MercoPress, en Español

Montevideo, November 15th 2018 - 03:01 UTC

The model of Western democracy is broken: unemployment stats questioned

Saturday, April 28th 2018 - 07:44 UTC
Full article 18 comments
The model of Western-style democracy is now broken. Exhibit Number One is Donald Trump, but there's lots of other evidence too. The model of Western-style democracy is now broken. Exhibit Number One is Donald Trump, but there's lots of other evidence too.
One-third of French voters backed Marine Le Pen, a cleaned-up, user-friendly neo-fascist, in last year's presidential election. One-third of French voters backed Marine Le Pen, a cleaned-up, user-friendly neo-fascist, in last year's presidential election.
In German election, one-eighth of the electorate voted for Alternative for Germany, a party whose more extreme wing is neo-Nazi but which now leads the Opposition In German election, one-eighth of the electorate voted for Alternative for Germany, a party whose more extreme wing is neo-Nazi but which now leads the Opposition
In Italy, the two biggest parties to emerge from the election were both led by populist rabble-rousers, one from the left and one from the right. In Italy, the two biggest parties to emerge from the election were both led by populist rabble-rousers, one from the left and one from the right.
Not to mention Brexit in Britain. And in every case the themes that dominated the populists' rhetoric were racism, nationalism, hostility to immigrants — and jobs. Not to mention Brexit in Britain. And in every case the themes that dominated the populists' rhetoric were racism, nationalism, hostility to immigrants — and jobs.

By Gwynne Dyer - If the model is broken, should you try to fix it, or scrap it and get a new one? In questions of technology, increasingly the answer is: scrap it. Computer repair shops are dying out: if your laptop doesn't work, just buy a new one. What applies to consumer technology, however, does not necessarily apply to politics.

 The model of Western-style democracy is now broken. Exhibit Number One is Donald Trump, but there's lots of other evidence too.

One-third of French voters backed Marine Le Pen, a cleaned-up, user-friendly neo-fascist, in last year's presidential election. In last September's German election, one-eighth of the electorate voted for Alternative for Germany, a party whose more extreme wing is neo-Nazi but which now leads the Opposition in the German parliament.

Last month in Italy, the two biggest parties to emerge from the election were both led by populist rabble-rousers, one from the left and one from the right. Not to mention Brexit in Britain. And in every case the themes that dominated the populists' rhetoric were racism, nationalism, hostility to immigrants — and jobs.

Trump rarely talked about anything else during the election campaign: immigrants are stealing the jobs, free-trading American businessmen are exporting the jobs, the foreigners are eating America's lunch. Down with free trade! America First! Etc! (Hint: Donald Trump is not a Republican. He is a populist.)

Trump may not know a lot, but he knows One Big Thing. We are living in a new era of mass unemployment, and nobody has noticed. As Trump said after he won the New Hampshire primary in February 2016: “Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 per cent unemployment. The number's probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42.”

It's not really 42 per cent, but it's not 4.1 per cent (the current official US rate) either. According to Nicholas Eberstadt's Men Without Work, the real unemployment rate among US men of prime working age (24-55) is 17 per cent.

Why didn't we notice? Because the unemployed weren't protesting in the streets like they did in the Great Depression of the 1930s, although the rate is getting up to Depression era levels. After World War II, all the Western democracies built welfare states, mainly so a new generation of radical populist leaders would not come to power the next time there was mass unemployment.

It has worked, in the sense that there is no blood in the streets, but the jobless millions are very angry. They vote, and unless something is done to ease their anger, next time they may elect somebody who makes Trump look good.

But if the problem is unemployment, the answer is not obvious, because the main cause of unemployment in Western countries is not immigration or “off-shoring” jobs, as Trump pretends. It is computers.

One-third of US manufacturing jobs have vanished in the past 20 years, and 85 per cent were destroyed by automation. The algorithms and robot arms have already killed the Rust Belt, and there is a plausible prediction that almost half of existing US jobs may be automated out of existence in the next 20 years.

What would our politics look like then? Not very democratic, unless we ease the anger of the unemployed. This doesn't just mean giving them more money but also finding ways to take away the shame, because it is the humiliation of being seen as a loser that breeds the anger.

The leading proposal right now is called universal basic income (UBI). Every citizen would get enough for a decent life whether working or not, although most people would probably keep working as well. And making it “universal” takes the shame and anger out of it: UBI would be a birthright, not charity.

UBI may not work in practice, but at least it is addressing the right problem. And there is enough money: the jobs are being destroyed, but Western economies are still growing richer.

Whatever the solution is, it has to tick two boxes: putting money in the pockets of those without work (which is very much in the interest of the owners and managers, whose business model is also broken unless their customers have money to buy their goods and services), and doing it in a way that does not breed humiliation, resentment and radicalism.

Some may argue that this is saving capitalism, not smashing it, and they would be right. But evolution is better than revolution.

* Gwynne Dyer

 

Categories: Politics, International.

Top Comments

Disclaimer & comment rules
  • :o))

    Hello, Gwynne!

    REF: “The model of Western democracy is broken”:

    The model of Western Democracy is broken ever since BILLIONS started pouring in for funding the election-campaigns; with the supposedly respectable motives such as donation, contribution, charity, foundation, etc.

    As the result, the candidates are “marketed” and the campaigns are the staged by the professionals, the speech-writers, etc. to guarantee a successful “SHOW” to impress the already Media-Brainwashed masses.

    Usually; these highly respectable - [as far as possible] DISCREET - donors [investors, speculators, punters, gamblers] reap the harvest of HUGE financial benefits; after the elections are won by THEIR very own candidates! Is that called “democracy” to begin with?

    Apr 28th, 2018 - 12:22 pm +4
  • bushpilot

    EM, does this re-distribution involve any of your own money?

    Are you one of those holders of “concentrated wealth” who will also have some of it taken away for a UBI?

    Do you do nothing for your money? Would you want to?

    Apr 28th, 2018 - 04:33 pm +3
  • bushpilot

    If you love your country, if you like your culture the way it is, if you are ashamed to be unemployed, you prove the entire free world needs a “democracy overhaul”. Your wishes prove “we're broken”.

    American election system = Trump win = I don't like that = System is broken and we need to repair it.

    EU = people protesting against current levels of immigration = I don't like that = System is broken and we need to repair it.

    We should just keep on ignoring the wishes of the people like we have been because, we should be deciding what is best for everybody, just like we have been. A “good” democracy would legitimize this prerogative.

    And now that we've presented completely solid arguments and proof, which clearly have no room for being critically questioned, that democracy is without question broken, here is how we can fix it.

    Give everybody money. Tell them they don't need to be humiliated by taking money and doing nothing for it.

    UBI would be their, get this, their “right”. Why does UBI now become a God-given right where no such right existed before in 3K years of human history? Simple, because we can afford it, because we are still growing despite unemployment. No matter that it might not work in practice, as long as it works on paper. As long as it is at least addressing the “situation”, let's pay for it.

    Isn't giving everybody free money an act of unseemly populism also?

    But don't current levels of government debt show that we are, contrary to the above observation, very “unable” to afford something like this. This UBI solution might not be affordable after all.

    Mr. Dyer, do you have another solution that will prevent the people from expressing any politics that do not conform with your supra-enlightened politics?


    And when the people just shut up, and just finally let only the socialists decide what is best for everybody, then fascism will have been defeated and democracy will have finally been fixed.

    Could it be that Gwynne Dyer is broken?

    Apr 28th, 2018 - 11:25 pm +2
Read all comments

Commenting for this story is now closed.
If you have a Facebook account, become a fan and comment on our Facebook Page!