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Future of Politics: Autocracy's A-Listers Rule
Will growing worker dissatisfaction lead to a more extreme form of politics in the West?
One of the most significant trends in modern Western politics is dissatisfaction with the establishment. Political leaders and their institutions seem to have bored us to death and frustrated our need for progress to the extent that we are willing to consider more extreme forms of leadership. Is autocracy back?
It seems that all things retro are making a resurgence through the back pockets of a generation Z that digs old Levi’s that have been God knows where, and vinyl records that dust up like a spiders web on steroids. Even the winklepicker boot seems to be fashion forward??
But, for those of us that have been around longer than a tennis final with Raphael Nadal, we should remember that all things analogue/neolithic/gothic/retro ended for a reason. Autocracies included.
Saying that, Western voters are frustrated. They are upset because average wages for the vast majority of normal people have not grown a single iota these last couple of decades. Now that wage packets are finally starting to increase inflation has overtaken it, like Usain Bolt down the back lane, leaving everyone back where they started - which is broke.
The average annual grocery bill is on track to rise by £180 this year as the UK’s worsening cost of living squeeze continues, according to the consultants Kantar. Inflation has hit a shocking 30 year high in parts of the Western world including the US and the UK. Oil and gas prices are beyond steamy. Emissions are higher than ever.
Not only are a majority of people feeling broke but they have also watched benefits and job security disappear faster than the Amazon rainforest. For all the consumer and shareholder benefits of Uber and Lift and Deliveroo, they kind of stuff their ‘gig workers’. (Gig workers being Silicon Valley for workers-with-no-rights-whatsoever).
Let’s try to imagine the back room chatter amongst the early founders of these Web 2.0 darlings as they were spitballing the new creations.
“Hey, I’ve got a new idea. How about building a cool tech company with no workers at all - obviously other than us.”
“Amazon have already done that. It’s called robots in the warehouse.”
“No, I don’t mean anything expensive or clever cos we can’t do tech for shit. I just mean we create a new kind of of company. Let’s for argument sake call it something duff like a ‘gig company’ so everyone thinks they’re being invited to a big party and then we get them to do things for us for free. You know, in return for having a laugh or dancing to Stormzy on their Beats or giving a lift to Zendaya.”
“OK, what would we want them to do?”
“Well, they could help with the catering or get the drinks or give people a ride from the nearest metro station.”
“And we wouldn’t have to pay them anything?”
“No, that’s the clever part. Because it’s a gig, they’ll be tipsy or high or just a bit shagged out and so they’ll be more likely to do stuff for us for free cos we’re the organisers and we’ll ask them nicely. And we could tell them that they might get tips from guests.”
“Shit, I like that. We could call them gig party volunteers.”
“Or gig workers.”
“We could tell investors that the new hip thing is gonna be ‘the gig economy’.”
“Yeah, and the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal are dull and screwed up right now so they’ll probably write about it without checking too much cos all their writers have been sacked.”
“Nice. And investors will love it because they’re older and don’t get anything we do but want to be in with our hipster crowd, you know, in case one of us remind them of a young Zuck or Jobs or Springsteen who they didn’t invest in because they were too dumb and now they’re in a mid life crisis seeking out the next hip so as not to disappear into total middle aged, pin striped dull.”
“Yeah, the gig economy, I like that shit.”
According to Brodmin, the global gig economy is expected to grow from $204 billion in 2018 to $455 billion in 2023, a compound annual growth rate of 17.4%.
The number of gig workers is steadily increasing in the Western world. For example, the number of US freelancers is estimated to grow from 57 to 86 million by 2027 and the UK’s gig economy workforce more than doubled from 2016 to 2019 as it accounts for 4.7 million people.
But gig workers are more anxious about their finances: 45% of full-time gig workers have a high Economic Anxiety Index score compared to 24% of traditional full-time employees.
Freelancers are generally concerned about their working conditions: 54% of gig workers have no access to employer-based benefits (in the US, data from 2017).
Gig workers are quite mobile. They can work from almost anywhere (hello Airbnb). They also have time on their hands which means they buy phones and play games and watch Netflix. This has helped make Apple and Amazon and Google worth more than God himself and makes gig workers pray for Elon Musk and want to be him, which means they work themselves to the bone for a few dollars an hour in the hope that Musk might catch a ride in their Uber one day.
When he doesn’t they join the swelling ranks of the deeply dissatisfied along with the rest of the under employed and low paid and people that work at Amazon. But they look at the super rich business founders that get shit done because they are kind of autocratic in their business. As a result they think that Putin and Xi Jinping also get stuff done and so a whole bunch of them might consider voting in more autocratic Western leaders who promise to break rules, get gigs and make things happen. Oh, wait.
And before we know it, we might even go full circle and end up voting in a next generation Mussolini or god forbid, even a Hitler. Which would be retro for hell in a hand basket. And it would not be long before we might be wishing that our only problems were global warming and heating bills and inflation.
Retro shoes and bags and music is one thing. Retro politics could be whole different game of tennis. More Djokovic than Federer. Perhaps we should throw democracy to the wind with a little more caution. To do this we might have to face up to what is driving people toward extremism and get back to the promise of full employment and real wage growth. A level of employment which does not force everyone to drive an Uber and struggle to afford their own home.
As for the rest of it, do what you want. Rule as you wish. Hit a gig. Maybe a real gig this time around, with Stormzy on the stage. After all, that’s a party!
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