The state of the West can be summed up in a series of Ds: ‘demoralised, decadent, deflating, demographically challenged, divided, disintegrating, dysfunctional, declining’. The chronic problems include economic failure as a result of the 2008 financial crash, verse demographics and a sense of ‘impotence’ in shaping world affairs in the face of the so-called ‘barbarians’ inside as well as outside the gates. Some of those who are challenging the West, such as China, are altering the rules of the game. Others, such as Russia, simply and wilfully flout them, while ISIS simply wants to burn the clubhouse down. Something is not working properly. There is a lack of social trust and powerful monopolies are rigging markets. Equality--or rather fairness--is under threat and this helps to explain why Western voters are turning to authoritarian populist hucksters and demagogues and economic protectionism.
In the workplace, there is a gulf between permanent workers with legal protections and job security and those on temporary or zero-hours contracts, whose rights are no more elaborate than the phone call telling them they are needed that day. Various questionable forms of human resources management are used to distance overworked and underpaid contract personnel from the parent corporations that in reality govern their working days, as a recent documentary on Amazon delivery drivers showed. Banks, hedge funds and technology companies spend huge sums on lobbyists to keep regulation soft and corporate taxes low, despite nearly collapsing the global economy in 2008 with their artificially confected financial products. It should come as no shock that so many ordinary people think that every political system is rigged against them by big money. Many young people think the system is also rigged by the pampered over-sixties, the ‘baby-boomers’ who are more assiduous voters and have the full attention of the politicians they effectively elect, though the intergenerational warfare that alarmists predicted is not in evidence. Money buys much more than a few biddable political friends. Access to the best private schools leads to admission to top universities. Privilege is reinforced by informal networks acquired at elite institutions and ‘associative mating’ that is then reproduced in the next generation.
Big money also has a strong political voice. Many commentators argue that democratic political systems are being corrupted by vested interests every bit as powerful as the overmighty trade union barons of the 1970s. Two US Supreme Court rulings in 2010 and 2014 allowed rich corporations and individuals to make unlimited political donations, on the grounds that their constitutional right to free speech would otherwise be infringed. Donald Trump played on this to his advantage in the 2016 election campaign, frequently stating that he did not need anyone else’s money. Geert Wilders does the same in the Netherlands, ostentatiously declining state subvention though he allegedly receives money from anti-Islamic organisations in the USA. We have taken our democracies in the West for granted for too long.