I'm inclined to accept the new narrative that the 'losers of globalization' who have been stripped off dignity by offshoring and outsourcing are triggering the populist upheavals of today. That this is a socioeconomic conflict that is coming to a head in the questions of trade and immigration. It probably portends the end of a certain phase of globalization that has run its course.
But this is not the whole story. It's not just the allegedly xenophobic irrational underclass that's voting Brexit and Trump. Those two phenomena have significant support in the affluent classes as well. Does this point to a cultural and political malaise? As a columnist said "if politicians tell people that the world is full of roses while the people themselves view their world as grey, then they are bound to vote for politicians who tell them the world is black."
I've not completely wrapped my head around the latter part of this populist uprising. So let's start with the first part.
As the Middle of Society Goes Down, the Middle Finger Goes Up
Inequality has been rising since at least the eighties (see Piketty and others). However, the defining events of this generation that have upended the political process as we know it are recent. The Iraq war and its subsequent carnage, and the financial crisis of 2008 and its subsequent carnage have eroded trust in institutions that manifestly failed in the eyes of the world. Regular party politics and the mainstream press are on the defensive. Rising in its place are the populists ("the world is black") and (anti)social networks. All for a failure to prevent or properly process said events. This has led to a puncturing of myths that used to provide stability in the political process. Social democrats left, conservatives right, a free flow of capital, products, and people always good, EU provides peace and prosperity and so on. It's all not working anymore.
Brexiters' Rage against the Elites - The National Interest
Repeat after me: The status quo in the West is not working. . . . The status quo in the West is not working. ... Globalism is out. Nationalism is in. ... part of the same Western phenomenon--a gathering backlash against globalism and the antinationalist forces that dominate elite institutions such as big news organizations, universities, think tanks, NGOs and governmental bureaucracies.
I walked from Liverpool to London. Brexit was no surprise - Guardian
the immense social changes wrought by Thatcherism are still having a profound effect on communities all over England. It also meant that when I awoke last Friday to the result of the EU referendum, I wasn't remotely surprised. ... "We've been left behind," a white, middle-aged man told me at a bus stop as I rested in Hemel Hempstead. "Those politicians don't care about us. Immigration has ruined this country."
Pressing Self Destruct
A Brief History of the End of Extreme Capitalism - Umair Haque
Let us assume you are one of those people. What is your best choice? To let this game go on, and meekly accept sure ruin? Of course not. You might as well push self-destruct. Your income, savings, etc, is not growing anyways. So what difference does self-destruction make to you? You are being destroyed either way, right?
But only by pushing self-destruct can you wipe out the people at the top who are responsible for this mess. Or at least you have a chance to. So self destruction is both rational and straightforward.
Brexit is the Rejection of Globalisation - Guardian
In the age of globalisation, the idea was that a more integrated Europe would collectively serve as the bulwark that nation states could no longer provide.
... That dream is now over. ... The reason is obvious. Europe has failed to fulfil the historic role allocated to it. Jobs, living standards and welfare states were all better protected in the heyday of nation states in the 1950s and 1960s than they have been in the age of globalisation. Unemployment across the eurozone is more than 10%.
The world's losers are revolting, and Brexit is only the beginning - Washington Post
For another, global capitalism didn't always work so well for workers in the United States and Europe even as -- or, in some cases, because -- it pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty everywhere else. In fact, the working class in rich countries have seen their real, or inflation-adjusted, incomes flatline or even fall since the Berlin Wall came down and they were forced to compete with all the Chinese, Indian and Indonesian workers entering the global economy. ...
Brexit: a disaster decades in the making - Guardian
Globalization didn't create a lot of losers, but the ones it did were concentrated in the countries that were the driving force behind it. ...
The E.U. may certainly seem to deserve this fate. It has let an economic fire burn across Southern Europe for nearly eight years, its only response to that has been to pour some gasoline on it, and it seems to think it has done its job now that that is down to just a smolder. ...
History doesn't always move forward.
This was the wolf we were warned about. ... When leaders choose only the facts that suit them, people don't stop believing in facts - they stop believing in leaders ... The second is a fracturing in political allegiance. For most of the postwar period, British electoral politics was effectively a duopoly. In 1951, 97% of votes were cast either for Conservatives or Labour. By last year, the combined total was 67%. ... The coalition of metropolitan liberals, city-dwellers, ethnic minorities, union members, working-class northerners and most of Scotland slowly began to fray.
