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The politics of anger

The politics of anger

The question:

Growth increases the disparity between those that are relatively successful and those which are not. Intense competition, technology and the importance of trust all amplify this, both at the level of the individual and the nation state.

Poor nations that can harness their low labour costs get richer, but the poor in them often do not, or do not do so for a considerable period, during which the conditions of life become worse. many emergent economies offer their citizens unpleasant lives of drudgery, and conditions are ripe for mass unionisation.

In the wealthy world, however, inequalities are growing, often to historically exceptional levels. Support systems that nations have used to buy social cohesion are being overwhelmed. (Please see the extended note on a post-welfare world.) The expected life trajectory of people born as middle and working class Europeans is markedly different from each other, whether it be their education, their health, their earnings or the stability of their family life. The situation in the US is even more pronounced, and this is taken to extremes in the emerging economies.

WHAT IF a credible and specifically international movement emerges from this disparity? This is plainly not going to be a reinvention of the Communist Internationale, but more a coalition of generally aligned goals. Such a movement could well absorb individual countries, and might trigger violent movements in others. In the specific case of China, the emergence of militant unionisation is extremely credible, perhaps abetted by mass information systems. The impact on the industrial nations would be to strengthen their own labour movements, as low skill work is repatriated.

WHAT IF there is a reversion to class warfare and mass militancy in 2025?


Comment 1

'Politics of Anger' seems to envisage a return to the age of factory militancy, this time in Asia. It might happen, and it would be interesting, but remember that the people in the factories are there voluntarily (more or less), and can at least buy motorcycles, if not BMWs. The point about the surging number of young men is that the surge is (only) in the very poorest and most dysfunctional countries, where the young men won't get jobs in factories in the first place. The global polity is at greater risk from these guys than it is from the Chinese branch of the AFL-CIO.

Comment 2

China - lots of texts suggesting exploitation. Not of course new, as Japan bought a place in the world by having its people work ludicrous hours for low pay during the 1960, and managing a low Yen, which pushed up their cost of living.

The chief point made about China is that the One Child policy - no doubt rational - did mean that many will have nobody to look after them in old age, so they save very heavily. State banks give about 1-2% nominal in a world of 6%+ inflation, meaning that they save at negative interest rates. That is, they are paying the banks to hold their money. Banks can arbitrage against eg US T-bills as even at 1-2%. Pensions do not really exist in China, and the only other outlet is real estate, which explains the property bubble - the so-called "transparent buildings", which vae nothing in them and can be seen straight through.

All of that would be understandable if it were not for what the banks also do with the money. On state direction, it is used to prop up state owned enterprises, or lent to firms owned by those with clout. Both of these are as a class, corrupt. The statal entities buy through middleman organisations, which of course take a margin - often a large margin - and the directors of these entities are often the same people as the owners of the middleman organisations. If not, they collude, for a fee. This is all well known and hardly new in historical terms: people report similar arrangements during the Macao enclave under the Ming.

The two things together, however, do mean that the average saver is underwriting considerable plunder, itself essentially patronised by the Party. People are aware of this. On top of this, local administrations act in ways that are flagrantly hand in glove with large manufacturers and similar interests. The new middle class are savers, but they have ways to use their money that go around these issues, often involving themselves - some would say, compromising themselves - in the same deal-making network. Others have relied on property and are now badly burned.

If you look at the typical factory worker, he or she lives in rented accomodation, travels three hours a day to get to work and may work for 12-14 hours a day. There are lock-ins, whereby management locks the door and refuses to let them leave until a lot is complete. Unions are illegal, of course, so there is no outlet for frustration.

Comment 3

Africa is the continent on which a large number of young men will fail to find work. They will be angry. What can they do that matters to us in a practical, rather than moral way? First, no investment in Africa is likely to be safe, in my view. That may upset not a few Chinese investors, who have been pouring money into African resources. Africa had an 11% share in global mining in 2010, chiefly Platinum and Gold, down from 16% in 2003. South Africa is the chief focus of this, having 8% of the world market. Africa's oil resources are focused around West Africa, and in decline. Excepting the RSA and Congo, 100% of mineral production is in foreign hands, often small companies rather than TNCs.

