By Ad astra
What better time to take a look at our world, our planet, than at the beginning of another year? Long past are the days when we could retreat into a comfortable cocoon with no windows to the wider world. Unless we turn off our radios, television, our computers and the Internet, and never look at print media, we cannot avoid exposure to the world’s events, redolent as they are with worrisome overtones.
War, with its millions of displaced victims; riots, replete with death and destruction, and political rallies of angry people demanding change, fill almost every news bulletin. So do natural catastrophes with their tragic loss of life: fires with loss of dwellings, livestock, equipment and fodder in several states; unprecedented floods and violent winds in our far north; unremitting drought across most of our land; massive fish deaths, marine and coral destruction and loss of diversity; volcanic eruptions and tsunamis in Indonesia; an ‘arctic vortex’ that is bringing freezing conditions, loss of life and disruption in North America. Everywhere we look we see death, disruption, destruction and discord. It would be natural to become despondent, to wonder what on earth can be done, and more distressingly, what can we do.
Those who attempt to solve significant problems insist that identifying their nature is an essential first step. Let’s consider then what are the most pressing problems that we face globally. What do you believe they are?
To me, global warming and social inequality are the two most serious, the most urgent, the most intractable. This piece focuses on them.
I doubt that visitors to The Political Sword would need any convincing that climate change is real, is having a devastating affect on many aspects of life on this planet, and needs urgent remedial action if our only home is to remain habitable for humans, fauna and flora, and the great biological diversity that adorns it.
I won’t assail you with the mounting evidence about global warming and its destructive affect on life on this planet. But if you need any more convincing, read what Sir David Attenborough had to say to COP24 delegates meeting in Katowice, Poland in December to monitor progress on efforts to implement the 2015 Paris accord on climate change. He said: “Right now, we are facing a man-made disaster of global scale, our greatest threat in thousands of years…if we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”
He concluded: “But now the young are demanding change. We have all been living beyond our means. It’s a perfectly simple thing. We knew not what we did. “We have let down the young generation, and they know it, and they are angry.” Yet at Davos, he insisted that there was a solution: “…if people can truly understand what is at stake I believe they will give permission for business and governments to get on with practical solutions.”
What then can we ordinary folk do? We know who the climate deniers are. We know who the climate culprits are. We know whose interests they are serving. We can shame them. We can call out their indifference, their ignorance, and their obsession with continuing to use fossil fuels. Through social media we can paint them the environmental miscreants and vandals they are. We can enlist the young, already furious at their negligence, their inaction, their resistance to the known facts about climate change. We can point out that in what was virtually his election campaign launch, our coal-hugging PM made no mention of climate change.
We cannot remain silent.
Let’s turn now to the other pressing problem of our age: social inequality.
We see it everywhere – the ‘have-nots’ struggling to survive, while the ‘haves’, with more than they would ever need, studiously ignore them. It has always been so. Globalization has ensured this state of affairs has become universal. A process of interaction involving the people, the companies, and the governments of different nations, a process driven by international trade and investment aided by information technology, globalization profoundly affects economic development, prosperity, political systems, the environment, culture, and human wellbeing in societies around the world.
The extension of inequality throughout our contemporary world via globalization has created a global backlash. Angry people have gathered around the world to protest violently about their disadvantage. The Paris protests are archetypical. Beginning in mid-October over Emmanuel Macron’s fuel price hike, these protests have recurred week after week during which people have died, hundreds have been injured, vehicles and property have been incinerated, and iconic landmarks have been disfigured.
Writing on this subject, Niall Ferguson, economist and historian, Senior Fellow at Stanford and Harvard Universities, and a Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, says: ”Many commentators feel that we are living through ‘unprecedented instability’. Political populism has become a global phenomenon, and established politicians and political parties are struggling even to understand it, much less resist it.”
What does ‘populism’ denote? Wikipedia says: “Populism is a range of political approaches that deliberately appeal to ‘the people’, often juxtaposing this group against a so-called ‘elite’. There is no single definition of the term, which developed in the 19th century and has been used to mean various things since that time.”
