Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The shift to the right

News over the weekend on the results of elections to the European Parliament has sparked much speculation around what is driving the shift to the right seen there and in other parts of the western world.
The key drivers appear to be anxiety over immigration and a feeling of having been left behind by globalization. The high cost of everything, the inconvenience of addressing climate change and the sense that political elites are not listening are all part of the mix of irritants that have created political opportunity.
Right-wing parties have responded with promises of stricter immigration controls and withdrawal from global climate agreements as part of an overall strengthening of national sovereignty and a move away from internationalism.
There is, in fact, much wrong with how we humans have run the planet since the last world war. There is much damage that has been done to our forgotten working class and other of society’s most vulnerable segments. There is much for many to be angry about.
Trickle-down economics hasn’t trickled down. The rich got much richer and the rest of us didn’t. Many of us got poorer.
The technological revolution that was going to shorten the work week and create more leisure time instead produced full employment for machines and unemployment for masses of people. In our daily lives, it has eroded social cohesion by displacing grocery store cashiers and bank tellers, with more to come with the advent of AI.
Free trade exported jobs to places with the competitive advantages of lower wages, poorer working conditions and lax or non-existent environmental standards. Globalization hasn’t served us well, as it was predicted it wouldn’t if the wealth generated by its efficiency was not shared.
Three decades worth of climate change negotiations have failed to prevent the planet from heating to a point where food shortages are causing conflict and economic collapse, propelling millions of people to seek refuge in safer places.
And it has been people who have risen to the top of the political class who have put in place these policies of the right, people allied with like-minded corporate tycoons, big bankers, tech giants and the like. Elites, in other words, propagating policies that have sewn the widespread discontent we now see and will lead us almost inevitably even further to the right, to the radical right, the extreme right and beyond.
Is it any wonder that there is now such a backlash against these elites, the privileged few who constrain our options and shape our destinies and are driving the planet into oblivion in the process.
For anyone wanting to build a political career out of popular frustrations, it is easy pickings. Provide simplistic explanations for complex problems. Convince the angry majority that their misfortune is caused by minority segments of the population of foreign origin. Offer higher walls as a solution. Discredit academia, the media and anybody who might see through the fallacy of the easy answers.
We must ask if the current power-seekers actually have the interests of the forgotten working class in mind, or are they using populism to propel even more leniency for corporate greed and greater concentration of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people?
Instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, the global free trade regime should be fixed. It is intended to give countries with comparative advantage an edge, but it should not reward countries for maintaining low labour and environmental standards.
Climate agreements should not be abandoned; that would only assure humanity of a future fraught with crisis to a level where authoritarian governments would be a necessity to maintain some measure of order. Instead, they should be given teeth with legally-binding, enforceable commitments, and the carrot of incentives and investments should be favoured over the stick of taxing people into compliance.
It is not just a bit ironic that the very people who seem most worried about immigrants are also those who want to do the least about climate change, increasingly the cause of the collapse of societies that will produce ever-greater waves of refugees clambering to get across our borders in the future.

Charles Dickson


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