Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Unmentionable Inequalities

From a political perspective the most serious problem developed societies face today is that they are increasingly taking on the social contours of developing societies. As such the really worrying developments are not the disparities of affluence, but those of culture, education and maybe also of intellect. 

The USA has an internal myth than can cope with inequalities of wealth, but it handles these associated alternatives rather less well. Other developed nations struggle to name them candidly in political discourse. 

They make the middle classes feel especially vulnerable because they start to perceive themselves more as a side effect of the economy around them than as its fundamental engine. 

A chasm opens up between the more and the less advantaged within the middle orders as fewer and fewer well-rewarded positions are available to those that are unable to fit the profile of ambitious white collar ‘information workers’. 

The liberal middle class elite hasn’t suddenly become more stuck up as a consequence of globalisation, it has just become more discomfitingly ‘elite’ relative to the social strata immediately around it. 

The discomfited middle classes have a tendency to scapegoat both the rich and the poor for this situation. They revert to an old-fashioned model of how things ought to be in order to explain their predicament, rather like science teachers doggedly representing the universe as a big empty space some of which has some stuff in it. 

Their social universe has similar binary attributes - every individual is a maker or a taker, a contributor or a parasite and pretty soon everyone outside their own millieu, the poor, immigrants, financiers, the global super-rich, even disembodied ‘corporations’ are earmarked to the latter categories and thus become ‘enemies of the people’. 

Ordinary, hard-working people. You’ve heard the rhetoric. It’s called populism. It’s the worm within the politics of the developing world and now it is back with a vengeance in the developed world as well. 

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