All across the world there has been an increasing rejection of the neoliberal order. In the UK we had Brexit, while the rise of Le Pen in France or Geert Wilders in Holland, not to mention Donald Trump in the United States, is further testimony to an anti-establishment tsunami that is striking at our defenceless shores. Even those states who belatedly joined the EU, like Poland, Hungary and Romania, are witnessing a form of anaphylactic shock to Thatcherite market fundamentalism that was bestowed upon the nations of our world by a handful of organisations such as the IMF, World Bank and EU (it is important here to stress the role of the US treasury who via the US happens to be the largest shareholder in the first two institutions and as such enjoy vetoing power).
The last few weeks, especially in Romania, where the largest demonstrations since the fall of communism have been gracing Bucharests streets, are a mass display of utter frustration aimed not merely at any politician or individual nation but towards a global form of governance and its dynamics that go beyond any notion of the traditional Westphalian state. These supranational institutions are the true bearers of power and are conveniently structured not only to obstruct but also defy democracy. Irrespective of the numerous clear displays of discontent, as voiced increasingly by citizens across the world, the established order and their mainstream mouthpiece prefer to shroud themselves in myths of their own making. They attempt to hide their failures by creating simple arguments that warn the public of the inherent risk posed by demagogues and political “populism” (populism being no more than an elite driven construct to describe effectively any political body that refuses to adhere to Schumpeterian economics). Those who subscribe to the status quo fail to see the irony that their manufactured arguments are of greater simplicity than anything represented by the likes of Orban or Trump and in themselves are open to base arguments that posit: if your governance was so good than why are the peasants revolting?
The aforementioned detractors, Trump, Le Pen and their elk are labelled as racist, idiotic, divisive or some other pejorative that signifies their contravention of some construed gold standard of contemporary moralism. Beyond corrupting societies sacred code of ethics, these shady characters are also reprehensible by association to Vladimir Putin the devil himself and by this virtue and folly alone our demagogues have come to represent some kind of security threat to the globe. So what should we make of the psychology behind such media hype? Should we accept the arguments presented at face value? Well, given precedent, I consider it vital to assess the balance of any argument in order to ascertain reality. Surely rather than subscribing to hearsay we should pay exact attention to the reasons which induced swathes of people to cast their votes in favour of these now infamous demagogues.
If we look for instance at developments in society since the 1970s, the period in which Neo-Liberalism took its first tentative steps, it becomes more than clear that both the working classes as indeed large sectors of the middle class have consistently had an axe to grind. In the US for example it becomes more than evident that real wages have not risen since 1973, while labour productivity has increased substantially. American workers are now also working longer hours then before with a lot less reward and this in the well documented face of an elite who grow incessantly richer.
When the stock market crashed due to the greed of our bankers and the neglect of our governments (governments who took no caution in enforcing regulations upon our corporations due to a blinkered acceptance of laisses-faire capitalism), it was the working class that had to pay the consequences. Between 2008 and 2011 250 000 families lost their homes every month, while a further 4 million were consigned to the shame of losing their employment. To understand the disillusionment, we need not only examine the statistics or cast our eyes across the depleted towns, cities and municipalities that collectively converge to form the “rust belt”. There are after all other aberrations by which the disaffected can stake their claim. Just this week for example the horror of government neglect meant that 200 000 people had to be evacuated away from the shadow of the Oroville dam in California, whose walls threatened to burst upon those living beneath it. This is of course not the first time that a lack of investment in US infrastructure has had dire consequences, one must only remember the tragic events of hurricane Katrina that cost thousands of lives due to under investment in the leeves that were ought to protect the city, but which in their hour of need simply gave way. More incredulous is the fact that even today New Orleans is ill prepared for a repeat of this calamity. For contemplation´s sake we may now contrast the $700 billion the US fed gave to the banks as an initial tranche when the 2008 crash struck. It is now appropriate, lest we forget to mention that a key cornerstones of the social contract and the primary concern of the state is to guarantee the safety of its citizens and not the welfare of private banks, that by the capitalists´s own ideology must, banks too should battle in an environment in which only the fittest survive.
The situation in the UK is no different from that of what many Americans are experiencing. Years and years of wage stagnation, amplified by a growing gap between low and high earners, a disparate that according to recent reports left 5.8 million households suffering from in-work poverty. Again, austerity has seen the implementation of benefit cuts such as the bedroom tax and housing benefit reductions affecting the very homes in which our most vulnerable are living. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that we find more and more homeless on the streets and more and more people having to turn to food banks in order to survive. This is before we even examine the way both our NHS and social care services are being run into the ground due to government cuts backs, while acknowledging that our bills and food prices rise considerably every quarter, or that in the 80s the free education, free prescriptions and free dental care we once enjoyed have long been consigned to the history books. (Now tuition fees alone for one year at university are as high as £9000, no accommodation included, average debt after concluding university equals £44000).
Across the channel, we find a similar vail of austerity striking at the heart of Europe. With youth unemployment in the Mediterranean region reaching epidemic proportions. Greek records for instance show an unemployment rate among youths at 46.5 % while in Spain they sit at 43%. The damage imposed on the Greeks from unelected Eurocrats has hit their society especially hard not only have we seen homelessness up by 25%, but also the suicide rate has increased by the same degree.
Similar developments are being felt across the globe, with the Western, North American, Japanese and Oceanic middle classes who along with the world’s poorest are the greatest losers in this global distribution of wealth. Contrastingly the richest one percent presided over 19% of new global wealth increases, while if we spread the statistic across the wealthiest 5% of the world population we see that they control a lofty 73% of new global wealth being generated.
It is among such statistics and such levels of institional neglect that we find our modern day global dichotomy. On one level we have this all pervasive capitalist doctrine that promotes self-interest, while on the other hand we see social mobility veritably denied to whole segments of society, provoking feelings of estrangement, disenchantment or as Emile Durkheim called it anomie, a social-pathology that if not addressed could wreck untold damage across our world.
In the Soviet Union the Brezhnev era was one marked by stagnation, but also one in which the ruling elite turned a blind eye to the need for reform, they ensconced themselves and their population behind a wall of denial, behind constructs of self-manipulation. Today it is us in the West who face a similar position. The words of those purporting to be socially progressive attack their opponents with simple and yet powerful slogans that simultaneously discredit their opponents but also concealing their own short comings. Trump, Farage and Le Pen alas are symptoms of these short comings and not the root of our discontents, these discontents are the manifestation of years of exploitation and indifference and even now beyond the angry cries that followed the 2008 crash and all the consequences that trickled down (unlike any money) upon the balk of our societies, we are letting the banks, speculators and traders reconstruct a tower whose base is termed “financialization” and whose building blocks are highly toxic.
Are all of the above not the true reason people rejected our established elites? Are their broken promises year after year, decade after decade to meet with voter approval? Or given what people know should they take a risk and gamble the “nothing they have to lose” on a different kind of horse? With all rationality and objectivity, you cannot seriously expect people to be perfectly happy with the status quo, can you? “Populism” is just a pejorative construct used to conceal and divert the true failings of our elites.