There is something wrong with the way we are run – and if we don’t fix it, some profoundly un-conservative politicians will try to.

Something extraordinary is happening in politics. New radicals are on the rise. In Britain, the United States and much of Europe, angry, insurgent voices – which would not even have found an audience a generation ago – can be heard. 

Whether victorious in elections, like Donald Trump in America, or Syriza in Greece, or simply successful enough to form the opposition, like Jeremy Corbyn in Britain or Marine Le Pen in France, these new radicals all have one thing in common; whichever side of the political spectrum they are supposed to come from, they are all offering the electorate ideas from beyond the range of what was once considered the political mainstream.

If economically distressed blue-collar workers explained the rise of Donald Trump, why is it that his most fervent supporters in the primary elections earned on average $72,000 a year, way above the US national average?

Why? What explains this new phenomenon?

“It’s the economy,” insists a certain sort of political pundit. Having woken up to emergence of political outsiders, many insiders reach for their default explanation for voter behaviour. “Those who vote for these new radicals are losers, who have lost out to globalisation.”  

Really? 

Over the past 30 years, hundreds of millions of additional workers from China, India and the former Soviet block have joined the global economy. Yes, this might mean that labour is cheaper in relation to capital than it would otherwise have been. Unskilled blue-collar wages in America today are roughly were they were when Ronald Reagan first entered the White House. But globalisation has dramatically cut the cost of consumer goods for those workers too, lowering the cost of living and raising living standards.

If economically distressed blue-collar workers explained the rise of Donald Trump, why is it that his most fervent supporters in the primary elections earned on average $72,000 a year, way above the US national average?

When pundits explain the rise of the new radicals in terms of rising income inequality, they are simply trying to commandeer this new phenomenon to support their pre-existing world view. 

If anything, income inequality has fallen. The big increase in income inequality in America happened in the 1980s – before this latest process of globalisation began. The Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, shows that income inequality in Britain is at a 30-year low. In fact, since the 2007 financial crisis, the incomes of the bottom 10 percent have increased faster than those of the top 10 percent. 

So what does explain the rise of the new radicals? The sort of angry voices that rage against “the elite” are being heard for one simple reason: they can be. Digital technology makes them audible. A generation ago, only approved insiders got airtime. Digital creates an array of competing platforms for news. It has democratised communication and the process of opinion forming.

So what does explain the rise of the new radicals? The sort of angry voices that rage against “the elite” are being heard for one simple reason: they can be. Digital technology makes them audible. A generation ago, only approved insiders got airtime. Digital creates an array of competing platforms for news. It has democratised communication and the process of opinion forming. 

That might explain why populist advocates and ideas get airtime. But why do they find an audience? What explains the rage? Was populist anger always there?

“Populism,” many political observers claim, “is all about those who are ill at ease with modernity.” But what if this populism was actually made possible by modernity? We now live in a world where consumers have control. From Netflix to Amazon Prime, people now expect to get what they want, when they want it. Self-selection and choice are cultural norms.

Whether or not our political elites are more or less accountable to the electorate than they were in generation of so ago is debatable. But public expectations about accountability have never been higher. It is this that has helped fuel the sense that politics is a cartel – and in a sense it is. 

In Britain, most parliamentary constituencies are “safe seats”, almost guaranteed never to change hands between political parties at a General Election – insulating the incumbent MP from his or her own electorate. In America, instead of voters choosing their representatives, gerrymandering allows representatives to choose their electorates. In many European countries, the party list system ensures small elites, rather than the voters, get to decide who gets elected.

At the same time, there’s a growing sense that the economy, notionally free-market, is rigged. While the returns on capital invested in large FTSE firms over the past 15 years has been modest, the executive pay packets of those running them has almost doubled.  

While a rich elite in London concern themselves with building swimming pools in their basements, millions living in the South-East of England under the age of 40 cannot afford to buy their own home. 

Income inequality might not have increased, but asset prices have soared – making the “haves” rich for simply having assets, be it a house or a hedge fund. While a rich elite in London concern themselves with building swimming pools in their basements, millions living in the South-East of England under the age of 40 cannot afford to buy their own home. 

There is something cronyish at the heart of our capitalist system, with its easy money subsidies for big banks. A radical overhaul of banking is needed to ensure that those who own them are liable for their losses, so that they can no longer conjure up credit – and make a series of one-way bets underwritten by the rest of us. Corporate law needs to be changed to ensure that those who own firms control those who run them. Those on whom we confer the privilege of limited liability when they conduct business cannot be allowed to run corporate boards as self-enriching cliques. 

If capitalism is to flourish, we need to redefine capital itself, so that states cannot control the currency in the interests of officialdom. Those of us whot believe in free-market capitalism need to advocate far-reaching reforms – if we don’t, there will be plenty of charlatans and snake oil salesmen out there who will.