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Our revolting elites

Just in case you’re still wondering what is causing the Donald Trump phenomenon, you could do worse than read any of Michael Lewis’ recent books. Not that people who support Trump are likely to have read Michael Lewis, but to quote an Aussie movie classic, “it’s the vibe”.

I’m about half-way through “Flash Boys”, the third in what I’ve informally christened his post-financial crisis trilogy. Each one – “The Big Short”, “Boomerang”, and now “Flash Boys” – has made my hair stand on end. The whole “subprime sneezed and the whole world caught cold” sorry saga is an immensely complex one, with a seemingly endless cast of villains; neither business nor government come out of it looking too flash. But if only part of what Lewis writes about is actually true, then mind truly boggles.

Not surprisingly, as I blogged recently, 65 per cent of respondents in a YouGov poll agreed with the statement that Wall Street is “a place of too much greed that could easily be the cause of another Great Recession” and only 22 per cent with “[Wall Street] is an important part of the US economy and largely run by good people.” In another poll last year, while 73 per cent agreed that Wall Street “benefits the country” and 62 percent that it is “absolutely essential,” 70 per cent also thought that “most people on Wall Street would be willing to break the law if they believed they could make a lot of money and get away with it.” To sum it up: we realise that we can’t live without it, but if only the whole place wasn’t run by assholes.

Which brings me back to Trump. Historically, the question of in/equality has been the provenance of the left, while the right, for most part, has been more concerned with freedom/liberty. However, even as an avowed and avid right-winger, I feel we might be approaching a crisis point in our developed Western societies, where the majority of the population feels so powerless, so disconnected, and so cheated, that the very social contract that binds us all together is under threat. The problem is not the 1%, as the far left would have it, but more the 1% of the 1% – the political, economic and cultural elite whose experiences, interests and concerns are so vastly different to the rest of the population, they might as well be aliens from another planet.

We now live in a world of businesses too big to fail and governments too big to succeed, of crony capitalism and crony democracy. In many ways this is nothing new, but it didn’t matter as much in traditional, feudal and monarchical societies where one’s lot in life and the position in the social pyramid were determined at birth. Our modern societies – our liberal democracies – however, derive their legitimacy from principles like equality before the law and practices like social mobility. When citizens, consumers and workers feel different rules apply to the overwhelming majority of punters and different ones to those at the very peak, and that no matter how hard they try, the system is stacked against them, we have reached a dangerous point indeed.

Big business and big government aren’t inherent antagonists; quite often they can have a symbiotic relationship at the expense of the “big middle”. Just as big business doesn’t equal free market, big government doesn’t equal free society or responsive democracy. It’s time enough to fight to end the obscenities of corporate welfare, insider cronyism and debt addiction, before they can end our democracy, our freedoms, and our pursuit of happiness. If we don’t, we only vacate the field to demagogues like Trump and Sanders.

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