Worldwide, people are fuming. Almost as if copying playbooks from neighboring countries, crowds defy authority and denounce established elites. The protesters include citizens from most social categories, even the well-off.

Very unlike countries are experiencing massive and sometimes violent street demonstrations against income inequality and corruption. The regimes attempt to repress, by violence, surveillance, control of the internet and threat of military coups. To a lesser extent, mass ire afflicts both sides of the Atlantic, where anti-immigrant anger distracts from deeper problems.

On top of corruption and inequality, which are often twins, unhappy countries are discontent for distinctive reasons. Many Lebanese are fed up with the predetermined allocation of political positions among its confessional groups. Iraqis resent Iranian dominance. Chile’s extreme market economy has rewarded few and impoverished many. France’s yellow vests can’t pay for gas. The European Union’s misused agricultural subsidies — $65 billion a year, 40 percent of the EU budget — are unreformable (one of Brexit’s causes).

And this angry wave comes after several decades of economic growth that have increased per capita GDP. Averages often deceive, as the gains are highly unequal. The market solutions of the Washington consensus that dominated after the Soviet collapse now reveal limits and failures. No, markets cannot solve all problems.

Uneven reward is built into the nature of economic growth. As a poor backwater begins to develop, some climb the ladder first. If the system works as it’s supposed to, most then follow, forming a large, contented middle class. But if for various reasons — underfunded education, offshoring of industry, crony capitalism, corruption, capital flight — the ladder is pulled up, that working and middle class is left snarling.

French economist Thomas Piketty finds that capital grows faster than wages, continually opening inequality gaps. Taxation, including taxes on wealth, and redistribution can partly offset this. A top marginal tax rate of 50 percent on big incomes (e.g., Scandinavian levels) does not harm economic growth, argue Piketty and other economists. But such notions are in a permanent struggle dominated by the very wealthy. Witness the Trump tax cuts, whom they benefit and their fleeting boost to GDP. Reduction of top U.S. corporate rates from 35 to

21 percent accompanied decline in domestic manufacturing.

Exemplifying the market consensus, both Bush and Obama in the 2008-09 financial meltdown bailed out the giant banks, whose mania for risk fed the crisis. Overstretched mortgage-payers lost their homes. In 2016, Hillary Clinton got major speaking fees and contributions from Wall Street firms. The system seems stacked to favor the giants.

The anger is not new. Harvard’s late Samuel P. Huntington in 1981 saw bouts of “democratic distemper” reocurring when current practices depart too far from America’s democratic ideals. He virtually predicted our present outburst of “creedal passion” and anti-immigrant feelings.

One hallmark of corrupt societies is the amount of money that flees the country looking for safe havens. Capital flight robs the originating countries such as Russia and China of investment capital while distorting markets in the receiving economies. Foreign oligarchs, fearing seizure of their fortunes, sneak them into property and stocks abroad, pushing both into unstable territory. Crashes follow. Many Chinese students abroad set up homes and accounts for their families.

Manipulative populist politicians — Trump in the U.S., Narendra Modi in India, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil — harvest citizen anger by projecting a mood of clean-up and restart. Little comes of their specific promises because the populists basically follow the policies of their establishment predecessors: subsidize important groups who squawk loudest. Eventually, money runs out, and the populists’ protectionism shrinks world trade and national economies.

Eventually, tariffs, corruption and inequality may produce a global economic crash that inflicts so much hardship that major institutional reforms — in effect, new constitutions — become inevitable. The ripest large candidates for this are Russia and China, where regimes fight slowing economies by unproductive overinvestment — unneeded steel and vacant new cities. The regimes lose “performance legitimacy” (material payoffs) that for a time masks inequality.

Fearing shaky legitimacy, regimes crack down on dissent and attempt to deflect discontent onto sinister foreign manipulators — meaning us — who inflict punitive sanctions and tariffs. Moscow and Beijing also distract with overseas adventures, such as Russia’s return as the great Middle East player and China’s Belt and Road Initiative to re-create the Middle Kingdom. Thrilling stuff, until you run out of money, which both are.

So, how will all this end up? America withdraws from world leadership and China tries to take on this role, but in actuality no one leads. Into the power vacuum many regimes with grudges — territorial, ethnic, economic or religious — will see opportunities for aggrandizement, a situation resembling the chaotic 1930s, in which we waited until it was almost too late.

Possibly by November 2020, America — which, comparatively, is not in such bad shape — will sober from its populist binge, start shrinking income gaps and assume a prudent role in world politics. Let’s not wait until it’s too late.