Writing in The Conversation in What is populism – and why is it so hard to define?, Andy Knott from the University of Brighton writes: “For populists, the seamless harmony between the people and their rulers no longer holds. The people have been betrayed. A gulf has opened up between the people and the elites. Instead of unity, they have entered a conflictual relationship. And it is this understanding of populism – the people pitched against elites – that has now become widespread among the academic community.” Knott adds: “There is the final complicating factor about populism: alongside the people and the elites, there is a third group against which populists will direct their ire – migrants for the right; financial elites for the left.” President Trump’s frequent talk of ‘the swamp’, which he promises to drain, is a metaphorical reference to ‘the people’ struggling against the ‘Washington elite’.
Returning to Niall Ferguson’s analysis, he identifies five ingredients contributing to populism as a backlash against globalization: a rise in immigration, an increase in inequality, the perception of corruption, a major financial crisis, and the rise of the demagogue. He goes on to elaborate:
“All around the world we are witnessing the anger and resentment that unwanted immigrants spawn. We’ve seen it in Europe, and most grotesquely in the United States where President Trump actively encourages antagonism towards them, particularly those on its border with Mexico.”
”We don’t want them” Trump bellows, labelling them as ‘bad hombres’, terrorists, rapists, murderers and criminal aliens, members of drug cartels that are flooding the US with narcotics, who bring crime, death and devastation to American citizens. He wants his great big beautiful wall to keep them out, even if it costs billions. Using strident language, he repeated his intense antagonism to immigrants in his recent State of the Union address.
The rise in inequality is a universal phenomenon. We have been distressed to see the millions, displaced from their homes due to war and internal conflict, struggling to survive in foreign camps under appalling conditions.
We have seen rising poverty, homelessness, health inequality, inequality under the law, and inequality of opportunity in our own country, and in countless overseas nations.
The have-nots are resentful, angry and ready to revolt.
Ferguson’s third ingredient – corruption – is everywhere. We see it here and in the US. Trump regularly reassures his people that he is ‘draining the swamp’, although under his administration the swamp is becoming larger, more corrupt, more treacherous, more infested with dangerous inhabitants.
Ferguson’s fourth ingredient – a major financial crisis – might seems remote, but reflect on the volatility of the stock market here and overseas, the way in which Trump influences it with his trade wars, his belligerent language in international affairs, his ‘diplomacy’ via Twitter, and his bizarre daily utterances. Forecasting for 2019, the World Bank is already warning of increasing risks, or what it calls ‘darkening skies’, for the world economy. A financial crisis ‘out-of-the blue’ looks increasingly plausible.
Ferguson’s fifth ingredient – the rise of the demagogue, is writ large across the globe. At the top of the list of demagogues is Donald Trump, but there are many others. Vladimir Putin, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan spring to mind. Lesser demagogues include Geert Wilders of the Netherlands and Boris Johnson, the would-be PM of the UK. There will never be a shortage of demagogues, political leaders who seek support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument. They feed populism.
So all five of Ferguson’s ingredients that breed populism as a backlash against globalization are already in existence. Is it any wonder that the backlash is rampant?
The inevitable conclusion is that while inequality continues to increase, its grievous dividends will overshadow our world. What can be done?
Few leaders, politicians, planners, or social advocates have the desire or the courage to take up the fight against inequality. For some, inequality suits them – it’s their norm. For others, it’s too hard, too unpopular, the enemy too belligerent and well-resourced.
We should be grateful then that in several countries some of the ordinary people have taken up the cudgels against inequality, and are pushing the perpetrators of inequality into a corner by protesting in public, again and again.
The people have had enough; they are fed up with inequality and want action. Political parties that ignore them do so at their peril. They will be wiped off the electoral map. That possibility looms large as the Coalition continues its obsession with ‘having a strong economy’ as the panacea for all the ills of our society, while ignoring the pitiable spectre of unremitting wage and wealth inequality, health inequality, poverty, homelessness, and the hopelessness of so many of our citizens. PM Morrison failed even to mention inequality in his landmark speech.
We, the ordinary folk, can be part of the revolt against these inequalities. We must speak up; we must support the rebellion. If we cannot lead or are unable to protest on the streets, we can show our support though social media and at public meetings.
We must not leave it to others.
This article was originally published on The Political Sword.
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