This could be more than an irritation. Whilst most of Africa's output is Iron, Gold and Copper - which are nicely diversified across the world - a number of critical minerals are chiefly located in Africa. Between them, Zambia and the Congo have half the world's production of Cobalt. South Africa has 40% of the world's Chrome and 30% of its Molybdenum.

Second, they may be a centre of lawlessness and maybe ideological violence. Nobody would have seen Waziristan/ Afghanistan as a centre of threat in - say - 1995. Everyone has received a "Nigerian" e-mail. The lawlessness of the post-USSR Russia encouraged it to become the centre for more serious electronic theft. We can be absolutely certain that Africa will not be uniformly and effectively policed by 2025. There exists an African Peace and Security Architecture, backed by the EU, bless it. Its intent is to build African capacity to police itself.

Sub-state terror is widely practiced in Africa. Quarter of a million died in Liberia since 1998, one in twelve of the population. Three hundred thousand were killed in Burundi; three million in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is estimated that nearly half of the population of Rwanda have been killed in recent conflict. About two million have died in the Sudan conflict. Terror is a part of the daily lives of millions of Africans.

René Lemarchandhas written that "The African continent is littered with the wreckage of imploded polities. From Guinea Bissau to Burundi, from Congo- Brazzaville to Congo-Kinshasa, from Sierra Leone to Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire, failed or collapsing states confront us with an all-too-familiar litany of scourges – civil societies shot to bits by ethno-regional violence, massive flows of hapless refugees across national boundaries, widespread environmental disasters, rising rates of criminality and the utter bankruptcy of national economies. Politics consists of deals and patronage, established between 'big men' and their personal followers. The domination of political patrons and the subordination of their clients is expressed in military oligarchies and civilian one-party states." Politics in Africa is markedly inter-connected with crime.

Consider a political movement, austere and otherworldly, demanding subordination to a set of principles that apply to rulers and the ruled, tracing the plight of the society both to local corruption and foreign intervention. Sound familiar? This, from the Pakistan Observer: "While enriching oneself through illegal means is indeed a basic form of corruption, there is even an higher form of corruption, when the government fails in its duty to maintain law and order, because without it one cannot truly practice his or her religion or live as a peaceful citizen".

Comment 4

It is not enough for a group of people to be destitute or angry for them to have an impact beyond their borders. It takes organisation, and this is itself painful process in societies used to rule by authoritarian imposition or to churning chaos. I want to trace recent events in Afghanistan to show how complex the emergence of an international force can be.

Let's start with the Soviet withdrawal in 1992, leaving an even-more-militarised-than-usual tribal patchwork behind it. A government was patched together, but one warlord - Hekmatyar - stood against this, and this led to civil war, of a sort. He was strongly supported by - and armed by - Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI. Why? Because Pakistan saw its future as the corridor from the sea into the Islamic belt of the failing USSR. In other words, colonial aggression by proxy.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Iran were separately supporting their own factions. Saudi had earlier sent troops (including the then Major bin Laden) into Afghanistan to fight the Russians. This was done for reasons of religious duty, but chiefly to exercise the crop of young military, who had nothing to do in Saudi itself, and were eyed nervously as a possible source of instability. After the Russian withdrawal, Saudi was extremely reluctant to repatriate these men, many of whom had been radicalised during their stay.

There two militias began to fight each other, eventually leading to full scale war in which the government of Afghanistan and the ISI-Hekmatyar combatants played a peripheral role. These two independent wars led to massive civilian casualties, starvation and massacre. Meanwhile, Northern Afghanistan was in effect independent, ruled by militias. A small religious group, the Taliban ("the students") formed from a madrassah in Kandahar in 1992. Numbering about 560, and armed only with hunting rifles, they began to take military stands against abuse by the local warlords. Two celebrated cases involved rescuing two girls, captured by the state governor specifically for mass rape by his men, and also a boy over whose favours two warlords engaged in chaotic urban warfare. In both case they were successful and their reputation as defenders of the people brought them local support. (The state governor was hanged in public, from the barrel of his tank.)

Taliban ideology combined extreme Salafi interpretations of shar'ia with Pashtun custom, into the so-called Pashtunwali; to which was added a strange mixture of anti-modernity, jihadi sentiment and xenophobia. Sumptuary laws were enacted, men were to wear beards of a certain size and no hats, women were to be completely covered when in public. Machinery capable or reproducing images - cameras, televisions, VCRs - were banned as were all mechanical sources of music. All representational art was banned - pictures, catalogues, drawings, statues; even stuffed animals and dolls. Women were banned from dancing, clapping during sports events or weddings or from flying kites. They were forbidden schooling, and many girls' schools were bombed during the expansion of the Taleban, before they closed them all down.

