Monday, July 16, 2018

Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work), by Gwynne Dyer

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Many words have been written about the Trump and Brexit phenomena, trying to find a logical reason for these seemingly irrational voter outbursts. Renowned Canadian journalist and historian Gwynne Dyer tackles the subject in Growing Pains.

From an historical perspective, Gwynne Dyer argues that humans are hard wired for an egalitarian way of life. Before the advent of agriculture, humans lived in bands of no more than a hundred people. Equality and co-operation allowed these smaller communities to survive. Then came the development of agriculture, the human population exploded and tough, brutal hierarchical political systems were needed to make large-scale civilisation work. Now, we are coming to another major crossroads in human development. We are returning to our egalitarian ways: societies everywhere aspire to have government by democracy.

How does this fit in with Trump and Brexit? Interestingly, Dyer calls Trump the canary in the coal mine. He has alerted us to the fact that a noxious gas has been allowed to infect the body politic. This noxious gas is an inequality that has been expanding for the past three decades. Neoliberalism, which came into full swing under Ronald Reagan in the US and Margaret Thatcher in Britain, has seen worker wages stagnate, while the rich have gotten richer. Before this period of neoliberal economics, productivity gains were passed onto workers. Since the 1980s, those same productivity gains have gone to the top tier of earners. (Dyer presents stark statistics that show this erosion in worker pay packets, despite their contribution to the economy.)  Automation further threatens wages and jobs in the future.

So, according to Dyer, the reason for so much voter rage is simple: gross inequality, getting worse and worse over a long period. Furthermore, he demonstrates that political and economic elites have simply ignored this anger. Voters finally decided to trash this economic orthodoxy by voting Trump and Brexit.

How to restore the equilibrium? Dyer writes strongly in favour of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a modest, regular living wage paid to all. A UBI won’t be a silver bullet, but it will be a way of reducing inequality and giving people back their dignity.

Gwynne Dyer’s writing is always punchy and witty. His work as an historian and close watcher of global politics gives his insights an added piquancy. Growing Pains is an arresting book, free of ideological cant. It will appeal to readers wanting fresh eyes looking at an often over analysed problem.

Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work)
, by Gwynne Dyer. Published by Scribe. ISBN: 9781925322637 RRP: $29.99

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