This anti-elite movement doesn’t seem to be making much headway on the global stage. It may be because the business model behind anti-elitism isn’t compelling. Essentially, the market is cornered by the elites and there’s no way they’re going to give an inch to a mob of populists — particularly as that mob never manages to get any further than voting for some colourful (or scary) character.
Inevitably, that character becomes less colourful as he or she falls in line with the elites. As Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone: "In a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organised greed always defeats disorganised democracy."
Last week, the Financial Times carried the story of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s likely capitulation on three of the key promises she made after dramatically winning the Conservative Party’s leadership battle. May has abandoned the proposal to put workers on company boards and looks set to ditch plans to make the shareholder vote on executive pay binding, as well as forcing companies to publish pay ratios.
These undertakings were made shortly after UK citizens voted to leave the EU — a move seen as a sign of growing resentment towards the political and business elite. This was May’s bid to persuade working-class Britons who are "just managing" that she was serious about addressing the entrenched advantages of the few.
Remarkably, under the story of May’s U-turn, the FT carried a report headlined "British workers face worst decade for pay in 70 years". It described expectations that Britons will earn no more by 2021 than they did in 2008. This means the UK is well on its way to reaching Victorian-era levels of inequality by 2030.
"Just managing" is about to become a whole lot more precarious.
In the US, thoughts that president-elect Donald Trump might indulge in a bit of "rich elite bashing" were quickly laid to rest when it became clear that he has ambitious pro-business plans involving corporate tax cuts partly funded by social-spending cuts.
The problem is, everybody has clambered onto the anti-elite bandwagon — including the elites.
Some of the wealthiest Brits voted for Brexit and it’s becoming clear that America’s much-maligned rustbelt rednecks were not wholly responsible for Trump’s success. Wall Street bankers and wealthy executives were there too, only far more stealthily.
These wealthy Britons and Americans are more likely to have voted for Brexit and Trump because they felt the status quo was too antagonistic towards the elite — not because they wanted to see a spot of elite-bashing.
In Europe, with its history of revolution, things may not pan out so smoothly. But even in France and Austria, it’s more of a battle against the establishment than against the elites.
In SA there’s the same confusion about elites and the establishment, even if there are now more black people in those categories than in the past. Still, indications are that, like their UK and US counterparts, our own elite will survive any disorganised challenges to their status.