In this time of soaring wealth, there is an alternative for Britain

On the other end of the scale, the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 have already been far worse for those on the fringes, whether in the Global North, but of course much more in the Global South. In June, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs warned that years of progress in reducing global poverty were being reversed, with the pandemic pushing 97 million more people into poverty in 2020. In short, the tens of thousands of the super rich around the world are getting richer and richer, while millions at the other end of the scale are becoming increasingly marginalized.

We have entered an era of runaway wealth, with many local influences involved and a root cause – the transition to the neoliberal economic model that rose to prominence in the early 1980s. It was simple in its mechanics but is now harvesting a deeply unfair and totally unjustified reward.

The previous mixed economy approach of the late 1940s was not a model of fairness at all, given the deeply imbalanced trading system that had easily survived the colonial era, but even that could not equal the damaging and divisive impact of neoliberalism.

In essence, it is a system rooted in competition driven by quasi-ideological engagement, where the flourishing of free shareholder capitalism must be fostered as the first and continuing requirement of the entire system. It was not an invention of the late 1970s, but its implementation during this period certainly led to a much more entrenched belief in the fundamental need for competition in a deregulated financial model. If you had winners you must have losers, but this was countered by the curious assumption that enough wealth would “flow” for the losers to be sufficiently satisfied.

In different countries, the priorities differed according to the variants of the neo-Keynesian rubric of the mixed economy. In the United States, there was financial deregulation and taxation geared towards the already rich – “Reaganomics” being the crude title. This deregulation, in particular the Garn-St Germain law of 1982 on deposit-taking institutions, led to the toxic lending of the early 2000s which culminated with the financial crisis of 2008.

In Britain, rising inequality was also a consequence of the so-called Big Bang of financial deregulation in 1988. Thatcherism granted many tax cuts to the wealthy from the early to mid-1980s, but then followed. went much further than that, with the vigorous reduction of labor rights, sales of social housing and the privatization of many state assets, including electricity, gas, water, telecommunications and roads. iron.

The neoliberal process continued in many countries until the 1990s, greatly stimulated by the collapse of the planned Soviet system, proof if needed of the need for a vigorous neoliberal alternative. Meanwhile, the “Washington Consensus” led by the IMF and the World Bank ensured the dissemination of the model in a large part of the countries of the South.

Over the past 30 years, the impact of the neoliberal system has increased, and even China’s model of authoritarian capitalism has become connected. At the same time, the transnational global elite have evolved and grown considerably and, with this power, have become more capable of manipulating political systems with ease, corrupting politicians as necessary and comfortable in their own. security.

Deeply unfair economic system

On the very rare occasions when serious opposition and the presentation of alternatives gain ground politically, they can be dealt with. In Greece, the former small radical party SYRIZA (The Coalition of the Radical Left – Progressive Alliance) has come under the power of the European Central Bank, but in Britain the risk of Corbynism has become a real problem. Labor’s 2017 election manifesto not only presented a plausible alternative to neoliberal excesses, it proved uncomfortably popular and helped deprive conservatives of an overall majority. It came as a real shock to the elite system and required sustained efforts on the part of several parties to halt.

We now face a global situation of a deeply unfair economic system leading to growing marginalization which is exacerbated by the pandemic and likely to be even worse if climate degradation is triggered. Perhaps the safest prediction of current trends has to be a decomposition in an era of “marginal revolts” as movements emerge that act against centers of power. A 2000 assessment “Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century” concluded that: “What is to be expected is that new social movements will develop, which are essentially anti-elite in nature and rely on people, especially men. , on the margins.

“In different contexts and circumstances, they can have their roots in political ideologies, religious beliefs, ethnic, nationalist or cultural identities, or a complex combination of several of them. They can be centered on individuals or groups, but the most common characteristic is an opposition to existing power centers … What can be said is that, in current trends, anti -elite will be a central feature of the next 30 years – not so much a clash of civilizations, but rather an era of insurgencies.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, there is ample evidence for this, with a rapid growth in ranged warfare techniques to counter violent revolts in remote locations, and a wide range of lesser control measures to manage. lower levels of dissent. Britain is at the forefront of both trends. It has been the United States’ closest ally in its multiple wars against terrorism, so for the most part failed, whether in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen or the Sahel, while at the level Nationally, the Johnson government is rushing through laws to limit protests and the powers of the judiciary, while doing its best to sidestep parliamentary oversight.

In many ways Britain is now a negative model for maintaining elite power in a fractured and divided world. The rich are getting richer and richer, the marginalized are getting more marginalized, the Conservative Party is moving further to the right, and the idea of ​​“One Nation Conservatism” recedes into the distant past. The government seeks scapegoats, ranging from migrants to a supposedly “awakened” liberal elite, and is aided in its efforts by supportive media and copious financial backing lubricated by corrupt practices.

There are choices. Britain could be a very different model, in favor of fair taxation and serious control of tax avoidance and evasion, as well as tax havens. Financial deregulation could be reversed and major utilities could become publicly owned. There could be active encouragement of a more mixed economy, including active support for cooperatives, condominiums and mutuals. The rampant privatization of health care and social services could be reversed. Labor rights could be protected and, most importantly, substantial investments in infrastructure could be on the agenda.

There are few signs of this at the moment and the outlook looks bleak, but a good start always comes with remembering that there is another way forward. The current path is not pre-established.

Change does not have to come through violent social upheavals or sudden revolutions. Too often, they do little more than simply change the accents of the elites. Rapid change can still be incremental and come from below as much as from above, from a supposed periphery more than from a supposed center. This is because it is more likely to be supported if it is combined. The place to start, however, is to remember that even in unpromising times, light can still come in.

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