There are fears that Europe is moving inextricably to the right in politics. The numbers voting for the parties of the right has grown. Nationalism and an increase in xenophobic
attacks have prompted scaremongering. The parties of the left in politics are equally loud in protest and actions. The increase of extremism can be laid squarely at the door of politicians; they will not admit it but their poor management has brought us to this juncture.
America is also witnessing a political phenomenon. And this is where our story begins. The decision of the American administrations of Reagan, Bush and Clinton to deregulate the financial system led us directly to the banking crisis of 2008. The repeal of the 1933 Glass – Steagall Act which brought regulation to the banking sector after the great crash of 1929, lead the way. Suzanne McGee (p269). The crisis of 2008 still has us in the doldrums. Thank-you cowboy Ron!
In Europe the crisis was handled badly, made worse by our political leaders. Joseph Stiglitz (pxxv) Greece had been allowed to spend aided by Goldman Sachs bank until the bubble burst. The EU refused to bail Greece out and instead insisted that the country go cap in hand to the IMF. A political farce ensued, Dani Rodrik (p218). Panic engulfed the EU caused by political ineptitude particularly on the part of Germany.
Greece was forced to pass laws on cutting its health service, on trade union rights including collective bargaining and to cut the minimum wage to secure a bail out. Austerity, austerity the catchphrase of the neo-liberal economists had taken hold. Prune back, was the rallying call, in order to pay your debts. Believing in the ‘confidence fairy’, Paul Krugman (p200) e.g. make the markets believe that you are not being profligate and they will continue to invest. Mm, the very people who caused the crash!
Prune, hack, slice; wages, jobs, the welfare state. Prune, hack, slice, the debt man’s at the gate. That was the basic spin from our politicians. Somehow the economic mire we found ourselves in was the fault of the workers and the poor. A telling analysis of the absurdity of such a political logic is given by Krugman (p200)
“The trouble with the current situation,  insisting on perpetuating suffering [austerity] isn’t the grown-up, mature thing to do. It’s both childish (…) and destructive”.
We can add the voice of Stiglitz (p76) to that analysis:
“The irony is that in the crisis that finance brings about, workers and small businesses bear the brunt of the costs”.
Income inequality has been rising since the 1980s. Ha-Joon Chang (p333). The trend is acknowledged by many economists. The trend was marked in the USA and UK who have followed the neo-liberal economic school of thinking — austerity. Thus over a sustained period ordinary people have witnessed a decline in their living standards and the failure of politicians to protect their well-being.
Dissatisfaction has been brewing, the kettle is not yet boiled, but. Wages depressed, jobs scarce at the lower end of the market, the economic crisis not yet resolved, forced cultural change with growing concerns over migration / immigration. A very large section of society is concerned by the onslaught of politically correct doctrine and worry about their culture and way of life. The negative response of politicians has many feeling that their voice is irrelevant.
In the midst of this cacophony the politicians in the UK gave themselves a pay rise. The gulf has just got wider!
The sustained barrage of political correct idioms to be learned coupled by the demeaning labels: racist, bigot, NIMBY, old and backward etc. etc. etc. leaves many feeling they are being brainwashed by New Stalinists. Having to mind your P’s and Q’s every time you speak, support their interpretation of events. Perception is everything!
A note of caution from Howard Gardner the eminent Harvard psychologist (p51);
“…emotion is often a more powerful factor in influencing our behaviour than logic”. He suggests that there are: “…more neural connections going from the limbic emotional centre to the intellectual cortex”.
With the establishment of Sharia courts in the UK and the seemingly endless mention of the rights of minorities tends to suggest that the needs of the majority have already been met. This does nothing to broker acceptance or respect. Frustration and anger builds!
On and on the assault comes with an absence of someone to turn too. No political outlet because all the recognised parties are seen to be in cahoots. There is tiredness with interest groups hogging the limelight and achieving their demands. Politicians have forgotten the wisdom of Edmund Burke: cited in Charles Handy (p103)
“ Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate clink, while thousands of cattle, repose beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field,…”
The real danger of the present situation is that the dissatisfaction with the establishment becomes ingrained. It could make a good Shakespearian play: Macbeth Act 1V sc.1
“Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire, burn; and, cauldron, bubble.
No surprise that the electorate, middle-left and middle-right scour the horizon for an escape route. The far-right too has quickly recognised an avenue to explore and found many alienated folk standing on the roadside.
Germany – NPD (neo-Nazi???)
France – National Front
Austria – Freedom Party
Netherlands – Dutch People’s Party
Sweden – Sweden Democrats
Finland – Finns
The list could go on but the point is made.
Much of the anger at this time is generated by the migrant crisis and once again political ineptitude rears its ugly head. However, many of the parties of the far-right are also opposed to the EU – the mammoth without ears. Some of these hard-line groups have secured up to 30% of the popular vote and together hold an approximately 33% of the seats in the European Parliament. Amazing!
The crucial point here is that they don’t want to reform the EU. They want to kill it off.
In the UK voters floundered in various directions, some finding solace with Ukip, but the electoral system (first past the post) dented their enthusiasm; 4 million votes but no parliamentary seats. Others took revenge on the Liberal and Labour parties leaving the Tories with a strong hand.
