Fear, loathing, and the rise of demagogues

Submitted by alvin on Thu, 2017-03-09 18:10 Ridiculous. Unconnected. Illogical. That would be the initial reaction to connecting demagogues and training. After all, a demagogue is a leader who comes to power by whipping up the passions and ignorance of the people.  This is the trend across the world today from Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen. In fact, Brexit happened due to the demagogy of a lot of British leaders across political parties. They frightened the population on mass immigration and job losses so much that a significant number voted against the EEC. It’s not that demagogues are rare. They have been around for a long time. Famous demagogues who came to power and destroyed or severely impacted their societies include Hitler, Lenin, Mao, and Mussolini. But the difference between these and today’s demagogues is scale. Today, we see demagogues everywhere. They are present in local government, state-, and at the national-level. It is very bad in India, but the rest of the world is catching up fast. The entire agenda is to promise and play on emotions, with the idea to capture power. Basic economics goes out of the window in the quest to gain power and influence. We are headed for enormous instability unless solutions are found quickly. At present, no one seems to have an answer. However, one of the best statements I have seen is, “When nothing goes right, go left”. And in this lies the beginning of a solution. But first we need to look at the reason for the rise of demagogues. It’s just simple economics, though the digital age has made it worse. Technology is great but technology is also a double-edged sword. It gives information to those at the bottom end of the money chain to see the state of others who are better off. This is the effect of globalisation. So, for example, when an American automobile worker in Detroit, who is struggling to get a job, sees an Indian software engineer in New York driving a nice car, it negatively impacts his imagination. It becomes worse when he sees that Bengaluru has nice software campuses providing employment to local people at the cost of his job. He is now a ripe picking for a demagogue. Flip to India itself.  It becomes difficult for an Indian agricultural worker to stay rational when he sees a ‘city boy’ driving a nice car and owning an apartment, when he struggles to pay his crop loan, that too for his 1/4 acre of land. A construction worker staying in temporary huts and slums sees the lifestyle of the middle classes around him, a lifestyle he can only dream of. The result? The creation of fertile grounds for demagogues. And, this is happing across the world. Technology has given the world unbelievable benefits. But it has also given us the power to see almost anything we want. Decades ago, movies would show us far off places, which were a dream for many. Today, we can see it all on YouTube. But, if we go to the root of the problem, it comes down to the value of a person and his employability. An automotive worker in Detroit is envious because jobs have moved from Detroit to Mexico and left him jobless. The agricultural worker has no value outside agriculture. The construction worker feels his value is in the mundane work that he does and has no scope elsewhere. But this is where they are all wrong. As Einstein said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination”. And there is a dearth of imagination across all stakeholders. Most countries around the world are unable to cope with globalisation.  Their inability to offer a solution to workers who have lost jobs due to globalisation make these workers fertile pickings for demagogues. The solution is simple - training!  Why training rather than re-skilling? Because re-skilling is changing track to a great extent. Training may include re-skilling, but may be mostly tweaking existing skills to ensure greater value and employability of the person. Good companies do this all the time. They keep training their staff to improve their value. However, when it comes down to blue collar and grey collar worker, this is a rare occurrence. If opportunities are offered for training, they are not enough to create value for the person.  This is why there is so much unemployment in places which have suffered the ill-effects of globalisation. In this regard, India in the last 10 budgets has tried to train and skill people. Every year, the central government has allocated almost Rs17,000 crores towards training and skill development. The only problem is that the delivery mechanism is faulty though the intention is good. Unfortunately, larger investments in training and skill enhancement are not happening enough around the world. They are definitely not happening enough in Europe, the UK and the USA which need it the most. This is why the march of the demagogues across the world is increasing. And all we need to counter this is training and skill enhancement to increase the value of people and secure their future. Hopefully, the world will come to this realisation sooner than later. Until then, we must suffer the likes of Donald Trump and other demagogues! C’est la vie!