Society is badly in need of leaders who can really lead and transform for a sustainable future, not those paying
lip-service, being high in rhetoric but low in delivery
The world over the prevailing reality is changing. For various reasons, people are up in arms against the established system. They are rejecting a system which has, amongst others, permitted the wealth of the top 1% to be greater than the combined wealth of all the rest of the world. They are against a system which has made more vulnerable the worst off masses of the people.
Who are these 1%? They are dictators of countries and their cronies, the owners and upper executive crust of global companies and large businesses in developed and developing countries alike, army generals in certain cases, the benders of rules in society. The general feeling is that the resulting self-perpetuating unequal system appears to be going on accentuating disparities in favour of the few against the interests and welfare of the many. It has to be stopped by any means.
What was perceived as the unacceptable disparity of riches and opportunities between developed and developing countries is now seen to be affecting vast swaths of population within single countries, rich and not so rich, just as sharply. People everywhere are withdrawing from what looks like a lack of global purpose and direction to the detriment of the many.
Enter the Anarchists
It is what is motivating the current anti-globalisation action. People feel left behind by decision-makers caught in the grip of the more influential participants in the system (e.g., big corporations). The latter not only circumvent existing laws and rules (getting bailouts when they occasion financial disruption, lack of pre-emptive official action disciplining them for contravening and/or putting everybody else’s job at risk) when it suits their private self-enriching purpose. People also feel that the political leaders have acquiescingly and for too long quietly allowed the privileged few in the elite to “create” their own rules and boundaries for private benefit. At the cost of everybody else.
This is why the recently inaugurated American President has, among his first acts after taking office last week, signed an order putting his country out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement of his predecessor. It gives his constituents the assurance that he is dealing with abusers of the system.
He said in the same breath that 75% of existing regulations need to be scrapped, which strangely echoes Brexiters’ rejection of rule-making Brussels. The US President’s journey on the path of destroying the established order sends the kind of signals people have long been expecting from their past leaders held captive by and tolerating outright abuse from the high and mighty of the land.
Donald Trump’s outlandish style may look like purposeless anarchism to his critics. But it is anarchists of his type that his people – nearly half the voters in the recent election — have been looking for. What does it matter if he doesn’t deliver in the end? They don’t care. Their concern is their immediate bread-and-butter issues. Why should they be confounding Vladimir Putin and comforting America’s position in the world? They are fed up with the way things have been going on, with little hope of better tomorrows for themselves.
They may not be great pundits in forecasting but they have the gut feeling that things like robotics and artificial intelligence are condemning them to even more joblessness without their leaders worrying to adapt them to the changing work environment. And they are right. The leaders plead that “market forces” will pick them up eventually and that they should adapt to all that’s happening in the work environment. The peoples’ concerns are real. They bear the brunt of leaders’ passivity in the face of the great social disruptions visiting upon them.
Stop it before it is too late
We do not know where and how this kind of furious opposition to the established order might end up. People feel left out of the essential social contract between them and their leaders. Trade unions that used to solidly unite them in the past have, in the wake of a spate of flexible labour laws introduced by politicians, all but dissolved this powerful dissenting voice which used to act as a safety valve and a brake against excesses before it was too late.
Ultraliberal economic policies have taken away affected peoples’ bread-earning capacities in the name of so-called “efficiency”, even before they’ve been given some form of respite when assailed out of their basic food and lodgings by the operation of blind market rules. But the problem is not merely of an economic nature. It is fundamentally a leadership problem. The leadership has failed to rise to the occasion, choosing to abandon them for the sake of “correctness”.
People are increasingly holding the view that conventional leaders are so much concerned with themselves, their kith and kin, their close friends and allies, that they cannot be trusted when it comes to delivering on their broader social contract. In the face of the seemingly unending economic and social disruption since the financial crisis of 2007-08, severely afflicted people have formed the view that leaders have no clue how to set a better and more inclusive balanced course for the future. In this perception of things, non-economic interests of the people are as important as, if not more than, economic ones. This is seen in the rise of the ‘Alt-Right’.
The grassroots putting their trust in iconoclasts is no doubt a perilous choice. Throwing all caution to the winds, they are prepared to pick up anyone else to lead them than those from the existing fold, however immature and foolishly iconoclastic they be. That can end up in disaster for everyone. It might become too costly to do the repairs once untold havoc has been wrought by immature leaders who will be gone from the scene by then.
To bring the grassroots back under sober control, a new breed of leaders needs to emerge. They should show more compassion towards their fellows than what we’ve seen so far, not replicas of what we’ve seen. The wild beast of unfettered market forces needs to be tamed by them, adopting a zero-tolerance against self-seeking abusers and wrongdoers flouting the rules and holding political leaders hostage to their private benefits at public expense.
Uncontrolled passions which have been taking hold of voters may cool off with the emergence of a new leadership – more committed, balanced and poised to the longer-term in the interest of the large majority at the bottom. Restoration of another class of politicians having an entrenched and sincere interest in the general welfare rather than in the particular interests of a privileged few will possibly bring back to order a situation threatening to disruptively get out of hands.
More than ever before, what’s needed are leaders who are convincing that they prioritize the long term and the well-being of the people more than their own. It would be a shame to admit that wise politicians as of old who were prepared to sacrifice all they had, including their own lives, for the sake of supporting a social cause they believed in at heart, are today an extinct species. Society is badly in need of leaders who can really lead and transform for a sustainable future, not those paying lip-service, being high in rhetoric but low in delivery.
The time has come for society, government, institutions, business and capital to put together a more constructive and balanced platform to work for inclusive development, now and in the future. At the risk of losing it all.
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