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)
By 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.
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 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 the 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)
There 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 Foundation 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.