The exploits of the Taliban "few" brought in a flood of Pakistani students - etcetera, see below - from the madrassahs, Now numbering around 20,000, the Taliban captured Kandahar in 1994, and from there took over a third of the country in the remainder of the year. Meanwhile, Kabul had won its war over Hekmatyar, and tried to make an alliance with the Taliban. This was rejected, and in 1995 they began to shell the capital. The government rallied and all-but eradicated the Taliban until the ISI began to support them with arms, "advisors" and Pakistani young men, often "encouraged" to join in. Saudi Arabia also offered them money and other support. In 1996, the then-government withdrew from Kabul and the Taliban announced the formation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The title "emir" indicates that the state would be a province of the hypothetical Sunni Caliphate. Shia groups were subject to massacre, as apostates. Something in the order of 100,000 people were forced from their homes, some 160,000 were starved to death. A favoured method of murder was to force people into shipping containers and allow them to suffocate. This was managed by the Sipah-e-Sahaba, a specifically Pakistani group tightly linked to the ISI.

The role of Pakistan needs to be understood. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Pakistanis trained and fought in Afghanistan on the side of the Taliban over the span of the conflict. Thousands of regular Pakistani armed forces personnel were involved in the fighting in Afghanistan during the run up to 9/11. The state commanded a force of 45,000, spread across the chaos that was southern and central Afghanistan. Independent estimates see the composition of the Taliban forces as:

This was plainly a state-sponsored attempt to topple a neighbouring regime, not a specifically ideological movement. Pashtunwali seems extreme to Western readers, but was no more than a codification of existing mores, salted with ideas from the Muslim Brotherhood. Extreme elements were indeed present, but their presence was accepted due to the large sums being injected by their sponsors.

The 9/11 attack that was triggered by these jihadis was a total disaster for the exansionary plans of Pakistan. It brought Western interests into play, led to the invasion by the US and allies and left them thwarted. Saudi Arabia was forced to withdraw its support, both for the insurgency and the Pakistani nuclear program. Nevertheless, Pakistan gave bin Laden shelter and has supported Taliban forces with safe havens and weapons throughout the conflict. Following NATO withdrawal, it would be remarkable if they did not renew their efforts to engross Afghanistan. Iran and India - and perhaps China - might have something to say about this, but given the paucity of the prize - opiates and copper aside - their reasons for continuing their efforts seem to owe more to stubbornness or inertia than to sense. The notion of a conduit into the 'Stans is anyway ludicrous as an economic proposition.

It is worth noting, too, that whilst the major uprising in 2009 may have included the Taliban, was nonetheless chiefly a Pashtun ethnic revolt against NATO occupation. The forces came from both sides of the border, as the 40 million members of this aggregation of tribes live on both sides of it. Pakistan cannot but have been aware of this, both in the planning and execution.

What can we draw from this sorry tale? Chiefly, that the prime movers and the forces of organisation brough to bear on the primordial chaos of Afghanistan came from outside of the society: from the Russians, then Pakistanis and Saudis, then NATO; and then probably Pakistan once again. All the funding of the chaos also came from outside. Left to its own affairs, Afghanistan would have remained miserably poor and chaotic, but of no interest to the outside world.

When we look to 2025, therefore, we are less concerned with the "politics of anger" and more by those powers which will use the angry as glove puppets. If power A wants to indirectly destabilise power B, the cheapest and easiest way to do this is to stir up their angry young men, their angry old religious and their ambitious marginal politicians.

If power A wants a poor nation to come into its orbit, it has only to protect them from aggressive neighbours, which it itself has stimulated. It might want to do this for reasons of natural resources, or geographical conduits. However, that is an extremely Nineteenth Century model, attractive to those with such a mind set, but applicable nowhere.

However, if a poor nation has, for example, installed rigorous environmental laws that prevent the "proper" exploitation of a natural resource, then stimulated anger might bring in a more forgiving government. And so on.

