Rise of anti-elitism: Slowbalisation vs globalisation
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - February 3, 2019 - 12:00am

There are two very different global phenomenon that are seemingly very different from each other; but, are actually linked. The first is the rise of anti-elitism in the world as evidenced by the rise of populism and the increasing number of leaders who espouse populist themes in many countries like the United States. Russia, Brazil, Hungary, Turkey, India and the Philippines.

One of the principal causes for the rise of populism is the worsening global income inequality. Five or so years ago, 67 individuals owned as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the world’s population or the bottom 3.7 billion people. Today, 26 individuals own as much wealth as the bottom 3.7 billion  people. Slowbalisation is a term coined by Adjiedj Bakas, a Dutch trend watcher, in 2015 which describes a reaction against globalisation.

Rise of anti-elitism

Two recent books have become popular because they warn the world of the future where elitism and inequality become worse. In his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, Anand Giridharadas said that the elite’s faith in business-led solutions “...green bonds, impact investing, social innovation and the rest concealed a harsher reality.”

Businesses were relentlessly pursuing efficiency and cutting costs – shifting jobs to cheaper places or forcing people to work longer hours – and then recycling a fraction of the profits they made into activities defined as corporate social responsibility or as philanthropy. In a review of the book by The Economist, it paraphrases a message of Giridharadas in his book:

“All this recycling is wonderful for the billionaires who derive a warm feeling from spending their money on helping the poor. It is wonderful for CEOs who can burnish their brands by embracing the latest fashionable good cause. It is particularly wonderful for the thought leaders who can spend their lives hanging out with Sergei and Mark and suggesting clever ways for their philanthrocapitalist masters to cure the world’s ills. But it does little to make up for the winner take all philosophy that is driving companies to hold down wages and transfer the burden of risk onto their employees.”

He also criticizes the “parasitic philanthropy industry” that manages to hold its global summit meetings in luxury resorts like Davos, Switzerland or Bellagio instead of poverty stricken areas like Africa or Bangladesh. He also produces case studies that illustrate “...his theme of companies creating big social problems and then offering sticking-plaster solutions in the form of philanthropy. For example, Purdue Pharma has an impressive record of grants that encourage the healthy development of youth by reducing high risk behaviors such as substance abuse. But one reason that the company can afford such largesse is that it has made a fortune from marketing OxyContin, a drug that thanks to overprescription is at the heart of America’s opioid epidemic. 

How many companies in the Philippines engage in philanthropic activities; but, at the same time oppose any move to increase minimum wage to the level of a “living wage”? How many of the elite seriously consider the rise in income inequality as a major problem?

There are observers who are predicting that the future will be worse. In his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, the highly renowned author Yuval Noah Harari wrote:

“ For the past few decades, people all over the world were told that humankind is on the path to equality and that globalisation and new technologies will help us get there sooner. In reality, the 21st century might create the most unequal societies in history. Though globalisation and the Internet bridge the gap between countries, they threaten to enlarge the rift between classes. And just as humankind seems about to achieve global unification, the species itself might divide into different biological castes.” 

He says that those who own the data own the future: “...if we want to prevent the concentration of all wealth and power in the hands of a small elite, the key is to regulate the ownership of data.” 

Slowbalisation vs. globalisation

Three years ago, I started writing about globalisation and the possible dangers it poised to global social stability. Today globalisation is being accused for the rise in income inequality and the overconcentration of wealth in the hands of a few billionaires. The Economist recently wrote, “ The golden age of globalisation, in 1990 to 2010, was something to behold. Commerce soared as the cost of shifting goods in ships and planes fell, phone calls got cheaper, tariffs were cut and finance liberalised. Business went gangbusters, as firms set up around the world, investors roamed and shoppers shopped in supermarkets with enough choices to impress Phileas Fogg.

Globalisation has slowed from light speed to a snail’s space in the past decade for several reasons. The cost of moving goods has stopped falling. Multinational firms have found that global sprawl burns money and that local rivals eat them alive. Activity is shifting to services which are harder to sell across borders; scissors can be exported in 20 ft-containers but hair stylists cannot. And Chinese manufacturers have become more self reliant, so needs to import fewer parts.”

Hariri also says: ”Others have concluded (rightly or wrongly) that liberalization and globalisation are a huge racket empowering a tiny elite at the expense of the masses.” The world has seen the rebirth of nationalism. Unfortunately, populist leaders have distorted the message of nationalism as a competition of nation states. This is becoming apparent in the messages of leaders like Xi Jinping of China, Putin of Russia and Trump of the United States. History teaches us that this form of nationalism can lead to imperialism, colonialism and even to violent wars.”

The world must seek for answers in a new ideology which allows globalisation but prevents the rise of elitism. Already this is a view being espoused by leaders of the Democratic Party in the United States and social democrats in Europe. Even Pope Francis has condemned the “trickle down” theory of capitalism. 

These are the biggest challenges humankind has ever encountered. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on Feb. 16 (1:30 pm-3 pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com.

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