We are living in strange times. With a record number of billionaires joining the economy, a rising stock market and surging house prices, wealth is seemingly all around us. Acquiring it though is a distant dream for the vast majority of people in America and around the world. As the rich continue to amass the vast majority of the planet’s wealth, the rest of us are facing stagnant wages, rising costs, and more and more debt.
The tech revolution that was supposed to deliver us the ‘smart economy’ is doing little more than wrecking industries that provided stable jobs, and replacing it with a ‘1099 economy’ where freelancers work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Take Uber, the poster child for this economy. The citizen taxi startup has only 2,000 employees and 160,000 contractors – a truly amazing ratio of 80 to 1. The contract model may be justifiable for a small business, but Uber is now worth over $50 billion and can well afford to give benefits to those who work full time for them.
The nationwide statistics are more troubling: an estimated 34 percent of American workers are currently freelancers or independent contractors, with the number set to rise to 40 percent by 2020. Given freelancers and contractors rarely have benefits and don’t get compensated when they are sick, this means 40% of the economy will exist in a perpetual state of anxiety, never knowing where the next pay check is coming from and hoping they can rent their labor out in an ever widening pool of competition. And it’s not like the rest of the job market is much better, with stagnant wages and mass migration of American jobs to China, the workforce will have to do much more for much less just to keep hold of whatever benefits they have.
The bizarre dystopia created by the mega rich for the mega rich is distinctly anti-human, yet we tolerate it as an inevitability. We seem resigned to our existence as cogs in the ever grinding wheel of corporate capitalism, never daring to believe another model is possible. There is little faith that our political institutions can do anything to change this never ending slide into serfdom, and for good reason. Over the past 40 years, the government has become little more than a mechanism by which corporations consolidate their control over the country. In Britain, a slightly less extreme version of the American corporate capitalist ideal, the conservative government is busy transferring whatever is left of the state’s infrastructure to their fellow elites. Writes Frankie Boyle in the Guardian:
He [David Cameron] is a sort of bored viceroy engaged in the handover of power from government to corporations. He has a detailed idea of what life will be like 10 years down the line, when sovereignty is subordinated to corporate courts. He probably feels that, in context, we are churlish to get upset at this colourful, Lannisterish little government he has got together for the handover
This handover was sanctioned with little protest from the UK population who were hoodwinked by the major papers into believing the Labour Party wanted to turn Britain into a Stalinist communist haven. Articles like this ran routinely, and in mainstream papers:
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader had only wanted to cut university tuition fees from £9000 to £6000, build some new homes to ease the nation’s housing shortage crisis, and stop landlords pillaging tenants by implementing some limited rent control. Not exactly a North Korean style command economy. The media’s reaction is a perfect example of how power reacts to anyone who dares to challenge it, and in truth, Miliband got far further than he should have.
In America, a politician like Miliband could never break through to the upper echelons of political power. Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders is making waves with a swell of grass roots support from an active minority in the run up to the 2016 election, but he is yet to face the crushing force of the Clinton Machine, and does not stand a hope in hell of reaching the general election. Even if he did, mass corporate mobilization would ensure Sanders could not get anywhere near the White House. In 2004, the fairly left wing Howard Dean’s election was railroaded after he celebrated too loudly after a speech and the media declared him ‘unpresidential’.
It is unclear whether there are any good strategies to dent the unyielding march towards complete corporate hegemony as our political system does not offer one. But we can be sure that one will emerge, because there will come a point when the population simply won’t accept living in a society where they can no longer afford to live.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.