Steve Hilton: Why I believe we need a positive populist revolution

If you take inflation into account, in 1972 the average American worker earned $738.86 a week. In 2016, the figure was $723.67 a week. Forty-four years and a pay cut of 2 percent. That shocking fact alone explains why we need a revolution. The institutions and policies that shape today’s economy, society and government overwhelmingly benefit those at the top—not just the famous “1 percent” but more like the top 20 percent. Working Americans have been left out of the many great advances made by this elite in the last few decades, and the ladder into the elite is mostly broken. This state of affairs—intimately linked to the transformative trends of our time, globalization and technology—is not inevitable or something outside our control, like the weather, but is instead the result of deliberate policy choices made by the elite who benefit from them. Those policy choices are an ideology in their own right, shared by a ruling class of Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, and we can describe that ideology as elitism. Elitism’s defining characteristic, and the central reason for its failure, is the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of the few, not the many. That’s why we need a specifically populist revolution. The result of the 2016 presidential election and Great Britain’s “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union five months before were the first tangible signs that such a revolution may be possible. In both cases, members of the ruling class—in all mainstream political parties, in business, in academia, in the bureaucracy, and in the media were united on one side; yet voters chose the other. The shell-shocked elites really should have seen it coming. Over the past few decades, anonymous technocrats, bureaucrats, and corporate apparatchiks built a governing axis between Big Government and Big Business. In turn, politicians—buoyed by donors, charmed by lobbyists, and courted by the media in exclusive watering holes like Davos, Brussels, and Washington—forged a bipartisan consensus backing globalization, automation, centralization, and uncontrolled immigration. Power shifted from people to unelected overlords and moved from nation-states to international bodies like the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, and the EU. In the economy, the rich got richer and working people saw their incomes go down and their jobs go away. Meanwhile, in our society, the human ties of family and community that bring us together were ripped apart, with nothing but arid techno-commercialism to take their place. Yet for decades, the elites have promised working people everything: higher wages, bigger homes, better education for their children, affordable health care, and a strong national defense. You’ll do better than your parents, they’ve promised, and your children will do better than you. And the elite have fulfilled those promises—for themselves. They’ve built their children glorious schools, created the best health care system in the world for their parents, and watched their wages and wealth climb without limit. But did they notice that in recent decades, for most people—around 80 percent of people—those promises were not delivered? Did they stop to listen, to observe, to take in the criticism? To perhaps slow down the growth of their bureaucracies, or halt the creeping centralization of power into their hands? No. They held on, no matter what. So there are good reasons for the rage at today’s establishment: insecurity in the present, anxiety about the future, and impatience for change. It adds up to a whole lot of anger. But anger without an agenda leads to self-pity and further frustration. In the meantime, populism has been defined by the people who don’t believe in it. It has been characterized by elites on the left as “nativist,” even “racist”; by elites on the right as “unconservative” or “anti-capitalist.” That’s why the populist revolution needs to be fashioned into a coherent and positive political philosophy, one that understands and respects today’s anti-elite sentiment but channels it away from any dark ends toward constructive and lasting transformation of our economy, society and government.

Sounds compelling!  For more from author, and former advisor to British Prime Minister David Cameron, Steve Hilton, click on the text above.

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