Motive is all. Anger is a tool, which can be grasped by the unscrupulous: to understand the harnessing of anger, one has to look to political ambition and to money.

Comment 5

The delegitimisation of government worldwide has made it easy for parties with extreme agendas to gain national prominence. It is questionable if the citizenry voting for these parties support their agendas, or are putting up protest votes. If the underlying discontent is not dealt with, it becomes too easy for a single charismatic individual or party with populist agendas to take power. The lack of leadership - which is determined enough to take tough decisions for the longer-term good of the people - is unfortunately likely to persist.

Comment 6

Prof. Olivier Roy has written a most interesting book, Globalized Islam: A Search for a New Ummah. He describes a "post-Islamist" situation, in which mainstream Islamist movements are becoming increasingly realistic in their aspirations, and a wild fringe of splinter groups are being formed as a result. He describes these as neo-Islamicists.

Political realism means the realisation that intellectual constructs - such as the Caliphate - mean little to the average voter. They are concerned by corruption, by social mobility and by the need to find jobs. They are still socially conservative - many mainstream parties oppose a wide range of liberalisation - but they are in tune with what their supporter base wants in its day-to-day life. Egypt and Tunisia are good examples of where this appears to be taking place. The emphasis is on community solidarity and stability, and the war against corrupt elites, but it is only marginally interested in either a formally Islamic state or the imposition of Shar'ia as the only legal system in play.

This is, of course, seen as a "sell -out" by the extreme factions. The see the neo-Islamicists as compromised and a part of the very system that they oppose - the entry of Western influence, liberal perspectives and the plural social economy - and the continue to emphasise Muslim exceptionalism and its innate supremacy. The Caliphate is very much in play, and national governments are to be taken over by force, if necessary, so that they can submit to an international Islamic order. Its cerebral elements are attractive to students, and its absolutism to frustrated young men.

So, just as Islamism seems to be coming into the main stream of middle Eastern politics, at least in prospect, so a mass of aggressive chaff is being thrown in the air. What consequence it may have will depend on how much progress the neo-Islamists make against the current elites, and in general how much prosperity trickles down to the bazaar from the economy as a whole.


The term wasatiyyah derived from the word wa'sat. In the Qur'an, it carries a meaning that lies between justice and moderation, a path between excess and laxity. Hadith scholars such as asy-Syafi'e, Al-Ghazali and Ibn Taimiyah have emphasised wasatiyyah as the means to ensure just and prosperous living. The term fell somewhat out of use before being reintroduced to modern scholars, with particular focus on the duty of rulers, the voice of the community and the pursut of harmony.

Comment 7

The figure gives the Gini coefficient for a number of poor countries as they have developed economically. What you see is a fairly plain hump around $5-8000 per capita.

All the way up to this hump, countries get less equal - the middle classes feel a boom in prosperity and are able to spend their money extremely well, in the sense that domestic help and manual labour is cheap for them. After $10,000 per capita, countries need the majority of their people broadly educated, and both political change and the economics of scarcity drive down inequality.

The second figure is speculative. Poor groups tend to feel a sense of solidarity, often against external threats or overwhelming power. This lessens markedly as individualism grows on the back of prosperity, options proliferate and the habit of commercial and career competition makes it normal to compete against one's peers. Rather than plotting this against income per capita, I have made the horizontal axis a measure of how strongly people feel this independence, as it makes us think what these factors are likely to be.

The red line shows a much less speculative trend, which is how content people feel as they become more prosperous and stable in their day-to-day lives. We know that this always follows an asymptote, as shown.

I have coloured three zones on the figure. The gray zone contains populations that are strongly communal in their reflexes, and who vary from the very unhappy to those seeing their way to life improvements. The white zone consists of those who are broadly content, and who are shedding their former social constraints in favour of a liberal, individualist mode. The yellow zone are people who are extremely happy with the way that their society is put together, but who feel only marginal solidarity with the broad community.

Please do note that the horizontal axis in not related directly to income. Those who live at the peak of the Gini peak are in the yellow zone. It is just that most of their society are living in the gray zone, and that the white area is hardly represented at all. People who try to make sense of their world in the gray zone tend to interpret bad things in terms of external influences, or as failings within the collective identity. The yellow zone can be seen in both of those terms: they live in a way that is alien, and they are themselves alien tot he community. Indeed, they tend to be vocal in despising it. Simple class warfare therefore becomes ideological conflict. I suggest that almost all fundamentalism can be seen in this way - as a class struggle re-clad in religious or other trappings.

