In preparation for the election, the Coalition have reverted to their safe space of “class warfare” and “the politics of envy” where they try to convince us that making the rich richer is good for us all and any questioning of rising inequality is just jealousy from lazy people.
In olden times, all the wealth of the world was owned by Kings, Queens, Emperors and the lords who supported them. All the work was done by slaves and serfs and the privilege of the few was protected by indentured soldiers.
Various wars and revolutions diminished the power of hereditary rulers but the big change came with the Industrial Revolution which created a whole new ruling class as the factory owners and the merchants usurped the landed gentry’s control over society.
Technological disruption has continued apace ever since, widening the great divide between those who ‘own the machines’ and those who design, operate and work with them.
Workers are the ones who bear the brunt of this ever-changing landscape. They are the ones whose jobs disappear through automation. They are the ones who constantly have to learn new skills. They are the ones who face uncertainty and the daily struggle to provide the basic essentials that allow them to be productive contributors to society.
Yanis Varoufakis sums it up this way:
While celebrating how globalisation has shifted billions from abject poverty to relative poverty, venerable western newspapers, Hollywood personalities, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, bishops and even multibillionaire financiers all lament some of its less desirable ramifications: unbearable inequality, brazen greed, climate change, and the hijacking of our parliamentary democracies by bankers and the ultra-rich.
Marx and Engels, in the Communist Manifesto, argued that “Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other.” As production is mechanised, and the profit margin of the machine-owners becomes our civilisation’s driving motive, society splits between non-working shareholders and non-owner wage-workers. As for the middle class, it is the dinosaur in the room, set for extinction.
At the same time, the ultra-rich become guilt-ridden and stressed as they watch everyone else’s lives sink into the precariousness of insecure wage-slavery. Marx and Engels foresaw that this supremely powerful minority would eventually prove “unfit to rule” over such polarised societies, because they would not be in a position to guarantee the wage-slaves a reliable existence. Barricaded in their gated communities, they find themselves consumed by anxiety and incapable of enjoying their riches. Some of them, those smart enough to realise their true long-term self-interest, recognise the welfare state as the best available insurance policy. But alas, explains the manifesto, as a social class, it will be in their nature to skimp on the insurance premium, and they will work tirelessly to avoid paying the requisite taxes.
Is this not what has transpired? The ultra-rich are an insecure, permanently disgruntled clique, constantly in and out of detox clinics, relentlessly seeking solace from psychics, shrinks and entrepreneurial gurus. Meanwhile, everyone else struggles to put food on the table, pay tuition fees, juggle one credit card for another or fight depression. We act as if our lives are carefree, claiming to like what we do and do what we like. Yet in reality, we cry ourselves to sleep.
At this election, we have a choice.
We can continue down the path of unregulated capitalism to its inevitable conclusion or we can slowly start putting on the brakes in preparation to make the turn that takes us away from the cliff.
We can encourage accumulation for accumulation’s sake and, in so doing, condemn whole generations to deprivation, a decrepit environment, underemployment and zero real leisure from the pursuit of employment and general survival.
We can pursue the mindless mantra of investment, jobs and growth or we can choose another course where we care for human beings rather than commodifying them, where we share resources and the fruits of labour, where we protect the vulnerable and the environment, where we recognise how abominably we treat each other and do something about it.
We have the ability to change our direction. Do we have the courage?