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Monday, 29 August 2011

Rage of the youth is growing !

By Pankaj Mishra, Guardian News & Media Ltd

Even in the West there is little chance of stable jobs or affordable education. A secure and dignified life seems even more remote for most. Across the world, the rage will grow.

Supporters of Anna Hazare wave Indian flags and shout slogansImage Credit: AP
  • Supporters of Anna Hazare wave Indian flags and shout slogans during 12th day of Hazare's fast against corruption in New Delhi on Saturday.

In India, tens of thousands of middle-class people respond to a quasi-Gandhian activist's call for a second freedom struggle — this time, against the country's venal "brown masters", as one protester told the Wall Street Journal. Middle-class Israelis demanding "social justice" turn out for their country's first major demonstrations in years. In China, the state broadcaster CCTV unprecedentedly joins millions of cyber-critics in blaming a government that placed wealth creation above social welfare for the fatal high-speed train crash last month.

Add to this the uprisings against kleptocracies in Egypt and Tunisia, the street protests in Greece and Spain, and you are looking at a fresh political awakening. The grievances may be diversely phrased, but public anger derives from the same source: extreme and seemingly insurmountable inequality.

As Forbes magazine, that well-known socialist tool, describes it, protesters everywhere are driven by "the conviction that the power structure, corporate and government, work together to screw the broad middle class" (and the working class too, whose distress is not usually examined in Forbes).

For years now, the mantra of ‘econ-omic growth' justified government interventions on behalf of big business and investors with generous tax breaks (and, in the West, the rescue of criminally reckless speculators with massive bailouts). The fact that a few people get very rich while the majority remains poor seemed of little importance as long as the GDP figures looked impressive.

In heavily populated countries like India, even a small number of people moving into the middle class made for an awe-inspiring spectacle.

Helped by a ‘patriotic' corporate media, you could easily ignore the bad news — the suicides, for instance, of hundreds of thousands of farmers. However, the illusions of globalisation shattered when even its putative beneficiaries — the educated and aspiring classes — began to hurt from high inflation, decreasing access to education and other opportunities for upward mobility.

False promises

Economic growth is no defence against the frustration of the semi-empowered. The economies of both India and Israel have recorded dramatic growth in recent years. But inequality has also grown spectacularly. The Financial Times, which recently compared India's oligarchic business families to Russia's mafia-capitalists, pointed out two weeks ago that "the 10 largest business families in Israel own about 30 per cent of the stock market value" while one quarter of Israeli families live below the poverty line.

Last month the Indian supreme court blamed increasing social violence in the country on the "false promises of ever-increasing spirals of consumption leading to economic growth that will lift everyone".

Obviously it is not the supreme court's remit to define India's economic policies. Nor should Anna Hazare be entrusted with establishing the office of an anti-corruption ombudsman, a mission that amounts to nothing in a country littered with compromised and impotent institutions.

Still, they respond, however incoherently, to a crisis of legitimacy afflicting their country's highest institutions, and their supposed watchdog, the media.

In the last decade, billionaires, ‘billionaire-friendly' legislators and CEO-worshipping journalists have together constituted what the political economist Ha Joon Chang calls a "powerful propaganda machine, a financial-intellectual complex backed by money and power".

Nevertheless, the real facts about ‘economic growth' are getting through to those most vulnerable to it in both the east and the west: the young.

Denouncing "the corruption among politicians, businessmen and bankers" that leaves "us helpless, without a voice", the manifesto of the Spanish indignados could have been authored by the Indian supporters of Hazare.

Even as they export jobs and capital to Asia, economic globalisers in the West continue to preach the importance of upgrading skills at home. Yet the dead-end of globalisation looms clearly before Europe and America's youth: little chance of stable employment, or even affordable education.

The violence in European cities this year comes at the end of a long cycle of steady socio-economic growth. In postcolonial India and China this cycle had barely begun before it began to splutter. A secure and dignified life seems even more remote for most.

Worried by the prospect of social unrest, China's leaders frankly describe their nation's apparently booming economy as "unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and ultimately unsustainable".

The Chinese philosopher Zhang Junmai once wrote that an agrarian country has few ‘material demands' and can exist over a long period of time with ‘poverty but equality, scarcity but peace'. Returning to an austere age of wisely managed expectations is no longer possible — even if it was desirable. It remains to be seen what political forms this summer's unrest will take. But there is no doubt that many more people across a wide swathe of the world will awaken with rage to what Zhang warned against: "A condition of prosperity without equality, wealth without peace."

Pankaj Mishra's new book The Revenge of the East will be published next year