Déclassé: Nothing New Under the Sun
Can we learn anything from past rounds of technological disruption and mass downward socio-economic mobility?
The strange political dynamic of 2016 in advanced Western democracies has suddenly put what most take to be a new issue on the table: how to deal with the political consequences of social change that expresses itself as a group or class phenomenon. Widespread agreement exists that the consequences of globalization, along with dramatic technical transformations, have deranged preexisting labor profiles, shattered communities, and made life uncertain and unpredictable for many even as it has been a boon to many others. This has, for certain classes of people on the losing end of globalization, created a great deal of anguished confusion, which often leads to fear, which, when harvested and directed by certain types of ego-driven political entrepreneurs, leads to hatred, which often enough leads to violence.
We know this pattern because there is nothing remotely new about there being political consequences to rapid social change. The only thing new in the current case seems to be the appalling historical ignorance of the elites relevant to the circumstance. These are people, after all, who typically think that rapid economic growth in what used to be called “undeveloped countries” or “the Third World,” and which are now thought of as “emerging markets,” simply and automatically promotes political stability and pluralism even in the absence of parallel maturing attitudes and institutions. Those nations “lucky” enough to have undergone such growth experienced a rather different outcome—the Shah’s Iran makes for a pretty good example.