The Rise of the Precariat
It was a nightmare for many liberals – both in the US and worldwide – to see a controversial figure like Donald Trump win the presidential election and put at the helm of the strongest country on earth1. Despite the barrage of mudslinging exercises concocted by the mainstream media on the eve of the presidential race, President-elect Trump prevailed and caused a massive upset by clinching the crucial votes from the American public: the middle and working class of the Rustbelt states – the hub for which America was known to be a great industrial and manufacturing nation.2
Many pollsters and political analysts got it wrong, but the signs had already been on the horizon for years pointing to the potential social upheaval that led to Trump’s winning. If we could profile the voters, how would we best describe them? Maybe the answer lies in the new social class called the “precariat”.
What and who are the precariat?
In the words of the British economist, Professor Guy Standing, “precariat” - derived from the word precarious – is a newly emerging class in the workforce that experiences constant deprivation, anger, anxiety, and alienation in their work. It has three important labour dimensions that define such qualities: relations of production, distribution, and the state.3
In terms of their relation to production, the precariat is in a state of unstable labour ranging from flexible contracts, casual jobs, freelance, part-time to having intermittent employment. All these relations yield insecure occupational identity and unclear narrative with regards to their career.
From the viewpoint of distribution relations, the precariat relies solely on money wages devoid of pensions, retrenchment, and medical benefits. They also lose what the proletariat usually possessed: the rights-based state benefits based on the welfare model. As wages stagnate, the precariat would normally resort to borrowing money from the banks or any other informal financial institutions in to continue living. Such desperation only deepens their problem and exacerbates social inequality further.
With regard to the precariat’s state relation, their mode of living is akin to denizens rather than citizens bearing clear civil, cultural, political, social and economic rights. In fact, according to Professor Standing, they are fast becoming supplicants to the state in asking for benefits or services rendered by the bureaucrats.
What separates them from the ordinary working class called the proletariat is that the precariat usually has more education than their job requires. They are meant to do something related to their knowledge and skills acquired from their educational endeavor, but end up flipping burgers in a fast food outlet or becoming informal labour in the gig economy, e.g. driving Uber. 4
The precariat and the anti-globalization political tsunami
It is safe to assume that those who voted for Trump and Brexit are largely from the precariat class. They have conservative values in a sense of yearning for the good old days when their countries once prospered with stable jobs and state welfare that are now fast disappearing due to offshoring of jobs and increasing number of immigrants competing in the job market.
For example, in the US, The Economist reported that the negative impacts of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on American labours are plain to see: between 1999 and 2011, America lost, in net terms, about 6 million manufacturing jobs. 5 Compounded further with the ascension of China onto the global trade arena after becoming a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), research done by David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson concluded that up to 2.4 million jobs in America may have been lost – either directly or not – due to cheaper imports from China.6
All these workers who have lost their jobs due to the factors above form the bulk of the Rustbelt voters whose views resonated with Trump’s clarion call to make America great again by bringing jobs back to these former American industrial heartlands.
The younger ones among the precariat might have different values than the Rustbelt precariat of Trump, but their support for Bernie Sanders, who lost to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party presidential primaries, indicated a similar precariousness with regards to labour and economic issues. 7
One of the greatest concerns among the younger precariat is student loans. According to the US’ official statistics, almost 40 million Americans hold student loans, which amount in total to $1.2 trillion. This is the second-highest level of consumer debt after mortgages.
The Occupy Movement that emerged in 2011 was fueled by such resentment from the younger precariat who demand greater accountability and fairer wealth distribution. The movement claimed to represent the 99% of people in their protest against the 1%, consisting of the Wall Street bankers and capitalists, who are usually blamed for the cyclical economic crisis, especially in the recent 2008 subprime debacle.
The Precariat and Bilderberg
The notion of precariat is not a mere academic discourse not is it an isolated phenomena occurring only in the West. Its presence among us has even turned the heads of the elites who rule and shape the direction of our global politics and economy.
