In the new millennium, the proliferation of financial assets, with unstable economic growth, has given way to widespread to precarious jobs, income gaps and weaker welfare programs. The same policies that have obliterated social services and kept labour cheap have supported the expansion of short-termism and new global business models in the context of deregulated capitalism.
Besides, the onset of the 21st century represents a new political age overwhelmed by the violation of democratic ideals of political equality and social peace. Indeed, democracy has been allowing for election to office but not to power (Madi, 2015). And, as a consequence, policy makers might give priority to their sponsors instead of the needs of citizens – decent work and income equality.
In truth, the current trends in global capital accumulation and production have shaped a scenario where unemployment, job instability and fragile conditions of social protection increased (Stiglitz, 2011). First, labour-saving technologies have reduced the demand for many middle-class, blue-collar jobs. Second, globalization has created a global marketplace, confronting expensive unskilled workers with cheap unskilled workers overseas and favouring outsourcing practices. Third, social changes have also played a role in the labor market changes, such as the decline of unions. Four, political decisions are influenced by the top 1% who favor policies that increase income inequality.
All these trends do reveal issues of current power, politics and economics in a social context where democratic institutions are being threatened.
Taking into account the overall economic, social and political evidence in Western countries, Robert Kuttner, in his recent book Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? (2018, WW Norton), highlights that since the 1970s the globalization of capital has affected the very foundation of a healthy democracy. While analysing the consequences of this trend, he warns:
“If democracy cannot harness capitalism, it runs the risk of subverting itself and giving way to neo-fascist regimes that will pretend to manage the market but more often ally themselves with corporations and substitute ultra-nationalist symbols and scapegoats for reform.”
Indeed, this book calls for a deep examination of current power, politics and economics in a social context where democratic institutions are being threatened:
Do current trends of social inequality and economic instability stimulate disillusioned voters to support populism? Is the alliance of global finance and far-right parties inevitable? Is it possible to build new conventions to make capitalism serve democracy?
Answering these questions not only involves critical thinking on the failures of economic policies in the light of current political challenges but also calls for a reflection on the alternatives to the reversal of the decline of democracy in the West.
Robert Kuttner, Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?, WW Norton, 2018.
Lima, G. & Madi, M.A. , Capital and Justice, WEA Books, 2016.
Madi, M. A., “2016: Promises and Problems”, WEA Pedagogy Blog, December 29, 2015
Stiglitz, J., “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”. Vanity Fair Magazine, April 30, 2011.