Brexit Is Only the Latest Proof of the Insularity and Failure of Western Establishment Institutions - Glenn Greenwald - The Intercept
Of course, it is the case that some, perhaps much of the support given to these anti-establishment movements is grounded in those sorts of ugly sentiments. But it's also the case that the media elites' revered establishment institutions in finance, media, and politics are driven by all sorts of equally ugly impulses, as the rotted fruit of their actions conclusively proves. ...
The reactions to Brexit show its true significance - Fabius Maximus
self-critique in elite circles is more vital than anything. But, as usual, that's exactly what they most refuse to do. Instead of acknowledging and addressing the fundamental flaws within themselves, they are devoting their energies to demonizing the victims of their corruption
Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept gives a more detailed analysis ... I am a fan, and agree with his overall analysis -- but he imposes his values and concerns onto those of the British "leave" voters. Most importantly, immigration was one of key issues (or perhaps the top one). But Greenwald never mentions it. His blindness is understandable. Support for mass immigration is a defining characteristic of the Left today; Greenwald cannot fairly speak of it.
The Collapse of the Liberal World Order - Foreign Policy
The first problem was that liberalism's defenders oversold the product. We were told that if dictators kept falling and more states held free elections, defended free speech, implemented the rule of law, and adopted competitive markets, and joined the EU and/or NATO, then a vast "zone of peace" would be created, prosperity would spread, and any lingering political disagreements would be easily addressed within the framework of a liberal order.
Fast Forward - The Burning Twilight of the Elites?
So now that there is some sort of consensus that the heady intoxication with globalization has given us a hangover, what will happen? Is there a way to avoid a historical train wreck? Maybe Brexit will start a productive train of reflection in e.g. the EU leadership circles or even American ones?
Here are some articles to illustrate the challenge. Is violence inevitable? Scary stuff indeed.
The Cult of Smartness: How Meritocracy Is Failing America - The Atlantic
Aside from "The Cult of Smartness," why are present arrangements -- lets call ourselves an "aspirational meritocracy" -- failing us? ... Institutions designed to reward merit are being gamed by the privileged, who create a self-perpetuating elite. ... More broadly, inequality begets more inequality. ... The intense competition inherent in meritocracy creates powerful incentives to cheat ... When elites break the rules they aren't punished like regular people. .... There is too much social distance separating the people in charge with the folks subject to their decisions.
What ancient Roman history and `elite overproduction' tell us about near-future doom
Comparisons between 21st century America and the late [Roman] republic are a bit of a cliché, and frequently overwrought. But there's one choice Sulla made that has a direct parallel in modern politics. ... Sulla doubled the size of the Senate, from about 300 men to roughly 600. As Cambridge classics scholar Mary Beard detailed in her recent book "SPQR," this had the side effect of burdening Rome's political system with a bigger elite than it could possibly handle.
... In the decades that followed, competition for political advancement became increasingly desperate and savage -- until a series of grisly civil wars ended with the collapse of the republic, resolving the mismatch between supply and demand.
... As America has become more unequal over the last few decades, the top echelon of politically active billionaires and multimillionaires has grown. Classic elite overproduction.
... In Turchin's cliodynamics model, "absolute immiseration" is the flip side to elite overproduction. ... More and more people also fall to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder, where they become angry and disaffected with the political process. Frustrated elite aspirants are well placed to harness that anger.
This just reminds me of wild-eyed true believers like Michael Gove. Talks a good game about slapping down the elites while holding his own aspirations paramount.
Blame Rich, Overeducated Elites as Our Society Frays - Bloomberg
destabilizing historical trends develop slowly, last many decades, and are slow to subside.
We now see the same forces in the contemporary U.S. Of about 30 detailed indicators I developed for tracing these historical cycles (reflecting popular well-being, inequality, social cooperation and its inverse, polarization and conflict), almost all have been moving in the wrong direction in the last three decades.
... Yet the supply of political offices has stayed flat. ... In technical terms, such a situation is known as "elite overproduction." ... But a common thread in the eras we studied was elite overproduction. The other two important elements were stagnating and declining living standards of the general population and increasing indebtedness of the state. ... Elite overproduction generally leads to more intra-elite competition that gradually undermines the spirit of cooperation, which is followed by ideological polarization and fragmentation of the political class.
