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Permalink to original version of “The future of society at large” The future of society at large

Recently, Alison Tieman of the Honey Badger Brigade published this powerful appeal to generate enough support for the Badger Cave:

There’s a lot in what Alison says, but I’d say that there’s one glimmer of hope on the horizon he didn’t mention — though it won’t flourish into anything without something akin to what Alison described.

2016 marked a probable watershed in the way the public at large reacts to the narratives pushed on them by special interests. It’s most obvious on the political stage:

  • Britons rejected the message of fear pushed on them by both political parties and voted to leave the EU, against the elite’s wishes and even if it meant short term pain;

  • Democrats nearly nominated a socialist (in a country that hates socialism with a passion) for their presidential candidate; and

  • Republicans completely lost their shit and, in the chaos, did nominate a woman who if, per Nate Silver‘s commentary on the book, The Party Decides, should never have gotten even close to winning against the Party’s preferred candidate (suggesting either that the premise of the book is wrong or the power of the Party and its ability to influence the public is greatly diminished).

Something big is happening in the polity and social culture. I don’t know if the parties have even figured out that there’s a problem yet or, if they have, whether they’re aware of what it is — but if they don’t figure it out and adapt soon, they’re going to be out on their arses because sooner or later…

Actually, that movie, The Network, seems a pretty good analogy for what’s going on now.

The thing is, there aren’t currently any viable alternatives to Alison’s “machine” on the table. We know communism doesn’t work. Capitalism and democracy are good in theory, and while they work better than communism, they’re faltering. We’ll hang on to them because we need something to regulate trade, even if it isn’t perfect, but sooner or later, 21st Century capitalism is going to have to undergo drastic reform.

The reasons for this are complex, but the super-short, over-simplified version goes like this:

Globalisation has been great for the developing world and the very richest of the developed world, but terrible for the percentiles that represent the developed world’s middle classes. That Western middle class has been the driver of global demand, consumption, and consequent growth, but that same middle class is rapidly disappearing which means that globalism itself is in for crisis within the next few decades, and it will have to reform, one way or the other, sooner or later. The question is, when, and by whose instigation?

The phenomenon is nicely illustrated in this graph:

Global income growth by global income percentile

and a more complete explanation is given by The Atlantic‘s The Story of Globalization in 1 Graph and, in a bit more detail still, in the Centre for Economic Policy Research’s The greatest reshuffle of individual incomes since the Industrial Revolution.

Your reaction to that graph and its analysis by VoxEU and The Atlantic will depend on your personal politics, but two things can be said about it regardless:

  1. The “social contract” by which the rich get richer provided the poor gain in some way has been broken, so badly that the middle classes of the West are shrinking at an alarming rate which means that…

  2. national consumption and demand (and therefore GDP) are under threat because most of it came from the middle classes (because the poor didn’t have any discretionary cash anyway and the rich simply don’t spend, by proportion, as much as the middle classes do).

The middle to long term business prospects are shaky if something doesn’t change. It’s hard to know what would fix this except a return to protectionist/isolationist trade policies, but they’d reduce everybody’s standard of living and, anyway, we had those during the ’60s and ’70s and world macroeconomics were no picnic then either.

The implications of all of this should be enough to worry even the most hardcore anarcho-capitalists.

How does all of this relate to women? Because it has primarily been women’s labour that paid for all this growth. Squeezing women harder than ever before is easier than fundamentally re-engineering society, so expect more of Alison’s machine until it runs out of fodder.

People get this, which is why we see a change in attitude, both toward women and to political and economic issues as reflected in the improbable Brexit and US primary results.

If you have a few hours to burn and have any curiosity about why our economies are so broken, economist Mark Blyth is well worth a watch. Here’s a fairly accessible lecture she delivered to at Glasgow University about austerity economics and how the 2009 Euro crisis was mainly about bailing out banks, not balancing budgets:

For those with a background in economics, here’s a slightly more technical version of the same lecture delivered at Google:

Blyth is well worth looking up on YouTube if you want to understand some of the machinery that drives our societies.