In the USA the republican right are being trounced by Trump, whilst the democrats have found an alternative voice in Bernie Sanders. Why?
The story unfolds with a Sky news correspondent Tuesday March 1 2016. A question of why a woman was voting for Bernie Sanders brought an illuminating response: she said it was not about Bernie but the doors his campaign opened to a wider discussion of many important topics.
Here an articulate, grey hair, voice of reason is seeking an explanation for her feeling of alienation from political life. Her voice is echoed in multiplies of millions around the globe. For decades the political class has ambled on impervious to ordinary folk and disparaging of their concerns. They had been emboldened by the lack of an opposition.
Floundering in the political mire, ordinary Joe felt powerless. Their only source of power they believed was their vote, but all the recognised parties were proving to be equally crap. Along came the extremes and sat down beside them and brushed their powerlessness away.
I can hear echoes of Caliban: The Tempest scene 2 187 – 195
No more dams I’ll make for fish,
Nor fetch in firing
Nor scrape trenchering, nor wash a dish.
‘Ban, ‘Ban, Ca—Caliban
Has a new master. Get a new man!
Freedom, high day! High day, freedom! Freedom, high day, freedom!
It seems that the political class are akin to an oil tanker, nice and steady when crossing the Atlantic Ocean but slow and in need of a lot of space when it has to turn. It has to turn.
Are we adrift?
Not quite but we are getting there. There is a growing feeling of unfairness out there in the world. Fairness is a powerful psychological trait. It is so strong that it can dictate people’s thinking, tied, perhaps rigidly, to a person’s emotion.
There is a sense of tiredness with the grab society; the, me, me, me philosophy of some. And with the flashy, look at my wealth occultists.
Charles Handy (p198) puts it well, “…it is ultimately not tolerable for the many poor to live beside the fewer rich”. Jealousy? No, disgust! During the so called ‘Golden Age’ of the 50s, 60s, 70s, everyone seemed to share in the prosperity created. Since the 80s times have changed.
The trickle-down effect
Many of the working class accepted the ‘spin’ of government that by cutting taxes for the rich this money would be used to create more employment hence the new wealth would ‘trickle down’. A similar ‘spin’ is given to corporate tax reductions. This view was entrenched until, “…in the face of considerable evidence that it is untrue”. Fukuyama (p465) Further evidence can be found in: Chang (p451), Stiglitz (pp 8, 78), Rodrik (p165) and Krugman (p84).
Quid pro quo
The rich and our politicians appear more focussed on feathering their own nests than being responsible leaders. The concept of clientelism: you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, is very much alive in the corridors of power.
In the UK members of parliament (MPs) were able to employ their wife and offspring at the expense of the tax payer. The expenses scandal of recent years is still haunting some of them. Others have been caught doing dodgy deals.
In America clientelism is all but a business whereby interest groups give generously to a politician’s campaign for election and in return gain influence in the corridors of power. Fukuyama (p87) suggests it undermines democracy because it “…strengthens existing elites and blocks democratic accountability”.
Therefore we can see why the people feel alienated from the political system. The feeling of powerlessness is not a fleeting will-o-the-wisp experience. As Ha-Joon Chang (p106) points out, austerity governments in the Netherlands, France, and Greece were voted out in 2012 followed by Italy in 2013. It made no difference; the austerity package of the EU was nonetheless imposed.
Meanwhile, in the UK the conservative government is busy cutting away at areas of the state in the name of efficiency. Slice by slice it is cutting into the National Health Service (NHS).
Perhaps politicians should take note of the wisdom of Fukuyama (p532)
“When governments cease being accountable, they invite passive noncompliance, protest, violence, and in extreme cases, revolution”.
Abuse of power
A further hard hitting policy is the raising of the retirement age in the UK. Women had their retirement age raised from 60 to 65 in line with men. Now everyone has to put in several more years before they can escape the workhouse. The ‘spin’ by the government is that as a result of people living longer the pension bill will be much higher and needs to be offset by people working for longer.
Some women will have had their work life extended by up to 10 years. How much is the government saving by that little manoeuver??
The true implication is that successive governments have sanctimoniously mismanaged the economy. For 50 years many have paid income tax and national insurance tax and god knows how many other taxes and now when retirement looms they are a burden. Shame!!
This is an abuse of power as it leaves large numbers of people feeling anxiety and guilt. It only affects the workers as the better off have the means and can decide when they want to retire. No such luxury for the less well off.
Thus we have the rise of the Tea Party in America and Donald Trump viewed as a saviour. In Europe the rise of the far-right and extreme left. In the UK we have Ukip on the centre right whilst the far-left are still sucking their dummies and waiting for the resurrection of Trotsky.
A few more words of wisdom for our shamelessly needy politicians – from the 17th century
“…government should benefit the people, not those in power”. Wang Fuzhi www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Fuzhi
Karl Popper adds his voice: we need an open society; “…in which the political institutions can be changed by the governed”.
Do some good join Robin Hood!
Suzanne McGee Chasing Goldman Sachs
Joseph Stiglitz The Price of Inequality
Dani Rodrik The Globalization Paradox
Paul Krugman End This Depression Now
Howard Gardener Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice
Ha-Joon Chang Economics: The User’s Guide
Charles Handy The Hungry Spirit
Francis Fukuyama Political Order and Political Decay