The right believed that with indomitable power it could create whatever truth it wanted to. In a famous phrase, Karl Rove, a senior advisor to then US President George W Bush, scorned those without power as the ‘reality-based community’. Study reality, if you will, in search of solutions, Rove is said to have told a journalist, but
“That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
But then Lehman Brothers went bust. Here was a reality that the neocons had not created, and against which they were powerless. The date was 15 November 2008. Suddenly it became possible to imagine the end of capitalism.
Greece is the modern case study of what happens when the political elite of a developed country allows its legitimacy to go up in flames. Democracy and globalisation itself are challenged. The minds of a whole generation begin to switch off from the dreams that had sustained them.
To most people if may feel as though this period of disruption started with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. But the real disruption bean much earlier, with the onset of globalisation, and in particular after 2001. Once you grasp this, you can grasp the scale of the challenge facing those in power.
Right now, mainstream economics remains confused about the ultimate source of the disruption. Is it our greed? Are these the growing pains of the Chinese century?: Was is all down to testosterone on the trading floors of the major banks?
Actually, the answer is staring us in the face, but it’s unpalatable. The root cause, simply put, is globalisation, and the resulting monopolisation of wealth by a global elite.
If you were to summarise the problems for the mainstream left in the present crisis, it comes down to three points: free-market capitalism has failed; there’s a wave of resistance to wage cuts and austerity; the political leaders of social democracy cannot accept points one and two.
Across the globe, one billion people live in slums: that is one on seven human beings. By 2050…that number is set to double. The slum is the filthy secret of the modern mega-city, the hidden consequence of twenty years of untrammelled market forces, greed, neglect and graft.
The cheap labour of the slum dweller undercuts the organised labour of the core workforce and – given two or three decades – shrinks it to a barely organisable minority. In the process the slum dwellers become the core workforce. Meanwhile the functions of the state change: in the Keynesian era the state was supposed to care for all, but now, across much of the developing world it leaves large parts of the urban community to their own devices.
The present system cannot guarantee the existence of 7 billion people on this planet. It cannot even recognise their basic humanity.
“I believe right now we are sleeping on a volcano. Can you not sense a sort of instinctive intuition…that the earth is trembling again in Europe? Can you not feel the winds of revolution in the air?” Alexis de Tocqueville – speech to the French Assembly just days before the insurrection, 1848