Since the Second World War many societies have had a contract of fairness. Somewhere in the 1980s that contract began to be broken, and we are now paying a heavy price for that break.
In the 1960s almost 80% of citizens trusted government in the US, while over 60% thought government “is run for the benefit of all.” By 2015, only 20% believed that government was fair or could be trusted. The decline in trust directly correlates with the decline in the sense of fairness.
In the 1990s, average CEO pay rose in the US by 535%. The pay of ordinary workers rose by 32%. It got worse in the 2000s. In an increasing number of countries, the middle class is becoming the new working class, and the working class is becoming the working poor. This is the gift to the world of Silicon Valley and Wall Street.
The titans of the elite scoff and say: “Life isn’t fair. Get over it.” And, of course, you know what the people’s response is: “If we can’t change the system, we’ll wreck the system.” Less than 100 titans own as much wealth as the bottom 4 billion humans on this earth. Every year, wealth and power becomes more and more concentrated. This is neither fair nor sustainable.
Fairness is a cornerstone of civilization. Human societies thrived when they adopted principles of fairness. In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins wrote about how the optimal environment for growth and long-term sustainability involved a Grudger Principle. The Grudger will cooperate and collaborate, but it they feel they have not been treated fairly they will punish the offender in whatever way they can. Sometimes they will punish the offender even though they know the punishment will have a severe cost to themselves.
We are entering into a period where less and less people have faith, loyalty and trust. Less and less people believe in the system, in the word of the expert, the elite. This is a recipe for tremendous turbulence and all sorts of extremes.
I read an article a while back about someone visiting Uber’s offices in London. Inside was Silicon Valley casual and cool, with a comfortable reception for guests. The visitor happened to look out the window. It was raining. Snaking around a side street was a line of taxi drivers waiting to sign on for Uber.
On its website, Uber states that “millions of people in the United States earn money by driving,” while encouraging you to become an Uber driver. At the same time, Uber is enthusiastically testing automated cars and trucks that will ensure that millions of people’s livelihoods will be run over by the inevitable wheel of progress.
This whole Digital thing. It’s made the world better, hasn’t it? Then why are so many families struggling to pay the mortgage, and send their kids to college? And these kids are coming into a work world where there is less job security and lower wages than what was offered to their parents.
We have social progress in the sense of that people have never had more tools to connect with and organize with their friends and peers. When you combine that with economic regression and a belief that the system is built by the elite for the elite, well, that’s the best possible recipe for ferment and revolution.