples of puerile language: texting, twitter and Facebook and all the rest. Billions of text messages are sent every day, much of the content of little relevance. I know I’m one of the culprits! E.g. what’s for dinner? Put the kettle on etc.etc.. I fancy a pint?

Moreover, politicians are their own worst enemy when it comes to presenting a point of view. Invariably they do not answer the question put to them but chose to state the message they want to get across. In so doing promote their own belief and their political party. They are cheap car salesmen! However, people have started to doubt whether politicians know what the truth looks like.

th13r6b7kgEventually political spin wears thin and the electorate switch off when the politicians start to speak. This acquired deafness is now a worldwide phenomenon as people realise that the political elite represent themselves. Reality of their living situations has forced ordinary Joes to recognise this simple truth.

 

Case in Point:

EU – Canada trade deal due to be signed this month, October 2016. The package was worked out in secret its conditions to be imposed on the populace. Business gets what it wants and the people, well, there might be some jobs created. But others will be lost! There will be some scraps left on the table.

Bubble Orgasm:

The political class were stunned by the recent referendum decision to ‘Leave’ the EU, June 2016. The ‘Remainers’ were apoplectic, overcome with convulsions of disbelief, some wanted to storm the barricades of working class areas and beat the …. out of them. It seems democracy is only permitted when the electorate vote according to diktat.

Those who voted to Remain cannot accept the vote and cannot give up on the issue, so convinced are they that the people have made a mistake. Little or no thought is given to why 17 million voted to Leave. Here in lies the crux of Bubble Folk – only they can be right.

  • Why did so many people vote to leave?
  • Why did they feel so disillusioned?
  • Why had this disillusionment not been addressed before?
  • Why have the ‘elite’ not shared more of the nation’s wealth?
  • Why were the ‘Leavers’ lambasted as racist etc.?

I‘ll go back to a point made earlier that the reality of their living situationthII1V3PKP forced the electorate to think of their needs and not those of the elite. There is a lesson in this situation for the elite to comprehend: – when you treat people like …. they will react.

 

Abortion: the Bubble War

There are few other issues that raise blood pressure more than abortion. This is trench warfare in the modern age. No middle ground, no room for compromise, not even a smattering of space for dialogue. No game of Christmas football here. The antagonists are trapped in their respective bubbles.

While there is logic in both arguments it is absent in the antagonistic approach each side has towards the other. There concrete stance has become the home of intolerance. It has become a war of attrition.

In political terms support in the Houses of power is determined by the numbers in each district. Whichever group has the largest number gets the politician’s backing. In these circumstances democracy is pushed along not by what is best for all of society but who has the loudest gob.

New Picture (1)Shout loud and shout long seems to be the best route to get your way. One more reason why ordinary Joes are fed up with the political system is that they are not heard but any minority with a loud gob is.

 

 

We Trust in God:

All religions are made up of bubble folk. Many use their belief system to promote their political aspirations but cannot identify the hypocrisy in so doing.

It’s a Long Way to Tipperary:

So the old song goes. It may well be a long way but it’s even longer to get to true democracy. It’s a steeplechase with so many ditches and a host of hurdles. We are transient folk, all of us, but politicians take it to a different level by their pre-election pledges that quickly become obscure and the newly elected abstruse when in power.

Our failure to make progress comes from the sheer lack of information that the people receive as to what is best for the whole of society as opposed to the demands of the elite. We have tranche after tranche of interest groups intransigent in their defence of their patch. There is much talk about the need of interest groups in a pluralist society.

Of course very few would like to live in a Stalinist environment or any fascist state. However, when groups become adamant in their approach and almost puritanical in outlook they become a hindrance to progress as they develop Stalinist tendencies.

Numerous environmental groups of various hues claim to have the best interest of society as their prime concern yet never stand together. Their interest seems parochial and in this sense serves the interest of the establishment and not that of society as a whole. They are the bubblers! thm83e71td