By Norman A. Bailey
Thursday, September 15th, 2016 @ 7:01PM
Not nearly enough attention is being paid to a social phenomenon that is sweeping through Europe and the US. Great swaths of the population are becoming, or more accurately have already become totally alienated from the political, economic and social structures of the societies to which they belong. Furthermore, they know whom to blame – namely the political and economic elites of those countries, who they see as being not just part of the problem, but the cause of the problem.
According to those tens of millions of citizens, the economic elite, or the one percent (as it is often referred to in the US) is responsible for the most extreme concentration of wealth seen since the Middle Ages, leaving much of the rest of the populations falling into an economic sinkhole symbolized by the millions of American men of working age who are no longer even looking for work (making a mockery of the unemployment statistics) and the unemployment figures of European countries such as Greece and Spain.The political elite is seen as controlled by of the economic elite and as entirely uninterested in addressing the legitimate concerns of the enraged citizenry. Indeed, often working directly contrary to their interests, as exemplified by the reaction of the German government to the “refugee” invasion from the Middle East, not only welcoming hundreds of thousands of people totally uninterested in integrating into Western society but who will be competing for the few jobs available.Zero and negative interest rates, which impoverish the savers; liquidity tsunamis such as quantitative easing (QE), which float essentially insolvent banking systems at the expense of everyone else; degradation of the middle and working classes, the collapse of educational standards. These and other triggers of the rage, fear, envy and resentment felt by millions of ordinary citizens are what have given rise to such phenomena as Brexit, Trump, Sanders, the National Front in France, Merkel losing the election in her home state, and so on and on; only to be compared to the social anomie which enveloped Europe in the 1920s and early 1930s, which should be reflected in a very loud danger signal.
The economic one percent doesn’t want to do anything about it because it benefits from it. And the political elite, even that portion not bought and paid for by the economic elite, has not the slightest clue of what to do about it.
What of Israel? Recently, at a meeting of a discussion group in which I participate, one of the participants asked whether Israel is or might be subject to the same phenomenon of social anomie and estrangement on the part of a substantial portion of Israeli society.
The answer, in my view, is that it is unlikely, as long as the economic situation is strong. Unlike Europe and the US, Israel passed through the Great Recession starting in 2008 without a scratch. Unemployment is at a record low and median per capita income at a record high. Markets being lost because of economic stagnation in Europe are being successfully replaced, particularly by new markets in Asia. Development of natural gas reserves is adding significantly to national wealth. Certain segments of the population of Israel are alienated, but those segments have always been alienated, and in fact, their alienation is steadily, if slowly, declining.
So no, unless the economic situation deteriorates significantly, and there is no reason why it should in the immediate future, the “rage, fear, envy and resentment” phenomenon should not take hold in Israel. Nevertheless, its spread elsewhere cannot be ignored, if only because it is likely to increase the already growing anti-Israel sentiment, often a cover for antisemitism, in the West.
Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Professor of Economics and National Security, The National Security Studies Center, University of Haifa, and Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft, The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC. He was formerly with the US National Security Council and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
* Published by Globes [online], on September 15, 2016