Yesterday I attended my weekly lecture on Global Economics, which is a subject I quite enjoy. Towards the end we were shown a truncated version of this excellent video on the plight of Briggs & Stratton workers whose factory in Missouri had been closed and production moved to China. It was hard not to feel sorry for these Americans, many of whom were over 50, who’d suddenly found their jobs yanked from beneath them with no alternative. The sight of them walking around a jobs fair in a daze was pitiful.
When the video finished I raised my paw in the air (as I am fond of doing) to point out that there was a large elephant wandering around the room that nobody’s noticed. Whereas it is true that low wages are the main driving force for relocating a factory to China, US policies have made manufacturing artificially high, namely the ever-increasing environmental legislation. I said that the only western leader who acknowledges that environmental regulations impose a cost on developed-world industries is Trump. Nobody else even mentions it, and for most politicians they are an unalloyed good with no downsides, and the more of them the better.
This caused some umming and ahing to the effect that we need to “do something” about the environment and that Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement is not the solution. This may be true and it may be not, but it’s beside the point. It is one thing to bicker about solutions, but quite another to deny the problem exists. So I asked why it was only Trump who was prepared to even acknowledge that environmental regulations heap costs on developed-world industries and contribute the very unemployment we’re getting weepy about in the video. I didn’t get an answer, but I knew it already.
Everyone in an MBA class in a business school in Geneva is by definition white collar and rich. Nobody who enters that building except the cleaners has their livelihood threatened by environmental regulations, and almost 100% are willing to vote for them. Everyone wants to live around clean air and water, and most middle and upper middle classes these days are engaged in a weird post-Christianity Earth-worship cult, sort of like pagans only with designer handbags, smartphones, and a penchant for air travel. They say they’re willing to pay more for things, but this is a luxury rich folk can afford especially when the cost comes in the form of slightly higher prices rather than permanent unemployment.
The more the urban-dwelling elites vote for policies which clobber everyone else, the worse the situation is going to get. One would have thought Trump’s election, Brexit, and the gilets jaunes movement would have woken them up, but it appears they live in a wholly separate world. I’ve said for a long time Trump was a warning shot across the bows of western civilisation, and that the world is lucky that it was him who stumbled on the unguarded palace gates and sat on the throne. Alas, those gates remain wide open. It used to be that politicians would bicker over problems and sell different solutions to the population. Nowadays, massive, elephant-in-the-room problems affecting millions of people are being utterly ignored by the ruling elites who busy themselves selling solutions to problems which are either trivial or don’t exist.
The reason populism is on the rise is because it has become a trivially easy route to power; you don’t even have to offer solutions, just pointing a finger at the problem is enough. And if that problem – immigration, unemployment, crime – affects you and your family, you’ll vote for someone who acknowledges the problem exists over someone who doesn’t, regardless of the feasibility of his or her solutions and with scant concern for his character and broader manifesto. People like to issue stern warnings about how Hitler rose to power by inventing a problem and convincing the masses he was the one to fix it. Many of the same people believe to avoid a repeat of history we must ignore real problems, and call anyone who draws attention to them Hitler.
This won’t end well.