If we care to raise our eyes for a minute from a choice between sociopaths and the destructive determination of Remainers, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the abject failure of wealth to trickle down is hurtling towards a push v shove moment. The comfortable may vote Tory and the desperate Labour in the hope that this can be avoided, but it cannot. The squeezed middle may yet, in time, usher in an era of practical pragmatism as an alternative to ideology. But don’t hold your breath.
A litre of diesel in England costs £1.32, or thereabouts. In France, the price has crept up again to €1.48. The tolls driving from Calais to Aquitaine cost me a whopping €107, and the fuel €95. For the French in general (beyond the metropolitan citadans and bobos) this kind of tax-driven inflation isn’t funny: more than any other factor, it explains the rise of the Gilets Jaunes – neither Right nor Left, just fed up of tax injustice.
While all this is going on, meanwhile, both the eurozone and British banking systems are forging ahead with the dash from cash to smart digital payment. In both countries now, it is however obvious that the Squeezed Middle (to lower middle) folks are moving more and more into what one might call mild tax evasion – coughing up for the main income sources, while looking for new ways to “keep up” with real inflation. Such, of course, depends on being paid in cash.
The political, fiscal and financial classes may well already be aware of this tectonic clash waiting to happen, but if so they show zero awareness of it: a central plank in Boris Johnson’s leadership bid is to further reduce tax rates for the top earners, and here in France Macron is already gearing up his team for a re-election campaign basically along the lines of “more of the same”.
It isn’t just that the squeezed middle is a broad spectrum of the populous; it’s also that those artisans and odd-job people working sur le noir are also paying higher gas, electricity and travel prices too. A large sector of the ‘middle’ consists of baby-boomers pushing 70 who have more need than most for home services. When my tractor lawnmower was being repaired last month, I paid €180 to have the grass cut. Other suppliers charge more. I spent the winter before last in Goa because the flight (return) plus accommodation was less than the EDF electricity bill for October to February.
Over the last seven years in the US and Europe, there has been a massive shift to part time, short contract and zero-contract “jobs”. Politicians throughout both regions love to talk job stats on a purely quantitative basis, as if all jobs were equal. They aren’t, but the failure of most media news anchors to nail the heads of our “representatives” on this issue is truly pathetic: the idea that a married woman getting a beck-and-call limited hours job as a care home assistant on slave-wages is equal (in gdp terms) to the job-loss for a middle to senior marketing person being paid £70,000 a year is utterly ridiculous. As I have written before, while the suppliant liberal press make a song and dance about fake news, fake data is a far more important issue.
Not only are inflation rates manipulated downwards by the dishonest and unrepresentative choice of items in the ‘basket’ being used by statisticians, when it comes to “unemployment”, in 2019 it’s all down to how you define being jobless.
The OECD’s figures for the US, UK and EU in terms of ‘participation’ in the labour force show levels of such employment spookily similar at 73-78%. So calling it roughly three quarters, there is an enormous anomaly between those numbers and the officially stated “rate” of unemployment. Bear in mind that these figures are for 18-64 year olds, and so only a tiny proportion of the non-participants are retired on private pensions or post-tax acquired wealth.
The reason for the disparity is plain to see: in a leap of logic only possible if you are a bureaucrat, when the unemployment welfare period of entitlement comes to an end, those by law no longer receiving it are assumed to be back in employment. In the real world, unemployment rates recorded at 1 in 14 are closer to 1 in 6.
For those “reformers” in the West busy privatising, bourse-developing and quantitatively easing, everything in the garden looks just fine. But those citizens (say) retired on a level of capital paying close to no return thanks to Zirp, or unemployed with little access to welfare, or employed but working unsocial hours on very low pay, or loosely self-employed with little or no security, are in bad enough shape already.
The hope of Powers that Be looking for a way out of their neoliberal dilemma is that those social groups will (a) continue to consume and (b) pay their taxes, at the levels required. This seems hardly likely: and when the black economy has been blocked off thanks to smart plastic being the only legal form of payment, such will be absolutely impossible. “Aha,” they smile, “That’s OK, we just press a button and sequester their bank funds”. This ever so slightly misses the point: chances are, there won’t be any money in the account, given that they’re mired in plastic debt.
‘Piggy in the middle’ was a kids’ playground game in the 1950s. Today, the pigs are on either side, squeezing the middle….but the ‘squeezers’ come in multivariate forms: bankers and government treasuries, Remainers and Leavers, Alt States and political classes, global monopolists and artisan suppliers, durable manufacturers and energy combines, and in a less physical (but no less alienating) sense, neoliberal and collectivist ideologues. I have felt disenfranchised by this last group for the best part of forty years, and there are millions of voters like me.
One day not too far away, the alienated “middleish class” will no longer be happy permanently stuck between wealthy Left-liberals engaged in 24/7 pc virtue-signalling, and the ever more bombastic Right demanding that government pay more attention to the fears of ordinary people.
Making the political Executive slaves to the whims of The People is every bit as dangerous as letting the twin elements of the genuine fascist State (totalitarian ideology and monopolist business) drive a giant combine harvester through our freedoms. Both the governors and the governed have to take equal responsibility, dump fear of the unknown, share far more of the power available and behave in a manner conducive to the creation of a stable, fulfilled society – to the maximum degree possible, given the nature of the soi-disant species Homo sapiens.
In the meantime, the three regions are obsessed with Trump, Tory leadership farces, Macron, Brexit and Italy. These remain what they’ve always been: symptoms of a disconnection between citizenry and élite. More and more, I sense the need for a pressure group comprising a unity of youth, the retired, the impoverished and the deprived. But culturally and historically, the timing is wrong: there are too many people looking in vain for extreme solutions and genuine Messiahs.