Populism, elitism and liberal democracy
On Jan. 17, the Inquirer, citing an analysis prepared by the international antipoverty group Oxfam, bannered that eight persons own and control as much wealth as one-half (3.6 billion) of the total population of Planet Earth.
Wealthiest 8. These eight are Microsoft founder Bill Gates (net worth: $75 billion), Spanish clothing giant (Zara) boss Amancio Ortega ($67 billion), American investor Warren Buffett ($60.8 billion), Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim ($50 billion), Amazon founder Jeff Besos ($45.2 billion), Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg ($44.6 billion), Oracle chair Larry Ellison ($43.6 billion), and media mogul Michael Bloomberg ($40 billion).
Oxfam warned that unless the elite helps that half of the world’s population, “public anger against this kind of inequality will continue to grow and lead to more seismic political changes akin to last year’s election of Donald Trump as US president and Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.”
Earlier, on Dec. 1, 2016, Stephen Hawking, the celebrated English theoretical physicist, wrote in The Guardian that the “decision by the British electorate to reject membership in the European Union and by the American public to embrace Donald Trump … was a cry of anger by people who felt they have been abandoned by their leaders.”
The same anger propelled the electoral victory of populist leaders in Greece and Turkey. It may dislocate the current leaders in the coming elections in Germany, France and Italy and lead to the demise of the European Union and the triumph of protectionism and isolationism.
PH populism. And for us Filipinos, the phenomenal rise of President Duterte likewise signifies our people’s cry of anger at the inability of our political and business elite to solve the poverty, criminality and corruption engulfing our nation.
He was elected against all conventional odds of political correctness: without preconceived personal ambitions, without funds, without any real political party and without the support of the entrenched political and business powers.
Globalization, free trade and entrepreneurship, the engines of growth that propelled Japan, South Korea, China and other export-oriented countries, are now viewed as the villains of rising unemployment and income inequality.
Along with these engines of growth, the hallmarks of liberal democracy like the rule of law and due process are also being stereotyped for the miseries of job scarcity, criminal impunity and reduced living standards.
As a result, shortcuts in criminal prosecutions and strong leadership cults are lauded regardless of their social and human costs. More reliance is placed on the speedy achievement of ends, never mind the means, because judicial procedures have become too tedious.
The acceleration of technology, the automation of factories and the dawn of artificial intelligence will further deepen and widen financial inequality. Worse, the easy access of the poor to the internet and cell phones makes the lives of the rich and powerful so visible and so attractive to violence.
Some solutions. To solve these problems, Oxfam suggests increased taxes on wealth and incomes, and higher minimum wages. Hawking urges the elite to share their wealth more generously.
I think the solutions for us should include the efficient provision of public services to justify increased taxes, the training of labor to enhance productivity, the promotion of micro enterprises and the speedy delivery of quality justice.
True, liberal democracy has its warts, and the rule of law and due process take seeming eternity to deliver results. But there are really no viable alternatives to them. This is why I think the present disdain for due process, free enterprise and globalization will in time wane.
In our country, the globalization of labor has benefited the working class via overseas Filipino workers and business process outsourcing, the two great pillars of our economy.
While I cannot argue with the call of Oxfam and Hawking to share wealth more equitably, at the same time I think we have to preserve our faith in liberal democracy, rule of law and entrepreneurship as the more enduring routes to prosperity for all.
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