Inequality, Divide, Cohesion and Populism

PART ONE

There are the Anywhere-people and the Somewhere-people. Anywheres live more often in the big cities. They are the exam-passing class. They have reaped the economic fruits of globalization. They embrace values as equality, freedom and autonomy. Anywheres are progressive, often liberal in all senses of the word. They also show a tendency to consider themselves the best to find on this planet, the most attuned to the global Zeitgeist.

Somewheres don’t visit universities as frequently as the Anywheres. They are proud of their professional manual skills, which are now getting automatized and robotized away. Somewheres, far more than Anywheres, still live close to where they lived when fourteen years old. Also they often live much closer to their mother’s house. (Statistics from the UK). They have a deeper bonding to their neighborhood and region than the ‘footloose’ Anywheres. They are more rooted than them and proud of their roots. When they vote populist, they consider themselves decent populists.

The majority of Somewheres agree with liberal themes like gender equality and more and more also gay marriage. However, in their view, they embrace these issues with less one-dimensional fanaticism than Anywheres do. Anywheres have a tendency to picture Somewheres as the uncivilized ones from the country side. This angers the Somewheres, but the anger can go long time unnoticed as Somewheres are not in the habit of hyper-individualistic shouting – which Anywheres are good at. Somewheres contain themselves and define doing so as decent and respectful.

Anywheres are horrified when people suffer and when people’s human rights are thrashed, wherever.  They are universalists – celebrating freedom and equality for everyone. Somewheres are also appalled by human distress and injustice. For them however these are not the only deep emotions that drive them – and society and politics. Somewheres also relate deeply to a sense of lived community, of obedience toward justified authority and tradition. There are things, and gestures and attitudes holy to them. When the Anywheres perceive the Somewheres for this as backward-oriented and narrow-minded, the Somewheres get angry. The results of that anger are Trump and Brexit.

Somewheres don’t win all elections – as Macron shows in France. But they desire to be taken seriously as equal human beings as much as everyone else on the planet we share.

Must read for this subject: The road to Somewhere, David Goodhart.

 

PART TWO

Since the dawning of times, our economy revolves around one key-theme: scarcity. The good news is that we are solving our scarcity problem. With thanks, in the first place, to the machines of the Industrial Revolution. They have made our collective productivity grow beyond imagination. Think fridges and  light bulbs. Think cars, washing machines and irons. Basically think everything between train rails and toilet bowls. That is why economist Keynes proclaimed already in the thirties of the last century that scarcity will disappear. He perceived the economic crisis of that decade, not a tiny one, as a temporary setback. Welfare state was on the horizon. Thanks to Western machineries.

Now a new generation of machines is on the rise. They are accelerating our collective productivity even stronger. Think robots. Think Internet of Things and its sensor revolution. Think Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. Think the yet unknown combinations between them all. What once thousands of factory workers manufactured at assembly lines, will soon be produced by hundreds of robots – plus some superintendents who know a lot about software. Scarcity solved!

Yet, we appear to be more disoriented about this than happy. Economics can write off the factor work from their theories. At the same time the factor capital is becoming more powerful than ever – especially when capital takes possession of the new wealth-producers, the robots. The impending robot-generated productivity boom will result in lower wages for the many, who are losing their competitive edges against the robots. This will result in unrest and upheaval, in anger and radicalism – and in anti-establishment parties.

Yes, we will leave scarcity behind. But how to distribute the resulting material prosperity over society? Will the 1%, owners of the robots, reap all the fruits? Then they will reap all the anger as well, and be forced to live in gated communities. Or will the many who have traded in their good jobs from the former century for uncertain low paid, low dignity jobs at McDonalds or Uber, share in the new societal wealth as well? Is a universal basic income waiting around the corner? Will robots start to pay taxes?

Either society will find a way to distribute the new wealth in a way that is acceptable to the many. Or we will enter a long era of unrest and revolts. Which will make no one better off.

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