Reviewing 2016 – why people are so unhappy

So it’s that time of year where everyone blogging reflects on the year and then looks forward. This post will focus on the more global issues that hit 2016. Both personally and globally it’s been one hell of a year. I guess we start with the post that kicked this blog off – why I quit my job. Obviously leaving has been a huge thing and (thus far) I do not regret that decision one bit. The same goes with blogging, a complete new experience. I won’t go too much into the journey ‘post leaving’ – I’ll leave that to my 3 month update in a couple of odd weeks.

Despite all the uncertainty personally, the world has gone through an even more tumultuous time. I don’t stray too often into politics – my own view on party politics is ‘same, same but different’; but my reflection on the year will be a few small thoughts on the significant events and as ever trying to understand the ‘why’.

Firstly, I and most of my readership sit in a rarified position of privilege, comfort and relative luxury. We identify ourselves as liberal and open individuals and mostly believing we can make the world a better place.

On a macro level that maybe true, but 2016 showed that on a micro/individual level we couldn’t be further from the truth. ‘What makes people tick’ could be a good way of putting it. Maybe within our own social class it is true but we immediately hit an issue right there, needing to use the phrase ‘social class’. 2016 showed how much the wealth gap is increasing – Warren Buffett made $12 billion in 2016.  This nicely leads onto my next point. We are seeing record highs. The DOW is approaching 20k and the markets are defying expectations post Brexit and Trump. Maybe a truer indication is in the currency values but the takeaway point from this is it’s quite questionable if these gains really filter down to the poorer parts of the economy. Unemployment maybe down (below 5% in America) but that does not mean people are actually happy.

Globalisation seems to be one of the big ideas that has been getting a bit of a bashing. A friend pointed out to me on Facebook that the benefit of globalisation is the additional leisure time that should comes with it. The potential to live a little bit of luxury a few weeks a year must be there. Yet people seem to be more stressed than ever; real terms earnings are down compared to a decade ago and holidays are truly seen as a luxury that cannot be afforded.

So no wonder people are unhappy. 2016 was the year people could express that view in two of the world’s largest economies. It was the year of the protest vote against the so called political elite. After Brexit I was quite confident Trump would win, the fundamentals of why people are unhappy go further than we expect. So it surprised me when people ignored that history could repeat itself in the span of a few months.

That takes us to what I see as the most controversial point of the debate. Immigration. The reason why Brexit happened was because justifying why immigration/freedom of movement is a good thing was simply not done. The ironic thing is many ‘immigrants’ voted to leave on the basis of too many immigrants. The same goes for our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic. The Mexican wall resonated with people in a manner like no other. That really kicked off Trump’s ascendancy to the White House.

We are at a crossroads. We are at a crucial juncture in moving forward. Missteps will alienate people even further on both sides of the divide. Party politics needs to realise we’re not separated on antiquated ideas of ‘left’ and ‘right’ but on other values – on improving our quality of life and protecting ‘our values’. Dangerously we can break it down into looking at the world in a closed vs open manner. I say we’re at a crossroads, but the full effect of the protest vote may not be over. There are several elections happening in 2017 on Continental Europe which could further deepen the divide.

How do we move forward and close this divide. Can there be a reconciliation process that satisfies all? I tend to believe a lot of the issues can be solved by education. Equipping people with the right tools to do jobs and understand how to make globalisation work would go a long way. Though some of the prejudices attached to immigration are a lot more difficult to overturn.

A fully pessimistic view would say the UK totally cocks up Brexit (can we stay ‘in’ and not have freedom of movement?) and that Trump is the loose cannon people think he will be. My own view is a bit mixed. As humans we seem to learn from doing and the mistakes we make along the way. My biggest concern is there is no simple solution in reducing the wealth gap and the elitist world that exists at the moment. If anything it may increase in the coming years. Thus people remain unhappy. To whom do those people turn to?



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