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The Growing Economic Disparity Between The ‘Elite’ and The Masses

The rise of populism around the world is of interest because it presents a few concerning aspects. Cas Mudde highlights that populist leaders usually carry one or all of the following traits: anti-establishment, authoritarianism, and nativism.

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This was the beginning of the growing economic disparity between the 'elite' and the masses. Among other things, it has resulted in a significant growth in inequality across the modern society. Pixabay

The political discourse across the world is increasingly becoming dominated by the phenomenon of populism. The term has become so commonplace that it usually appears in popular media without an explanation as to who qualifies to be a populist. However, revisiting the idea can be instructive at this point.

The definition for the term, which now forms the backbone of academic studies, was provided by young Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde in 2004. He suggested that the concept is a political ideology that considers society to be segregated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups: “the pure people” and “the corrupt elite” – and that politics should be an expression of the general will of the people.

The first major sign of the global shift towards populism was the election of Donald Trump as the US President. Populists have been successful in other countries as well. Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Recep Tayyib Erdogan in Turkey, Victor Orban in Hungary and the Finns Party in Finland are evidence of the expanding global footprint of populism. Such trends point towards a larger shift in attitudes of citizens around the globe that are rapidly changing the face of democracy.

The rise of populism around the world is of interest because it presents a few concerning aspects. Cas Mudde highlights that populist leaders usually carry one or all of the following traits: anti-establishment, authoritarianism, and nativism.

Donald Trump
The first major sign of the global shift towards populism was the election of Donald Trump as the US President. Pixabay

Since the idea is about the virtue of the ordinary people against a corrupt establishment, populist leaders display resentment for existing authorities. The aversion of populist leaders to institutional restraint can also extend to the economy, where exercising complete control in the interest of the people implies that autonomous regulatory agencies should place no obstacles in their way. Alongside, they also exude authoritarian leanings as they believe to be representing the interest of the masses. Finally, the narrative set by populist leaders taps into the feeling of nationalism among the citizens, which can develop into xenophobic tones like in Trump’s America or Nigel Farage’s Britain.

A combination of these three traits undermine and weaken the idea of democracy by making its institutions ineffective, concentrating power around a few individuals and polarising the people.

It must also be noted that populism is not necessarily a movement of the right. Quite a few populist parties around the world favour economic left-wing policies. In fact, one of the most populist leaders in recent times, Hugo Chavez, rallied Venezuela against the ‘predatory’ political elite and the US as a whole while attempting a socialist revolution in the country. Even Trump, for that matter, presents instances of socialistic tendencies in his advocacy of trade barriers and opposition to global trade deals. Thus, it is not necessarily a particular ideology that is driving the rise in populism. The root causes lie elsewhere.

The reasons can be traced to the structural changes experienced in earlier decades. First, the technological revolution which took shape in the 1980s has since disproportionately benefited highly skilled workers while the rest of the workforce, especially in the developed world, saw their incomes stagnate or decline. This was the beginning of the growing economic disparity between the ‘elite’ and the masses. Among other things, it has resulted in a significant growth in inequality across the modern society.

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This was the beginning of the growing economic disparity between the ‘elite’ and the masses. Among other things, it has resulted in a significant growth in inequality across the modern society. Pixabay

Second, globalisation, which accelerated in the 1990s also created clear winners and losers in both developed and emerging markets. As per the Heckscher-Ohlin theorem, trade benefits individuals who own factors with which the national economy is relatively well-endowed and hurts individuals who own factors that are relatively scarce. Hence, in the most developed nations that were capital-rich, unskilled workers were left holding the shorter end of the stick. These segments of population have been the strongest supporters of populist leaders who promise to close the borders and return their jobs to them.

Finally, the last straw that broke the camel’s back was the 2008 financial crisis. It was a crisis that the working class saw as being a creation of the ‘elite’: the rich bankers and stock brokers. To make matters worse, the state bailed out the instigators of the crisis while the rest were left to deal with the consequences of austerity and joblessness. They have, thus, connected with populist leaders who have seemed to be the only ones speaking their language.

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Therefore, rising disparity in terms of income and opportunities has led the rise of populism around the world. The populist movement is an outcry from communities that have been short-changed in the process of technological progress and globalisation; from those who have seen growth all around them but not for themselves.

Every industrial or technological revolution in the past has been disruptive and has required social and economic adaption. The 21st century needs a commensurate adjustment. (IANS)

Next Story

US President Donald Trump May Blacklist Chinese Surveillance Tech Firm

Administration officials could make a final decision in the coming weeks, the sources said

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FILE - President Donald Trump speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, May 9, 2019. VOA

US President Donald Trump’s administration is considering blacklisting a Chinese video surveillance giants from buying American technology, in a latest attempt to counter Beijings global economic ambitions, a media report said.

The move would effectively place the company, Hikvision, on a US blacklist. It would mark the first time the Trump administration punished a Chinese company for its role in the surveillance and mass detention of the Uyghur Muslim ethnic minority, informed sources told The New York Times on Tuesday.

The development is also likely to inflame the tensions that have escalated in President Trump’s renewed trade war with Chinese leaders.

Trump, in the span of two weeks, has raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, threatened to tax all imports and taken steps to cripple the Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei.

China has promised to retaliate against American industries.

Hikvision is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of video surveillance products and is central to China’s ambitions to be the top global exporter of surveillance systems.

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President Donald Trump arrives at a rally at Resch Center Complex in Green Bay, Wis., Saturday, April 27, 2019. VOA

The company has said that its products enable their clients to track people around the country by their facial features, body characteristics or gait, or to monitor activity considered unusual by officials, such as people suddenly running or crowds gathering.

The Commerce Department might require that American companies obtain government approval to supply components to Hikvision, limiting the company’s access to technology that helps power its equipment.

Administration officials could make a final decision in the coming weeks, the sources said.

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The potential crackdown stems from the Trump administration’s belief that China poses an economic, technological and geopolitical threat that cannot be left unchecked.

China has used surveillance technology, including facial recognition systems and closed-circuit television cameras, to target the Turkic-speaking Uyghurs, who have accused the Chinese government of discriminating against their culture and religion, The New York Times reported.

The country has exported this technology to nations that seek closer surveillance of their citizens, including Ecuador, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. (IANS)