The richest 1 per cent in India cornered 73 per cent of the wealth generated in the country last year, a worrying picture of rising income inequality. Besides, 67 crore Indians comprising the population’s poorest half saw their wealth rise by just 1 per cent, as per the survey released by the international rights group Oxfam. The situation appears even grimmer globally, where 82 per cent of the wealth generated last year worldwide went to the 1 per cent, while 3.7 billion people that account for the poorest half of population saw no increase in their wealth. That the global picture is worse than what it is for India can be a very fragile solace.
In sociology and economics, the precariat is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare. Specifically, it is the condition of lack of job security, including intermittent employment or underemployment and the resultant precarious existence.
In pursuit of competitiveness, governments have implemented policies of labor flexibility, making labour more insecure, leaving millions without health care, pensions or other benefits. Governments have turned to means-tested social assistance and to workfare. The welfare state has withered. The precariat has emerged from the liberalisation that underpinned globalisation. It consists of a multitude of insecure people, living bits-and-pieces lives, in and out of short-term jobs, without a narrative of occupational development, including millions of frustrated educated youth who do not like what they see before them, millions of women abused in oppressive labour, growing numbers of criminalised tagged for life, millions being categorised as ‘disabled’ and migrants in their hundreds of millions around the world. They are denizens; they have a more restricted range of social, cultural, political and economic rights than citizens around them.
Precariat is a new dangerous class-in-the-making, internally divided into angry and bitter factions, who face overlapping challenges of unemployment, low income and loss of social security. Most in it do not belong to any professional or craft community; they have no social memory on which to call, and no shadow of the future hanging over their deliberations with other people, making them opportunistic. The biggest dangers are social illnesses and the risk that populist politicians will play on their fears and insecurities to lure them onto the rocks of neo-fascism, blaming ‘big government’ and ‘strangers’ for their plight.
So far, the precariat in Europe has been mostly engaged in EuroMayDay parades and loosely organised protests. But this is changing rapidly, as events in Spain and Greece are showing, following on the precariat-led uprisings in the middle-east. Recent political discourse directed at the Precariat shaping the success in the election outcomes of the US, France and Philippines show the strength of this emerging class. Precariats face insecurity, instability and vulnerability. This tribe is as much anti-state as it is anti-business.
A progressive strategy for the precariat must involve more equitable control over other key assets of a tertiary society – quality time, quality space, knowledge and financial capital. There is no valid reason for all the revenue from financial capital going to tiny elite who have a particular talent to make money from money. The only way to reduce income inequality in an open market society is to ensure an equitable distribution of financial capital.
This article draws on “The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class” by Guy Standing