Much is being made of the angry white men of America, men who have lost jobs, lost wives, and have lost hope. That lost hope has been replaced with anger – anger at women, at minorities, at immigrants and politicians. It’s a troubling and complicated situation, and a dangerous one as well; America’s gun fetish does not combine well with anger.
It’s complicated due to a variety of causes, some entirely new and others quite old. Of the new causes, our technological age is first and foremost. The speed with which information is delivered to hundreds of millions has never been faster and has rendered newspapers and print media all but obsolete when it comes to providing up-to-date content. Hundreds of millions of people are now connected via smart phones to Twitter, Facebook and the web; news now travels at nearly the speed of light. This has also meant that it’s as easy for someone in India to provide customer support as it is for someone across town.
Older causes have to do with the way business is conducted, and the nature of capitalism. Capitalism is now well over three-hundred years old, and it’s basis of operation is essentially unchanged, namely exploiting resources and labor at the lowest possible cost in order to maximize the return on investment for shareholders. This was as true for the global cotton-trade in the 18th century as it is for the garment industry in the 21st.
The 18th-century Industrial Revolution provided a template for today’s economy; most of the ills of our labor market are following a trajectory established by the rise of mechanization long ago. Then, as now, industrialization through capital intensive business ventures changed the lives of millions; what had been an agrarian, land-based society became an industrial, capital-based society. Labor, land and money became commodities to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. A world-wide slave-trade was perhaps the ugliest example of the commodification of human beings, but today’s labor market is in some ways no less brutal.
Until the latter part of the 20th Century, capitalism was restrained by nations and governments, but today’s multinational corporations move enormous capital around the globe via electronic money transfer, and have essentially escaped the bonds of any nation or government or workers’ union movement. Our world is ruled by corporatists who pay little regard to cultural heritage, tradition, local customs or ways of living. Corporations are by nature undemocratic; despite 500 years of social movement towards emancipation, corporatist power dictates policy solely on the basis of profit and loss, not humanitarian aspirations.
The angry white men of America feel betrayed, and they have been betrayed – by corporatist ethics, or rather the lack of them. In the race for higher profits, international corporatists have abandoned all but the pretense of regional loyalty and social concerns. Tellingly, solving these problems requires not less regulation by government, but more. Corporatist money must be removed from politics entirely, and tax rates on large corporations increased, not lowered.
Loose talk of revolution now crosses the airwaves, an indication of just how angry and frustrated people have become. Unfortunately, in their misguided understanding of the causes of their problems, our angry white men are huddling together to attack the wrong target. It is 21st century capitalism which must be brought to heel, not democracy.