Across the western world and beyond, the political status quo is crumbling. In response to the effects of automation and globalisation on the sufficiency and security of labour and incomes, and in the light of clear, blatant, and unambiguous unfairness in our political economic system, voters are revolting. Electorates in nation after nation, in election after election, are abandoning traditional ideologies, loyalties and political parties in favour of new radicals, revolutionaries, nationalists and populists from both the Left and the Right. Sometimes it seems like their policies are from both Right and Left.
In the UK the narrowness of the Scottish independence defeat was a surprise, the popularity and rise of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the British Labour Party has been a surprise and, of course, the loss of the Brexit referendum was a surprise. In France it’s Marine Le Pen, in Iceland the Pirate Party, in Spain Podemos. In the United States, of course, there is Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Everywhere the barbarians are at the gate, and the comfortable classes (and media) are surprised. After all, their theories say things aren’t so bad.
But to many ordinary people – to voters – struggling to pay their rent, or their car insurance, or their utility bills – for the Amazon packers, the Uber drivers, the so-called freelancers and contractors of the Gig economy, and for the ones left behind when manufacturing moved on – for them it wasn’t a surprise. Their political anger, cynicism and sense of injustice is palpable. And since many see themselves as having nothing to lose, they are more and more willing to take political risks. Every country is seeing challenges to the intolerable economic stress, insecurity and unfairness of the Way Things Are. As Pope Francis spells out: “We are faced… with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. We want change – real change, structural change. This system is by now intolerable”.
When the people are suffering and their politicians ignore them or are ineffective in relieving that suffering, there is a political vacuum. Voters who are unrepresented by existing politicians will seek new ones – it’s as simple as that. And the unscrupulous, self-interested and power-hungry will seek to fill that vacuum and meet that demand in whatever way they can – including relying on the corrosive division of identity politics.
We’re already seeing this across the western world and beyond, as growing income stress and insecurity result in populist political challenges and political (and ideological) instability. And as the pain and the blatant and self-evident unfairness grows, so too will this political pressure.
Long before the 1% own it all, in some major country there will be the election either of a disastrous, conflict-causing leader, or of a pragmatic revolutionary agent of positive change. Either the problem will be solved, or change will happen – there is no middle ground any more. And that major country, whichever is the first to take that leap, will be an example – either a horrific example or a shining example – to the entire world.
Brexit may be that example, or maybe Trump will be. Or perhaps it will be France and Marine Le Pen. Or maybe it’ll be Jeremy Corbyn, or somebody who rises in his reinvention of the British Labour party. It’s too early to tell. But until individual economic stress and insecurity are alleviated it’s only a matter of when.
But how can economic stress and insecurity be alleviated without restricting the technology and globalisation that’s causing it? If you don’t now the answer to this, then you’re not paying attention to important economic experiments planned or underway in Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and elsewhere.
Simply put, the answer to Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Brexit, Front Nationale, Jeremy Corbyn and all the other challengers is a Basic Income.