We are living in times of increased global economic injustice, suspicion against the establishment and a political terrain that is being redrawn to such an extent that few analysts really understand what is happening. Rarely have we seen such political mobility and possibility for change. But the ruling political consensus in Europe and the western world seems unyielding: “There is no alternative”.
The political and economic framework tells us that it is hard work, credits and consumption that the citizen must relate to. And when this machinery does not deliver, it is the citizen who takes responsibility. A time of considerable levels of unemployment and social exclusion is the most common medicine. The underlying message is that a continued development of democracy is not possible; which is why another society, characterized by participation, tolerance, security and quality of life cannot be realized either. Why do politicians’ ability to deliver stop at everyday politics, blocking strategies and just fishing for votes, and why is it no longer possible to discuss visions and a further development of our society? What is it that caused everything to be locked in a vice?
Sometime in the 80s, the free market had to be given even freer rein as it surely “knew what was best for everyone”. Politics was to be detached from the economy while banks were given wider freedom to act as creditors in order to be able to boost consumption and growth. Politicians and economists agreed: “There is no alternative”.
The increased lending led to debt crises in the 80s and 90s; the old, familiar story about money and credits lacking coverage until they are forced to be repaid, thus revealing the con. We know it in everyday vocabulary as a “real estate bubble”, “finance bubble” etc.
With globalization, capitalism grew out of its national costume. The boundless financial industry set the new world culture. Everything had to move faster, be easier, be temporary and follow the rapid twists and turns of the financial markets. “If there are no jobs in your area, uproot your family and move somewhere else.” The connection to political parties and unions dwindled; the old society was perceived as rigid, slow and unworkable.
In this new era of financing, people were urged to go beyond their own capacity to pay by consuming with their future income. Another way to circumvent the natural laws was the new consumerism. The simple principle that demand creates supply had expired. Instead, supply was first created, after which, with the help of marketing, demand as well as the necessary consumption culture was introduced, as illusory as tobacco advertising and bank credits. There are hundreds of bread brands in your supermarket, but not quite the one you want, right?
The new society characterized by individualization, efficiency, strategic thinking and less cohesion slowly emerged from the 90s and into the 21st century. The ideological breadth of politics in the 70s had shrunk to a red-green-blue alloy; a unanimous work- and consumption ideal; a culture originally created with a liberal intent now became a period of political narrow-mindedness.
Then came the 2008 financial crisis; the 150th since the late 19th century. The same repetitive process of interest rate cuts, increased lending and bursting bubbles. Millions of people were hit by unemployment, lost their homes and were forced to pay for the financial feast when countries had to skimp on health care in order to pay interest rates. Politicians and economists in the western world nevertheless agreed: “There is no alternative”.
The politicians’ democratic contracts with the citizens were no longer possible to maintain. The old principle of letting politics control the worst inventions of capitalism had, in a few decades, been transformed into allowing them instead to protect the financial world from too much democratic invention. Politicians’ solidarity with the finance industry became stronger than that with the citizens. A new caste of those in power emerged, a layer, a hybrid of politicians, economists and technocrats, an ever-deeper establishment.
Above this layer, a clique of powerful oligarchs, especially in the financial industry, has strengthened its position. They act beyond national borders and regardless of countries’ state budgets, unemployment, material and social misery; unquestioned and protected in the name of globalization.
Over the years and strangely enough to the astonishment of many, populism and the criticism of those in power has increased. The Occupy movement after 2010 should have been an alarm call. The prolonged breach of contract between the rulers and the masses has created a protectionist prairie fire all over the western world on the theme “We’ve had enough!”.
The threat of the European Central Bank and EU politicians in 2015 to close Greece’s banks and openly reject a democratic referendum was an assault; they might as well have rolled in with tanks, but that would have even more blatantly dented the illusion that the EU stands for peace. When democracy in Greece was put out of action, Europe’s deep establishment stood silently watching. They probably thought: “There is no alternative”.
Destructive extremism, antagonism and resignation over the way society evolves is not created by undemocratic forces or political loonies, it is created and maintained by all our common politicians, by EU technocrats, lobbyists and other influential people in our society. They argue that people’s dissatisfaction threatens “the democracy” but their democracy is merely a mantra, a washed-out club badge, pie-in-the-sky with populistic connotations to make people swallow a societal structure which passed its sell by date long ago. This cannot be diverted simply as a matter of correct or incorrect facts; it is a question of a proper social culture or not.
The options consist of a long-term shift in the view of democracy. Politicians must return to their employers, the voters, and guarantee the most basic economic conditions. Health care must be released from economic frenzy and all the ill-health and pessimism it creates. It is time to delouse society of wrong thinking, such as that there are insufficient financial resources while at the same time a small percentage of the population possesses enormous wealth. Also, politics must not be a choice between an economic autocracy or a state autocracy.
Politicians need your help; they need to hear the voice and clear message of the people. They must be directed to completely different politics and to a developed democracy that dares to remake and make right. They will not like it, they will bark, growl and threaten – but there is no alternative.