Populism. “A Growing Sense of Hostility”.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter writes in his critique of capitalism that the profit motive prompts self-interest and egotistical behaviour. The economics student assumes this to be what constitutes rationality – the assumption upon which nearly the entire discipline is based. It therefore follows that each individual in the population strives towards the greatest monetary payoff they can find, and from this derives utility, or satisfaction. In this way, individuals, organisations and firms are all destined to act in their own interests – perhaps explaining the intrinsic capitalist desire for acquisition.

The “sociology of the intellectual”

You may be asking how this profit motive relates to today’s political world. To answer this question, we may call upon one of Schumpeter’s sociological theories – the “intellectual”. I shall attempt to explain it simply. The group of those that possess linguistic ability (the so-called intellectuals) depend upon sales of their work in order to survive financially in a capitalist market. This means, like any other corporation, they must resort to marketing techniques and campaigns to maintain a source of revenue. These intellectuals will therefore criticise and breed contempt among the population, since that is what sells best. Their prose will contribute towards a growing sense of hostility towards the establishment – and the government cannot suppress it.

This theory is epitomised in the UK tabloid market. Rupert Murdoch, the owner of newspapers such as The Sun and News of the World, runs such publications as if they were businesses. Their content, and their levels of output, may suit his business’ needs, but do not match those of the social optimum. Essentially, his journalists write what will sell best, and in this case the publication of outrageous headlines attracts the most consumers. Therefore, as more copies are sold, dangerous political journalism is spread throughout the people, leading to hostility and hate.

Trump, Brexit and capitalism

Donald Trump is also nothing more than a businessman. His success in the presidential election reflects his entrepreneurial ability – in the same way as the UK’s tabloids, he drums up support with bold statements and political rhetoric, taking advantage of the growing popular hostility towards the incumbent system. Without concern for the social impacts of his success, Trump strives for the presidential position, seeing it as the ultimate mark of capitalist success – the ultimate CEO role.

There is a Marxist belief that capitalism, especially through the use of money, leads to the abstraction of the individual and the depersonalisation of human relationships. Each individual is characterised by their potential for labour, and not by their own personal identity – leading to alienation from the social system. Money (a way of pledging a transaction) also contributes to this sense of commodification, as economic behaviour no longer requires interaction between parties.

This alienation may also be responsible for the anti-establishment sentiment that pervades today’s society. As international trade becomes more complicated and bureaucratised, those who are not involved grow hostile. Here, I could crudely attempt to compare this to the recent UK referendum campaign, since to many the European Union represents the ultimate bureaucratised international agreement.

Contributed by Greg Tucker, Economics Editor

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