The political establishment has failed to rally the people against the wide spreading non-inclusiveness. This explains the need for a rallying new ideology
First, let us consider the situation the world over after the two World Wars. The world was polarised between the winners and the losers from the wars. Society was still steeped in feudal practices: orders came from the few at the top which “knew better” how to roll out economic, social and political power – mostly, to their own advantage. That included dictating to the rest, through appropriate social institutions, what their “good” moral and social conduct should be.
Many were left under this system to lead wretched lives until death – including in “advanced” societies — and poverty was their lifetime lot. There were the few rich countries, on the one side, the political establishments of which laid down the rules for others to abide by and a whole lot of “under-developed” others across the world, on the other side. The uneven scales made the latter subservient to the economic and other interests of the former.
It is the context that gave rise to new political ideologies in the post world-war period. A generation of new politicians came on stage in both developed and “under-developed” countries. They claimed that this was a totally unfair system. They held the view that a fairer society was what was needed and that the fruit of efforts should be more widely shared – social welfarism. The State was to be a fair arbiter for a fairer sharing of welfare benefits among the population.
Political parties espoused this new ideology in both developed and developing countries. With one-man-one-vote coming into the election system, a concrete shape was given to the new aspirations. Many who would have otherwise lived a life of deprivation, were thus given access to universal health, education, public security and economic support of all kinds to be able to rise out from their unending cycles of poverty.
Need for political ideology
Had this new political ideology not emerged and brought social convergence and consensus about the way forward, the kind of social and economic uplift we’ve seen over the past seven decades would not have been realized. It is the foundation on which those of the current generation look forward to better lives, greater achievements than the past generation and, above all, a feeling of personal fulfilment.
The ideology was translated concretely by transforming for the better people’s day-to-day life because it was endorsed by politicians of a past generation who could see beyond their private well-being and the primordiality of what is called the “public interest”. They sacrificed much to produce a more caring society for the mass of humanity, country after country. There was strong collective fervour in their following which trusted the politicians’ good faith. This unstinting support from the masses enabled them to overcome enduring resistance from the conservative right.
Need for a revamp of ideology
It would be a serious mistake to think that Mauritius did not face stiff opposition in driving the new political agenda for liberating and uplifting the standard of living of the mass of the population. The ideology to foster public welfare was difficult to drive up. Persistent efforts to push it through proved to be the launching pad for important social and economic reforms, making for a more even level playing field in society eventually.
Even so, new forces have emerged on the social and economic fronts. Increasingly less deep-thinking publicly committed politicians have come on stage with the passage of time. The external environment has also changed and keeps changing, challenging the pursuit of the all-inclusive agenda. Individualism has gained the upper hand at the level of social leadership: political establishments and public institutions have increasingly fallen prey to self-interested pursuits of their leaderships.
The effect has been to undermine public trust. Not a day goes by without challenging whatever remains of public political authority. The most insignificant occurrences are played out almost daily in the media as if we were headed for impending disaster. The public is incensed to weaken an already weak public leadership that has been quickly wasting its goodwill.
On the other hand, global forces have been impacting on our well-being. There began at the global level an era of liberalisation as from the 1980s. Many countries – including Mauritius – took advantage of the opening up of markets to expand their economic reachout. Poverty got reduced in the wake of the ensuing prosperity in numerous countries. Joblessness, which had kept people down despite the welfare state in the period before, became less of a pain, as individual economies integrated more closely with each other creating additional job opportunities.
A regressive move
In Mauritius, the decision was taken, in the wake of this success, to bring down to a flat 15% the income tax rate on individuals and corporations in the late 1990s. The practice has been carried forward from one government to the next. The burden of lower direct tax collection was shifted to the Sales/Value Added Tax. This was a regressive move: everyone, rich and poor, has to pay the same amount of tax on an expense. Today, this tax accounts for 85% of total tax revenue from nil in 1982. The capital gains tax was abolished. Interest income was taken in for taxation (withdrawn later under pressure) while dividends were exempt. Critical shareholding is concentrated in few hands in large conglomerates: it is the one to whom huge dividends are paid by large corporates.
Thus, the axe has fallen on consumers and savers and much less so on owners of capital. It is the reason why fiscal repression is being felt more sharply by those lower down. It explains the faint complaints aired recently by interest earners affected when financial institutions reduced the interest they pay on deposits after the Bank of Mauritius decided on 8th September to bring down its Key Repo Rate by half of one percent, sending interest paid on deposits tumbling down to below 2% pa.
The general feeling has been one of sustained curtailment of the political ideology that once inspired leaders to lift up the masses. What is even worse is the gathering feeling of political alienation – not only in Mauritius – in the most advanced countries as inequalities of wealth and incomes keep getting more entrenched than ever. As a result, political and social divides have been asserting themselves in many places, the latest being seen in the results of German elections of Sunday last.
Yet, the lack of social and economic inclusiveness has been providing political leaders ample ground for developing a new consensus around another ideology for at least the past three and a half decades since the 1980s – an extension of the social welfare ideology for greater inclusiveness.
Not only have people felt increasingly excluded. Bigger private monopolies, aided by information technology, have increased their grip on the economy over the past 30 years, earning super-normal profits while keeping wages down. They have been cornering off an ever-larger share of national income and wealth. As if that were not enough, they are now bent on employing robotics and things like artificial intelligence to cut off jobs in the expectation to make even more profits.
It seems that, caught up by its own individualistic contradictions and fight for private survival, the political establishment has no fitting repartee against all this. It has failed to rally the people against this wide spreading non-inclusiveness, in fact, social alienation. This explains the want of emergence of a much-needed rallying new political ideology.