Comment 8

I don't know if I am alone in being astonished by Comment 4? Who are we fighting in Afghanistan, then? Pakistan??

Pres. Obama sees a collapse in Pakistan as the greatest threat to regional and perhaps global stability - they have over a hundred nuclear weapons, it is said. In Pakistan, we see repeated raids on military installations by what are alleged to be the Taliban. Pakistan is engaged in US-funded actions that are said to suppress Taliban activity, but the army also fights skirmishes with US troops. So what is happening? Surely Bin Laden could not have been in Abbottabad without either astonishing incompetence or connivance by people in power?

I asked an aid to look at this. He got some people in to give us an hour long briefing, in which all I got personally was a strong sense of entanglement in something intractable. You have at least three major players in Pakistan - civil powers and the oligopoly that manages these, the army and its economic interests and the sprawling state-within-a-state of the ISI (ED: Pakistan's intelligence agency, handling both internal and external operations).

Then you have Indian, US and probably other interests trying to modulate this. On top of that, the North of the country is a part of Pakistan only by convention, with at least five fiefdoms connected to Pashtun and other ethnicities, to warlords - such as the Haqqani Network homeland around Miranshah in Waziristan - and to commercial interests, such as arms and drug smugglers, people traffickers and so forth.

Like Comment 4 said, around 40 million people do not belong to the Pakistan identity, but a fair number of them live inside Pakistan's frontier. Only the ISI, rather than any of the other players - and most notably rather than the government - seems concerned or able to impose some sort of management, if not control, on these. There is no political unity across these interests.

In 2011, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen submitted a written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said: "Extremist organisations, serving as proxies of the government of Pakistan, are attacking Afghan troops and civilians as well as US soldiers. [...] For example, we believe the Haqqani Network—which has long enjoyed the support and protection of the Pakistani government and is, in many ways, a strategic arm of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency - is responsible for the September 13th attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Kabul."

Enquiries into the Bin Laden safe house in Abbottabad have been as far reaching as is feasible in the Pakistani fog of denial. Jamestown Foundation analysis and many other sources all point to top level awareness and complaisance. The safe house he used is known to have been an ISI property. Clearly, intelligence has to play a long game, but what game was it that they were playing? Really, what are these guys trying to achieve? Our briefing said: to return to Plan A - Comment 4's pathway to central Asia - after the US and NATO have left. They believe that the Afghan nation will fall at a touch and a Taliban proxy will grab the prize, such as it is.

The US is pouring money into Pakistan. We have already given them $18 billion between 2002 and 2010, chiefly military plus some economic aid. In 2010, President Obama asked for an additional $3 billion - nominally linked to anti-insurgent actions taken - but bringing the total up to $23 billion. (The war in Afghanistan has so far cost around $460bn, currently running at 100 bn per annum. Either a drop in the ocean or a hemorrhaging wound, as you prefer.)

This funding was intended to both support US activities in Afghanistan and also to try to staunch chaos. All of that in practice has come down to funding the military; which is probably the same as saying, greasing assorted gold braid. What is it paying them to do? Official word is bland: in essence, everyone knows that to lose Pakistan to chaos or a fundamentalist regime - and thus, too, to lose Afghanistan - would utterly destroy US regional prestige, would be a huge domestic political blow and would unleash, considerably amplified, those very forces which the Afghan operation was intended to crush. That's worth $30 bn, if the money delivers the results.

So I come to India. What happens if Pakistan starts to disintegrate, or if "unseemly" powers come to dominate it? They tell me that the successful firing of the Agni missile in April gives Pakistan a theoretical nuclear reach of 600 or so miles. All evidence is also that Pakistan intends to mount its nuclear force on ships, which would be a threat indeed for India, even with a credible civil government in Pakistan.

President Singh met President Zardari in Delhi in April 2012, but senior officials on both sides have since quietly sunk this initiative, for example by quibbling about dates and precedence. The June announcement that India had interrogated the handler of the Bombay attack, and that he had implicated the ISI, took this from a general reluctance to a complete freeze in relations. According to 2011 Pew measurements, 70+% of Pakistanis now see India as an imminent threat, and two thirds of Indian feel the same about Pakistan.

