Meet the precariat, the new global class fuelling the rise of populism


We are in the middle of a global transformation, the painful construction of a global market economy. In the initial period dominated by financiers and rent-seekers, a new global class has taken shape: the precariat.

The transformation started in the 1980s, with a vision of open liberalized markets. Less noticeable was the strategy of dismantling institutions of social solidarity; they stood against the market. That weakened labour's bargaining power.

Crucially, the integration of China and other emerging economies into the world's labour market added 2 billion workers to the global supply, most of them used to earning one-fiftieth of what OECD workers received. As productivity could rise faster in emerging market economies, there has since been downward pressure on wages in all OECD countries.

This was intensified by labour flexibility policies and the silicon revolution that facilitated the relocation of production and employment to where costs were lowest. All this shaped a global class structure superimposed on old national structures.

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