... The Great Compression unraveled in the late 1970s, when workers' wages stagnated. We are living in a new cycle of growing inequality, elite overproduction, ideological polarization and political fragmentation.
In some cases, however, societies come through relatively unscathed, by adopting a series of judicious reforms, initiated by elites who understand that we are all in this boat together. This is precisely what happened in the U.S. in the early 20th century.
[More background at the evolution institute]
So failure is not predetermined, just probable with the current course of politics.
Other alternatives that have materialized are underwhelming.
Hugo Chavez's project is collapsing just as the orange-haired North-American version is trying to gain a foothold. The radical scorched earth policy which leaves things worse off after it had its day is very frightening.
Donald Trump Isn't the Presidential Candidate We Should Be Worried About - The Nation
The real danger is the smarter, more capable neo-fascist politician who will inevitably rise in his wake.
...They were disgusted with the liberal direction of the previous administration. They were anti-abortion and pro-religion. They were suspicious of immigrants, haughty intellectuals, and intrusive international institutions. And they very much wanted to make their nation great again.
They'd lost a lot of elections. But this time, they won.
In Poland, that is.
... this wasn't just a victory for PiS. It was a victory for Poland B.
Since its post-Communist transition, that country is often described as having cleaved into two parts, commonly known as "Poland A" and "Poland B." Poland A links together an archipelago of cities and their younger, wealthier inhabitants. Poland B encompasses the poorer, older parts of the population
... The real change will come when a more sophisticated politician, with an authentic political machine, sets out to woo America B. Perhaps the Democratic Party will decide to return to its more populist, mid-century roots. Perhaps the Republican Party will abandon its commitment to entitlement programs for the 1 percent.
More likely, a much more ominous political force will emerge from the shadows. If and when that new, neo-fascist party fields its charismatic presidential candidate, that will be the most important election of our lives.... Then it will matter little how much both liberals and conservatives rail against "stupid" and "crazy" voters. Nor will they have Donald Trump to kick around any more. In the end, they will have no one to blame but themselves.
The word "archipelago" in that article stirred memories of a manifesto that I read years ago. Reading it again, this time it didn't produce interesting insights as it had then but a terrifying realization. The scenarios laid out in the Nation article can and will happen to some extent in all Western countries.
Precariat, Unnecessariat, and Everyone Else under Algorithmic Dictatorship
Compounding the issue, with a loss of empathy in our narcissistic times, are developments on the technology front. Just today I read that the CEO of the Deutsche Post said "we should at least think about a robot tax". Silicon Valley VC scions while still caught up in their 'world-changing' narcissistic trance, are generally supportive of a universal basic income. So if even the guys who stand to benefit enormously from the brave new technology world advocate such redistribution schemes then it is probable that social combustibles are being stacked up. Going back to a comment I posted a few weeks ago, it's not the potential Terminator Robots that will be the problem, but the potential historical disaster of a 'useless class' of human beings that is being turned from a 'precariat' into a 'unnecessariat'.
AI will create 'useless class' of human, predicts bestselling historian - Guardian
Harari calls it "the rise of the useless class" and ranks it as one of the most dire threats of the 21st century. In a nutshell, as artificial intelligence gets smarter, more humans are pushed out of the job market. No one knows what to study at college, because no one knows what skills learned at 20 will be relevant at 40. Before you know it, billions of people are useless, not through chance but by definition.
... Harari, it turns out, has a specific definition of useless. "I choose this very upsetting term, useless, to highlight the fact that we are talking about useless from the viewpoint of the economic and political system, not from a moral viewpoint," he says. Modern political and economic structures were built on humans being useful to the state: most notably as workers and soldiers, Harari argues. With those roles taken on by machines, our political and economic systems will simply stop attaching much value to humans, he argues.
So what now? One quality that seems lacking is empathy and sympathy. Left politics can't just play identity politics. Identity politics has its place, as long as the identity and interests of the dislocated majority is represented as well.
But boutique lifestyle politics has reached its sell-by date when the town starts burning and young lefty activists are simply not working enough on questions of redistribution
- the days of gay activists marching alongside coal workers long gone. The illusions of a global cosmopolitan win-win that is also moral are withering away. In its place must come practical solutions for livable near-range empathy which will require tackling some ingrained privileges in housing, jobs, etc. and chucking some received wisdoms. Which may not be enough to calm the political malaise but there is a chance.