That does not mean that they are going to fight. But India has to react to the situation of a Pakistan acutely going from bad to worse. Given the immediate prospect of chaos in Pakistan, what practical options are then open to India? Realistically speaking, from a cold preemptive deletion of nuclear assets. Full-nation invasion is not possible even were possession of Pakistan and its population even faintly desirable or practical for India, and notably impractical with nuclear assets tucked away in the North.

Comment 9

Comment 7 is excellent, but I believe that it would benefit from further development. There has been a startling transformation of the geography of global poverty in the past decade. Four fifths of the world’s poor - defined as the two billion people who live on $2 a day or less - now live in middle-income countries. And middle income is, of course, just where the inequality hump peaks in Comment 7. Poor countries host a quarter of the similarly-defined poor. Of course, about half of the world's poor live in India and China, something which is not perhaps wholly surprising when their joint populations add up to 2.5 bn, or thereabouts. A quarter of the world's poor live in other big middle income countries, such as Pakistan, Nigeria and Indonesia.

The figure shows this transformation. The two rings show the proportion of poor people who live in each of four categories: low income stable (blue), low income fragile (green), middle income stable (beige) and middle income fragile (orange). The inner ring relates to 2000, the outer to 2010. As already discussed, the bulk of the poor of today's world live in the beige and the orange sectors - the stable and fragile middle income countries. (The figures that I used earlier are not quite the same - they pertain to 2011/12, and show that this trend continues to develop rapidly.)

There are two features that stand out as being different as between the two periods. First, the reduction in the light blue area between 2000 and 2010, representing the shift of stable low income countries in to the "unstable" category. This has already been discussed. Second, the fragile middle income states have also expanded very greatly.

How will this develop? There are two trends running together. In one, more individual countries are becoming unstable. Second, stable middle income countries are lifting some of their poor from poverty. However, the poor also reproduce faster than the bulk of the population and access better medical support, meaning that a higher proportion of their offspring survive than they do in poor countries. The upshot of these processes is that the decline in the proportion of the world's poor who live in these middle income countries will be slow. The absolute number who live in the poor countries will, however, grow in absolute numbers. The proportion of the world's poor in the poorest countries will grow from around 20% to about 30%, but by no more. This is counter-intuitive.


The reason that I post this to you is the following. If we are to agree with the observation that organised rage needs to be organised, and needs someone to rage at, then the place where that is going to happen in not in the poor countries. It is in the middle income countries, which also happen to have most of the poor. Additionally, the figure shows that a significant number of poor people live in countries that are both middle income and politically fragile. Examples are Pakistan, Libya, Nigeria, Iraq, quite a number of Latin countries; perhaps South Africa. It is here that organised reaction to poverty can easily become revolutionary chaos, supporting this or that populist would-be leader.

We therefore cannot expect organised rage from the poor nations, except perhaps as an echo of events elsewhere. Indeed, many of the poor in the poorest countries live in environments that are already chaotic: there is little scope for even more chaos in, for example, Somalia.

It is worth noting, too, that measurement shows that anger - rather than helpless resignation - tends to arise when advantageous change in that situation is blocked. For example, when a poor family has worked to put a bright child through education, and then there are no jobs. Around half a billion people left poverty in the period 2005-10. The number of countries which are classified as being low-income has fallen by 40% since 2002. Twenty six countries have become "middle income" in ten years. In the same period, however, the number of middle income, fragile states has also grown from 23 to 37. Those on "fragility watch" are also showing declining robustness. A "natural" process of economic betterment is being blocked in these nations, and it is here that we can expect organised anger.

Life can be extremely stressful in a middle income country, Crime is rampant, welfare is negligible, state services are basic, corruption often blocks the obvious avenues to improvement. Social and economic change are driven by a commerce goaded to rabid reactions by extreme competition and the absence of regulatory control. You can be fired without warning, bosses may demand intimate favours, the work place is often dangerous and the hours are always long. You may have to travel three hours a day to get to work. Within this, the implied promise is that things will get better. In some nations wealth is spread around and life does indeed improve, In those which fail to grow, or which the money falls into only a few hands, a swift set of feed back systems make bad quickly worse. Nations that start to launch into middle income status run considerable risks both with their long run prospects and their sociopolitical stability.

