A decade ago, while working with a newspaper group where our small team managed three brands, we had an interesting situation. One of the brands, a vernacular broadsheet, was at an advanced stage in its lifecycle where it had to be made relevant and exciting for a newer set of readers who were native to the region. Another brand, an English compact daily (we didn’t like to be called a tabloid!), was an absolute newbie aimed at what could broadly be called an ‘immigrant’ audience. This was made interesting because research showed that the ‘triggers’ for the two sets of readers were quite at odds with each other. To elaborate, but without nuances, the positioning of the vernacular brand would be around showcasing pride in local language and culture, laced with jingoism, and that of the English brand would be around a cosmopolitan outlook. Holding both these diametrically different ideologies and doing justice to both was quite an exciting experience.
That nostalgia bout was triggered because I’m increasingly seeing this friction between different parts of the population escalate. A certain angst that seems to flare up on various seemingly unconnected issues. So here’s a thought. I am not really a Javed Akhtar fan, and a lot of people dissed him when he connected the Bangalore New Year molestation incident to social segregation and economic divide, but I strongly believe that many of the horrors we witness today – from terrorism to road rage – have economic disparity at its heart. I had written about this in the context of our convenience attitude towards injustice during the Nirbhaya incident. To note, this is not a right-wrong commentary, because I also strongly believe that moral objectivity is an oxymoron.
It made me think – beyond the societal implications, what could this angst led behaviour lead us to? Let me share a line of thought I had by connecting a few articles I read recently. First, this insightful perspective on Free Trade and Protectionism. To quote, “An enduring problem for the undoubtedly very sound arguments in favour of free trade is that its costs have seldom been addressed with sufficient passion and ingenuity.” The costs here refer to the sectors of the economy which are disadvantaged and the financial and moral dignity of the individuals who suffer. What happens as a result? A very well written Bloomberg article that illustrated The New Face of American Unemployment offers one answer. It showed the new, complex ways in which people are getting locked out of the labour force. A large amount of these people are the previously (relatively) affluent middle class. The entire America First rhetoric promising more jobs is a shrewd response to this. What next?
In Rishad’s superb summing up of the Davos event, his first point was the influence of middle class populism in Western politics. My only disagreement is that it isn’t just the west. I’d say that Modi’s rise in India is populism fuelled by both economics and religion. And finally, Umair Haque’s “World War Zero : Is the world preparing for war?“, in which he writes about those have been ‘economically abandoned’, and the resultant ‘social fracture’. You might disagree on the degree of his pessimism, but I, for one, cannot but nod my head in agreement when he says that we can see the rage pouring out everywhere if we care to look. And as he rightly states, it’s a rage with nowhere to go. Our privilege makes it difficult to understand the bitterness of this impotence as it robs agency from individuals and strips them of their dignity. What do they do? They lash out at any target they can find, no logic applies. It is a statement by the dispossessed with very little to lose. It’s also a warning.
Might be Hollywood, but that shouldn’t take away from the aptness of this quote from The Dark Knight Rises –
P.S. A bonus read – Schumpeter on Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. Written in 1942, and amazingly insightful when applied to the current era!