Pankaj Mishra writes:
In India, tens of thousands of middle-class people respond to a quasi-Gandhian activist’s call for a second freedom struggle – this time, against the country’s venal “brown masters”, as one protester told the Wall Street Journal. Middle-class Israelis demanding “social justice” turn out for their country’s first major demonstrations in years. In China, the state broadcaster CCTV unprecedentedly joins millions of cyber-critics in blaming a government that placed wealth creation above social welfare for the fatal high-speed train crash in Wenzhou last month.
Add to this the uprisings against kleptocracies in Egypt and Tunisia, the street protests in Greece and Spain earlier this year, and you are looking at a fresh political awakening. The specific contexts may seem very different, ranging from authoritarian China to democratic America (where Warren Buffett, the world’s richest man, publicly denounced a “billionaire-friendly Congress” last fortnight). And the grievances may be diversely phrased. But public anger derives from the same source: extreme and seemingly insurmountable inequality.
As Forbes magazine, that well-known socialist tool, describes it, protesters everywhere are driven by “the conviction that the power structure, corporate and government, work together to screw the broad middle class” (and the working class too, whose distress is not usually examined in Forbes).
Certainly, the strident promoters of globalisation – politicians, big businessmen, and journalists – will have to work much harder now to bamboozle their audiences.
For years now, the mantra of “economic growth” justified government interventions on behalf of big business and investors with generous tax breaks (and, in the west, the rescue of criminally reckless investors and speculators with massive bailouts at the taxpayer’s expense). The fact that a few people get very rich while a majority remains poor seemed of little importance as long as the GDP figures looked impressive.
In heavily populated countries like India, even a small number of people moving into the middle class made for an awe-inspiring spectacle. Helped by an entertainment-obsessed and “patriotic” corporate media, you could easily ignore the bad news – the suicides, for instance, of hundreds of thousands of farmers in the last decade. However, the carefully maintained illusions of globalisation shattered when even its putative beneficiaries – the educated and aspiring classes – began to hurt from high inflation, decreasing access to education and other opportunities for upward mobility.