Democracies will fall under the spell of populists like Donald Trump if they fail to deal with the fallout of globalisation
The rich, as F Scott Fitzgerald noted, “are different from you and me”. Their wealth, he wrote, makes them “cynical where we are trustful” and their affluence makes them think they are “better than we are”. These words ring truest among the billionaires and corporate executives flocking to the Swiss ski resort of Davos this week. The highs recorded by stockmarkets, the tremendous monopoly power of tech titans and spikes in commodity prices reassure the rich cosmocratic class that they have weathered the storm of the financial crisis. The moguls can talk safely about inequality and poverty. But they will do little about it because they do not think their best interests are aligned with citizens. This is a mistake of historic proportions.
Since 2015, Oxfam calculates, the richest 1% have owned more wealth than the rest of the planet. The very wealthy think they no longer share a common fate with the poor. Whatever the warm words at Davos, no company bosses will put their hands up to the fact they play one country against another in order to avoid taxes; no firm will be honest about their attempts to stymie trade unions or about how they lobby against government regulation on labour, environment or privacy that tilts the balance of power away from them and towards the public. The largest western corporations and banks now roam the globe freely. As memories of the financial crisis recede, they are going back to the myth that they are no longer dependent on national publics or governments. Lobbyists for the corporate world claim that markets are on autopilot, that government is a nuisance best avoided.