My thesis is that we can expect "the politics of rage" to focus in fragile, middle income countries. It may also play out as class war and labour movements in the stable middle income nations. Religion may be an element of this, but economic and social exclusion are more likely to be the central force.

This matters to the rest of the world, in part of course because these countries constitute a major part of the world economy and its work force. If they become unstable, or if their costs rise suddenly, this will have a major effect on the world economy.

However, instability of this sort may also matter at a geopolitical level. The governing elites in the middle income countries are likely to react sharply to a challenge to their well-being. They will do this in ways that draw up battle lines between "them" and "us". These elites do not generally have a good opinion of their poor and working classes, and a war of sneers can easily turn into outright class warfare. Class-based attitudes are portable, as Marx noted. Ideas of collective dispossession, or the unworthiness of whole swathes of people, which speak to people in, say, Pakistan, may well have things to say to Nigeria or Bolivia.

Am I predicting a revival of the class war, this time set in the middle income countries? Perhaps I am.

Comment 10

We can generalise this to include the emergence of working class protest in middle income countries. (Well, less specifically "income" but in the middle of their socioeconomic development
trajectory.) I am thinking about a scenario that has a strong element of a sort of global Marx-revived within the fast growing countries - lots of reddish Springs, China paralysed and so on.

I find that very plausible, and think it would have a strong conservative / ethno-nationalistic elements to it (per Le Pen's high turn-out in France, the Tea Party's "pro-America", anti-immigrant stance, etc.) One consequence would be a re-entrenchment of the elites and concomitant increase in repression of said protests, as well. The resilience of various elite groups would be tested, with some failing and some proving very resilient to change.

Comment 11

Maybe to much on Pakistan, but here is some more anyway. Pakistan has two Chinese-made nuclear reactors that are producing Plutonium faster than any other country, US included. A third reactor is in test and a fourth will be on stream in 2016. The country has over a hundred nuclear warheads, stored in 'kit' form at some 15 sites. Additionally, it has a couple of tonnes of Plutonium to hand at any one time. Many of the warheads are small - that is, in the kilotonne range - and are intended to defend against advancing Indian tanks on Pakistan territory. It is thought that nuclear mines have also been laid on advance routes.

Pakistan has supported a series of provocations against India. The 2001 attack on Parliament and the 2008 Mumbai massacre were handled by Lashkar-e-Taiba militants, based in Pakistan and with well-documented connections to the ISI. India's response to the 2008 attack was pitifully slow - a three week military response time - and the army has adopted a plan aimed to generate a 72 hour armed response to similar events.

Pakistan has, proportionately, a very large army by international standards, but it is half the size of India's and it has been outspent seven to one for at least two decades. The nuclear element is therefore supposed to re-establish balance. In discussion with Pakistani planners, one is struck by the sense of India as an existential threat - "they will be completely finishing us" - a paranoia to the effect that all ills are somehow created by India. Above all, that Pakistan is falling behind India in economic and less tangible accomplishments, is riven with internal dissent and so doomed to take desperate measures. The Cold Start, 72 hours Indian tactical position triggers all of these elements in a most dangerous manner. That said, documents from WikiLeaks show that in 2010, the U.S. ambassador to India described Cold Start as "a mixture of myth and reality".

India has its military under extremely tight political control. The approximate opposite is true of Pakistan. Nuclear planning lies with the Strategic Plans Division, which is essentially military, and the relevant command decisions, while nominally civilian, are firmly embedded in the military as well. The military manage their nuclear weapons with strong security - they are, for example, kept disassembled in a variety of highly guarded locations - but the system is vulnerable both at times of emergency - as above - or to subversion of the command chain. It is generally thought that Pakistan is too little of a unified nation today for any political force to be able to dominate it: the Taliban, for example. However, it has been subject to many military coups, and a would-be coup leader might find a tactical nuclear weapons a useful negotiating tool. Equally, it is vulnerable to class/religious warfare, of the form that has been discussed elsewhere.

That might not be of international significance. At issue, however, is what would happen if Pakistan did appear to be going down this route. Would India be content to play the long game? If it was not content, what options are open to it? These are not conducive to regional stability, and in the worst case, overall global conditions that are not at all limited to economic impacts.


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