How Uneven and Unequal Growth is Fueling Social Unrest Worldwide
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times
The global economy is growing, and almost all major economies of the world are healthy and growing at a good clip. Also, technology has made the lives of people around the world easier and has contributed to creating an array of diversions and distractions in the form of nonstop entertainment and continuous fun for the people.
Apart from that, there are no major conflicts or wars at the moment, and all seems to be hunky dory for the world. So, the question as to why people are angry and fueling social unrest has to be answered by digging deeper into the causes of the populist anger that has brought President Donald Trump to the White House and the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom wherein the British people voted in a referendum to leave the European Union.
Indeed, there are other populists as well who are sweeping elections worldwide in the midst of so much of plenty and abundance in the form of economic as well as social aspects of growth. Thus, why people are angry despite the good times can be answered through the prism of who exactly is benefiting from the growth and the advent of technological innovations.
Growth Should Not Benefit the Few at the Expense of Many
In other words, it is clear that the gains from economic growth are accruing to the top earners in the income and wealth bracket and none to the bottom and minimal to the ones in the middle. Indeed, the fact that globalization and the liberal rules-based free trade and global order have made the rich richer and the poor poorer is evident from the widespread social unrest and violence that has become a staple of our times.
Further, the fact that economic growth has benefited the rich and has left the poor high and dry is another reason why desperation and frustration with the dire economic circumstances that the poor find themselves in is making them turn to populism by expressing a preference for any canny politician who offers them a way out of their poverty.
However, the irony is that these very politicians such as Donald Trump have made the lives of the rich better means that there are yet more grounds for people to express their dissatisfaction through violence.
Thus, what this means is that the major economies of the world are sitting on a powder keg where the lethal cocktail of uneven growth and high inequality is manifesting itself in the form of social unrest and societal violence.
Globalization has Been Good for Some and Awesome for the Few
Having said that, we do not intend to say that the entire economic growth over the last few decades has benefited the rich alone.
On the contrary, globalization and free trade have succeeded in lifting Billions of people out of poverty and has enriched the lives of many Asians and Africans. In addition, it has made the American consumer the recipient of cheap goods and services that they have enjoyed all these years.
Moreover, technology has made it possible for anyone anywhere to communicate with everyone everywhere and anytime and every time.
Thus, globalization and liberal trade have been good for the people of the world. The problem lies in the way the gains from these processes have accrued and in the way capitalism and free markets work wherein over time, the distribution of wealth shifts from the even manner to an uneven and unequal manner.
In other words, the right question one must ask after the Global Economic Crisis of 2008 is that why are markets being driven by speculation instead of real economic growth and why are technological innovations exacerbating the inequalities instead of addressing them.
Need for a New Narrative
Thus, what we need is a new narrative and a new conversation about why some people are benefiting whereas the majority are suffering and why a few individuals at the top of the wealth pyramid own as much as half of all wealth whereas those at the bottom are languishing.
In other words, it is high time the policymakers and the stakeholders and the defenders of the economic and political and social systems that are running the world devote their energies to the problem of inequality and uneven economic growth lest it gets out of hand and results in widespread discontent and unrest.
Indeed, the election of Trump and the Brexit vote should have been a wakeup call for any responsible and well-meaning stakeholder in the business community as to the way in which the wind is blowing.
In other words, the writing on the wall is clear, and that is that unless the policymaking elite comes up ways and means of reducing inequalities and inequities, we are going to see more Trumps and more Brexit type of votes in the future. Worse, things can get ugly pretty quickly, and this is more the reason why well-meaning stakeholders must get to work as soon as possible.
Lastly, history has shown that glaring inequalities in wealth and privilege tend to result in chaotic revolutions and wars and hence, it is in the interest of the elites that they take steps if such outcomes are to be avoided.
To conclude, the world is on the cusp of a rupture in the social contract between the people and the economic, political, and social systems and the time to act is now and the moment to address inequalities and inequities is now.
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