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Global problems cast a gloomy shadow over 2019

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.

Image from

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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  1. New England Cocky

    Do not expect immediate change rather prepare for a long fight because vested interests shall not easily give up their network advantages.


  2. paul walter

    Sorry, couldn’t read it. Depression.

  3. wam

    There are many ways to describe ‘the loonie left’. They seem to think the two words refugee and asylum seeker are interchangeable is indicative of a careless attitude. Surely they latter has and exercises a choice.

    Haven’t heard an apology from the same boys clan for the voting for the rabbott to kill climate moves xmas 2009

    The same mob seem to mix climate change and global warming willy nilly. It is hard enough to understand the concepts involved.

    In 2009 perhaps as high as 75% believed in ‘misandric, as described by a rabbottian, climate change

    But now, even the less able are 100% in their belief in climate a natural and on going earthly activity rather than man made.. Effectively giving the words no value and leaving global warming on its own..

    perhaps less than 50% believe man is more than a bit player in the ‘leftist’ UN plot to take over – hoax says trump – marxist says the new brazil.

    Global warming, ice melting, polar bear dying, sea rise in the pacific and the weather traumas may have some votes but belief that god does the big stuff not man is dominant.
    There are many dangers to Australia:
    winning slogans by lnp
    a patriotic yellow vest movement

    I am begging you labor be focused, consistent and honest.

  4. guest

    wam, do you ever edit your writing?

  5. Florence Howarth

    Great comment guest.

  6. Kyran

    “Those who attempt to solve significant problems insist that identifying their nature is an essential first step.”
    At the risk of being contrary, the problem was identified centuries ago. Those in power, those with authority, knew it then and they know it now. Control of the majority for the benefit of a decreasing minority has always been ‘the game’.
    This word du jour, populism, has been used and abused as a distraction, as if the majority of people can’t discern between ‘popular’ and ‘populist’. One is a notion that has traction with many people, the other is a smoke screen for mob rule.
    Take, for example, the environment. We know that the vast majority of people on the planet accept that the climate is changing and that we need to do something about it. There is also unprecedented scientific agreement (name any other field of scientific enquiry where more than 90% of scientists are in agreement – just one!). By any definition, that can be described as ‘popular’.
    Yet we have corporations, which have built their wealth on abuse of the environment and clearly unsustainable policies and practices, inciting ever decreasing ‘mobs’ to support idiotic politicians to continue the abuse. That is ‘populist’.
    The ‘media’, or MSM, are not only cheer squads for the status quo, they are complicit and explicit in its promotion, as they are beneficiaries of its perpetuation.
    With regard to inequality, the lessons learned from the past are equally explicit. If poverty is entrenched, the means for controlling the majority are equally entrenched. Forays into identifying particular groups as ‘victims’ is a wonderful distraction from the commonality of their disenfranchisement. We know that women, people of colour, various ethnicities, some religions, the poor and the increasing cohort of the working poor, etcetera, suffer from the institutionalised, systematic and systemic use and abuse of discrimination, yet we insist on portraying these as being somehow different abuses because of the different victims.
    The insidious evil of globalisation is cited when we, the people, ask for the UN charter on Human Rights to be adopted globally and without exception. Globalisation is equally evil if it is to harness the abuses of corporations, whether it be issues of tax avoidance, corporate malfeasance or environmental vandalism. Yet globalisation is claimed to be the saviour of humanity if it protects the vested interests of corporations.
    The old system isn’t just in disrepair, it is no longer fit for purpose. The banking RC has demonstrated with absolute clarity exactly how broken the system is. The list of crimes and incidents of unconscionable conduct of the corporates and their henchmen is mercifully brief – due only to the brevity of the commission. The recriminations and apologies and promises to do better are already well underway. Some bankers, and a few politicians, have even dared use the ‘T’ word. They are going to ‘rebuild Trust’.
    Just give them one more try at ‘self regulation’ and co-operation with the authorities that are meant to govern them. They are aware that that horse has not only bolted, but that they had it euthanised years ago. The old maxim of ‘repeat a lie often enough and it becomes a truth’ has been done to death, but the equally relevant maxim of ‘lie to me once, shame on you; lie to me twice, shame on me’ is all but ignored.
    It is not until you have political illuminati of such poor calibre that the blatant hypocrisy becomes apparent. Morrison mentioning trust is now equated with ‘bend over’, such is the feeble minded idiocy of a fool who can’t even string a coherent sentence together without resorting to threats and fearmongering. The media’s pandering to the idiocy has removed any pretence of reporting, let alone any perception of holding them to account.
    These people have removed any veneer. There are two worlds. Like it or lump it. On a political level, I cannot recall a time when it was not only acceptable for politicians to break the rules, but that the system itself would be used to justify their lack of accountability. 11 of the 12 by-elections held since 2016 were due to politicians having no regard for the Constitution or for the law. Not one of them had to repay so much as a cent. That wasn’t the end of the problem, as spineless Turnbull refused to do what should have been done – an audit of every one of the parliamentarians. As a result, we still have more than a dozen whose ‘entitlement’ to sit is dubious. That’s before you even start on the number of federal politicians who openly question the validity of our judicial system. They do so with near impunity, unless the mindless gits go too far and risk contempt proceedings.
    Perhaps it is the most egregious of the shambolic lies that is causing the most difficulty. The very notion that the people who designed the rules and benefit from the abuses are the ones we need to convince to change the rules.
    “…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.”
    People do understand. Businesses and governments have openly and flatly declared “We don’t care”. Under our current system, until such time as they deign to change the rules, there will be no change. And, ridiculously, it is incumbent on us to change the feeble minds of imbeciles beholden to those who have no interest in change.
    “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.”
    At the upcoming election we get our once in three year chance to say ‘not good enough’, in the full knowledge that the best we can hope for is a change of government. Labor have announced some band aids. In the absence of any real change, we will not only likely accept their paltry, demeaning offer, we will likely express gratitude for their platitude.
    The urgency of the need for change is real with regard to the environment. There is a clock and it is ticking. The need for change with respect to human rights is also urgent, as it ironically underpins the functionality of a capitalist society. These human rights are integral to the battle for equality, the pursuit of an egalitarian society. And the eradication of poverty. Until we install genuine democracy, this will not occur.
    Protests, here and overseas, are routinely ignored or, at best, dismissed with a ‘We hear you, now shut up’. We no longer have the luxury of time being on our side. We have not only mortgaged our future, we can’t afford the repayments. We can no longer say there is a political solution, as it is politics that has caused the problem.
    Whilst I have great admiration for your endeavour, the notion that change will come from those who don’t want it is problematic. The problems have been identified, as have many solutions (or at least reasonable attempts). It’s the next step that is difficult. The barriers have to be removed.
    Perhaps the greatest cause for optimism is that these fools are now being ignored by so many. There is little, if any, expectation that governments will be a catalyst for global change. That so many people are capable of acting locally whilst thinking globally, in spite of these craven fools, is cause for hope.
    This internetty thingy lets us know how powerful the ‘third estate’ is. That those ‘with power’ ignore it has rendered them irrelevant, other than the provision of idiocy as fodder for satirists.
    Thank you Ad Astra and commenters. Take care

  7. king1394

    “the ‘have-nots’ struggling to survive, while the ‘haves’, with more than they would ever need, studiously ignore them. It has always been so” … This is not a helpful or true statement of how things can be. It reflects the competitive world of capitalism based on the private ownership of the world’s resources, as well as most intellectual capital and even social systems. We don’t have to live like this, even though this is what the world looks like now.

  8. Ad Astra


    Thank you for your thoughtful and detailed comment.

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