Since I’m blogging from the Seasonally Occupied Territories, you must have guessed I’ve had something to say about Occupy Wall Street, but my occupation — which is to say “editing” — has preoccupied me big-time for the last couple of weeks.
Two deadlines are met, my time is my own (at least for the next 24 hours), I’m pondering Occupy Wall Street.
I’m in favor, of course. I favor any sign that people are disgusted with the state of affairs in this country, and that they’ve identified economics as an underlying cause, and that they’re willing to take to the streets. Maybe it’s catching on among the younger generations that there’s more to political organizing than clicking and texting and signing cyber petitions.
On the other hand, the framing is facile. The 99% vs. the 1%? How cohesive could that 99% be and, more to the point, how big is the percentage that’s claiming to speak for it? Everyone’s the hero of their own story, as I repeat ad nauseam. 99% makes nearly all of us — at least everyone we know — heroes. The flip side is that nearly all of us define the problem so that we’re part of the solution. The civil rights movement made a lot of white people nervous, women’s liberation made a lot of men nervous. If 99% of us are part of the solution, what’s to be nervous about?
It’s too easy. Obsessing about corporate greed and greedy plutocrats is too easy. Those greedy plutocrats didn’t get filthy rich with their own two hands, no sirree. They had help. Lots of help.
We staff their corporations from bottom to almost-top. At least 99% of their workforce is us. Fixing computers, driving cars, setting up meetings, making plane reservations, doing all the myriad tasks that make it possible for 1% of the population to be filthy rich. What if we stopped doing it? What would it take to get us to stop doing it?
Aha. Now you’re beginning to think like a labor organizer or a civil rights activist or a radical feminist. What if we withdrew our support from the system that’s oppressing us? How could we keep them from eating us alive?
All politics is local, as the late Tip O’Neill so famously said. Occupy Wall Street is politics seen from the wrong end of a telescope. Seen from the other end, politics looks more like the Martha’s Vineyard Commission meetings I’ve been to in the last few months: banal and boring with just enough flashes of courage and insight to keep you going. How many Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation contributors and board members are part of the greedy, villainous 1%? Not many. Possibly none. They’re still doing a pretty good job of holding up their end in the greed-and-villainy department.
If all of us are heroes and none of us is part of the problem, if we meditate and eat island-grown produce and go to town meeting, why do the problems keep getting worse?
All politics is local, and Wall Street is a long way away. Where is our Wall Street? What should we be occupying? Should we be sitting in at the banks, or the real estate offices, or the Steamship Authority dock? The more I ponder, the more complicated it gets, and the less satisfied I get with Occupy Wall Street. Good theater it is. Good politics? Not so much.
Power to the people, yes! The rich will continue to do what they do – try to control elections and the economy. I don’t see where the “occupation” is leading. Are we all to pull our money out of big banks and investments and let the chips fall? Are we trying to foment more and more confrontations with the police until they turn violent and destructive?
I agree with you, Susanna, that our best response is local. I choose to unhook from the publishers that send their print budgets to China, where such protests could never happen without immediate and drastic violence from the state. Yes, I must still deal with giant corporations, but at least it is on my own terms, and I can put my energy in the direction that seems most true and right. Creative nonviolence seems the best course of action, in war or peace, wealth or poverty.
Truly amazing — I basically agree with your conclusion. There are few significant problems with easy solutions, and most “occupations” are more theater than effective politics. The fact is, the economy is to complicated for central planning to work. Both the former Soviet Union and China discovered this. On the other hand, there is a huge problem when profits are private and risks are public. This is what has happened with “too big to fail” which has become “too interconnected to fail.” The workable solution, however, is not to socialize profits but to make sure the costs are private as well. In order to do that, it must be made perfectly clear to anyone doing business with large financial institutions, that the institution absolutely will be allowed to fail and that they do business at their own risk. “If you don’t want the risk, don’t do business with them.”
There was an attempt to do that by letting Lehman fail. Unfortunately, that did come close to causing a collapse of the financial system because everyone assumed that risks would always be socialized. The problem is how you convince the world that seriously there will be no more bailouts.
The last time anyone showed the necessary “parts” to follow through was when Volker killed the inflation in the early 80s. Appointing Volker was probably one of the better things Jimmy Carter did. Unfortunately, he lacked the guts to let “Tall Paul” do what needed to be done — really crunch the money supply with the side effect of really crunching the economy. As a consequence the country continued to feel the pain but not to reap the gain. Reagan let Volker do what needed doing which resulted in a painful recession but did bring about an end to the painful inflation.
In the case of Lehman, “they” blinked; so here we are still privatizing profits and socializing costs. The only alternative seems to be increased regulation. Although now in his 80s, I think Volker is again right in his proposal to prohibit “banks” from undertaking some types of transactions. While the mathematics of optimization proves that you cannot improve a solution by adding constraints, I have no problem in this case. As I have been saying since the early 90s when the big banks were virtually all bankrupt, “As long as they have their hand in my pocket, regulate the hell out of them.” Gee, I guess a demand for regulation can be driven by greed and selfishness. I could care less if they have their hands in your pocket; it’s mine that counts!”
The occupation is critical. If we do not continue with them, our democracy may well be destroyed. With the very rich buying votes it may soon be too late to avoid an oligarchy. Please see my Facebook page concerning Income Inequality – it has become a very active discussion place. Thanks.