Friday, November 11, 2016

The Tragedy of Trump

Over the last several decades, the world has become increasingly globalised. The trend has been for lots of jobs, especially in manufacturing and related areas, to move away from the UK and the UK overseas (largely to India and China, with South America and/or Africa next in line), and with lots of cheap goods to come from overseas into the UK and US.

And, taken as a whole, that's a positive thing - average standards of living have improved significantly, the economy has done well out of it, and lots of money has been made.


The UK isn't just an undifferentiated blob of people who all benefit when "the economy" does well. Instead, we're a collection of some 70 million people, some of whom do incredibly well out of globalisation, some of whom do less well, and many of whom do incredibly badly. (The US is the same, just with bigger numbers.) And while millions of people in London do well out of globalisation, there are millions of people elsewhere who are doing badly. Indeed, in some cases it's a disaster that now engulfs three generations: one generation of workers lost their jobs during Thatcher's mad de-industrialisation programme, their children have therefore grown up in abandoned towns with few prospects, and now their children have damn little hope.

So when someone suggests that they can turn their back on the worlds, turn against globalisation, and things will be better, it's no surprise that that message gets traction.

And the Left, the Labour party in the UK and the Democrats in the US, who should be on the side of those people turned a deaf ear. They wrote them off as racists, or stupid, or a "basket of deplorables", or whatever else, and used this as justification not to listen.

Well, here's the thing: some of those people may well be racist, or stupid, or whatever else, but that doesn't mean they don't also have legitimate concerns. (And, whoever you are and whatever faults you might have, "I can't feed my family" is pretty fucking legitimate, as concerns go.)

And that's how we get Brexit in the UK, and President Donald Trump in the US. Those campaigns managed to persuade people they were listening, they sold them the message that they would champion their causes, and they reaped the benefits.

The tragedy of all this, though, aside from the fact that those results really have enboldened the racists, misogynists, and homophobes, is that it's all for nothing. Neither Brexit nor President Trump can do anything meaningful in the face of globalisation. It will still be cheaper to employ people in manufacturing in India and China (and South America and Africa) than it will in the UK or US - and would be even if the workers over here were paid a wage of zero. And, worse, the next round of automation is coming ever closer, which means another swathe of jobs is going to disappear. So people were persuaded to vote for Brexit/Trump in the hope that jobs would come back to improve their lives; what they'll get instead will be no jobs but an increase in prices, and worse lives. Again.

(Which is really scary, actually. If you're angry at the world, and you place your last hope in Brexit/President Trump, what do you do when that one last hope is dashed?)

Alas, while I'm reasonably sure of the fundamental underlying problem (that those jobs are going away, forever), I'm much less able to see a solution. Because I am convinced that that shift is indeed inevitable, which means we need to adapt to it, not fight against it. (See also Climate Change - sorry, it's too late, we've destroyed the world. So we'd better figure out how to live amongst the ashes.)

The bottom line, I think, is that we need a societal shift: the assumption that people will work for a living needs to go, we need to stop measuring people (and our own self-worth) by the jobs they do, and we need some sort of a universal income so that people can actually afford to live. None of which will happen.

As I said, it's a tragedy. (Only even that's not right. Marx noted that everything in history happens twice, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. Thatcher/Reagan was the first time; May/Trump is the second. So, really, this isn't the tragedy; it's the farce.)

#62: "Shy Knives", by Sam Sykes

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