2013 has been a year of protests across the globe. Most recently, as I am sure most of us are aware, protests have erupted in both Thailand and Ukraine.
In Thailand, protesters have been calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in order to end the influence her billionaire family have on government. Similarly, in Ukraine protesters (about 300, 000) have been calling for the resignation of their President, Viktor Yanukovvch, after his decision to back away from a landmark trade deal with the European Union. It has been the largest uprising in Ukraine since the 2004 Orange Revolution.
But that’s not all. In Egypt there have been demonstrations at universities across the country after its ruling military regime passed a controversial law banning protests without police approval. In Sri Lanka farmers took to the streets of the nation’s capital in protest against the government’s 2014 budget. And in the United States around 100 people protested outside a Wal-Mart in Colorado calling for better treatment of its workers. One sign read: “Wall-Mart is killing the middle class”. This all in just one week.
Some people may interpret this rise in protests and civil disobedience as simple coincidence. Chaos. Disconnected and separate. Yet as I write these very words, two articles pop up on my computer screen. One of them is a report from the Independent headed: ‘Food poverty in the UK has reached level of public health emergency’. Another, and perhaps the nail in the coffin, came from Sky News – ‘Top Earners Net 35% Rise: Regulators reveal that soaring numbers of bankers in London are earning big bucks’.
These protests are no coincidence. The 2008 global economic crisis, coupled with austerity and the public sector cuts, has led to the longest decline in living standards since the nineteenth century. Neoliberalism has spread across world – under the guise of ‘globalisation’ – and supposedly brought prosperity and development along with it. It wasn’t long ago that Thailand was championed as a shining example of the so-called ‘benefits’ of free markets and global neoliberalism in Southeast Asia. Now the urban middle class of Bangkok, increasingly frustrated by the overwhelming influence big money has on government, have taken to the streets in protest. Even in the States the middle classes are feeling the heat as corporate powers continue to strangle government and dilute democracy.
I hate to shatter the dreams of any budding young capitalist, but neoliberalism just hasn’t made good on its promises. The ‘everyone can get a slice of the cake’ mantra, marketed by neoliberals and top economists for decades, has been revealed to be what it was right from the get-go: a barefaced lie. We’ve been duped. What’s more, some are even attempting to defend these gross levels of economic inequality. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, appeared to link high IQ’s with wealth earlier in the month: the top 1-2% are apparently more intelligent than us and this accounts for their vast material riches. Of course, that must be it. We’re all just not smart enough to get a ‘slice of the cake’. Johnson sounds like a Victorian-era Tory – ‘deserving poor’ and all that.
Ultimately, what are we witnessing around the world – and what lies at the heart of these protests – is a fundamental reaction against neoliberalism. In the words of Professor David Harvey, during its emergence under Thatcher and Reagan, neoliberalism was essentially a “class project” designed to endow elites with greater economic power. As a result, the interests of a privileged minority have taken precedence over the interests of normal people. Readers, the reality is as long as neoliberalism continues to dominate economic theory and government policy then the prospects of real change are slim. …Who wouldn’t want to protest against that?