The 64th Bilderberg Conference, an elite gathering of world leaders and corporate captains that was held in Dresden, Germany on June 9th-12th, 2016 placed the issue of ‘precariat and the middle class’ on the year’s meeting agenda. Dubbed by some as the ‘secret Davos’ due to the nature of its meeting shrouded in secrecy and exclusivity, the conference is a stark contrast to its more flamboyant and illustrious counterpart of the World Economic Forum.8
Bilderberg conference is known to address major issues that shape the undercurrent of international politics and economy. An annual meeting initiated in 1964 was designed to foster dialogue between Europe and North America by gathering national leaders, experts from industry, finance, academia and the media to partake in discussing major issues guided by the Chatham House Rule.9
The outcome of the conferences was not reported and only recently was a press release issued with regards to the conference agenda and its list of participants. With the precariat slated in this year Bilderberg agenda, the problem is now being duly acknowledged by the Bilderberg members consisting largely of the top 1% that wield massive influence in our world today.10
As the world economy remains sluggish and global wealth inequality worsens – as reported by Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report 201611 – the rise of precariat will no longer be confined to the Northern Hemisphere. Rather it will be contagious to other parts of the world, especially among the emerging market economies as their developmental model remain similar to those developed nations where the precariat first habituated.
It is high time for every government in Eurasia to pay closer attention to this emerging class, lest the political stability of the nation will be more precarious by each day just like the precariat whom, if not managed, will will be a political force to be reckoned with, as recently demonstrated in the US and Britain.
1 Zakaria, Fareed. From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America's World Role. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1998.
2 Brownstein, Ronald. “How the Rustbelt Paved Trump's Road to Victory”. The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/trumps-road-to-victory/507203/ (accessed January 1st 2017); As early as July 2016, Michael Moore, America’s documentary filmmaker renowned for his critical appraisal on America’s domestic and foreign policies had predicted Trump’s victory and outlined the rustbelt factor as one its main reasons, see Rosenmann, Alexandra. “Michael Moore Gives 5 Scary Reasons Why Trump Will Win”. Alternet. http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/michael-moores-5-reasons-why-trump-will-win (accessed January 1st 2017); see also Mellon, Steve. After the Smoke Clears: Struggling to Get by in Rustbelt America. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002.
3 Standing, Guy. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. p11-40.
4 Standing, The Precariat. p159. For an overview projection on the changing nature of work in the age of technological revolution especially automation and Big Data, refer also to Avent, Ryan. The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-First Century. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2016.
5 The Economist. “Free Trade in America: Open Argument”. The Economist. http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21695879-case-free-trade-overwhelming-losers-need-more-help-open-argument. (accessed 1st January 2017)
6 David, H., David Dorn, and Gordon H. Hanson. "The China syndrome: Local labor market effects of import competition in the United States." The American Economic Review 103, no. 6 (2013): 2121-2168.
7 The defeated Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as argued by many was the better candidate to go against Trump in winning the hearts and minds of the rustbelt voters due the nature and focus of Sanders’ campaign and long-time activism. See Gabatt, Adam. “Former Occupy Wall Street protesters rally around Bernie Sanders campaign”. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/17/occupy-wall-street-protesters-bernie-sanders. (accessed 1st January 2017).
8 From its official press release, the 64th Bilderberg meeting outlined “precariat and the middle class” as one of its discussion agenda. See Bilderberg, “Press Release”, Bilderbergmeeting.org.http://www.bilderbergmeetings.org/press-release.html (accessed 1st January 2017)
9 For a scholarly treatment of Bilderberg, see Richardson, Ian, Andrew Kakabadse, and Nada Kakabadse. Bilderberg People: Elite Power and Consensus in World Affairs. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2011.
10 See Jeffers, H P. The Bilderberg Conspiracy: Inside the World's Most Powerful Secret Society. New York: Citadel Press, 2009. Estulin, Daniel. The True Story of the Bilderberg Group. Walterville, OR: TrineDay, 2009.
11 Suisse, Credit. Global Wealth Report 2016. Zurich, Switzerland: Credit Suisse AG, Research Institute, 2016.