It’s been interesting to follow the Occupy Wall Street movement from afar, although the media here in Europe aren’t giving it as much attention as the Arab Spring protests or similar uprisings demanding freedom, democracy and cheap bread received at the time. Of course, in the West concepts like freedom and democracy are a bit more nuanced, because we officially have them. And although gasoline is deemed way too expensive, bread is still cheap enough that we can throw away substantial amounts of it. No, the reasons for this Western protest are manifold, but they aren’t expressed concisely and explicitly. This in fact, is still a major criticism of the movement. What is it about? What do they want?
As Paul Krugman wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed:
A better critique of the protests is the absence of specific policy demands. It would probably be helpful if protesters could agree on at least a few main policy changes they would like to see enacted. But we shouldn’t make too much of the lack of specifics. It’s clear what kinds of things the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators want, and it’s really the job of policy intellectuals and politicians to fill in the details.
At the end of last month a declaration of some sorts was published that reflects the broadness of the movement. No one is left out. As Douglas Rushkoff wrote in his opinion piece for CNN on October 5th:
Yes, there are a wide array of complaints, demands, and goals from the Wall Street protesters: the collapsing environment, labor standards, housing policy, government corruption, World Bank lending practices, unemployment, increasing wealth disparity and so on. Different people have been affected by different aspects of the same system — and they believe they are symptoms of the same core problem.
Are they ready to articulate exactly what that problem is and how to address it? No, not yet.
It’s too bad neither author articulates what the core problem or root cause is. None or few of the good people of the Occupy Wall Street movement are. Instead there’s a fragmentation and lack of direction that could make the movement’s effort vulnerable to simple and age old divide & conquer-tactics. To be really effective in stirring things up the movement needs a core message that unifies all the fragments and general sense of dissatisfaction with ‘something that is wrong, but we can’t put our finger on it’. This message exists. It is hidden in the collection of fragments.
As I’ve stated in my previous opinion piece here on Planet 3.0 the root cause of most if not all global problems is the neoclassical economic concept that growth can and must be infinite. After many decades of dominance this concept has become the invisible core of all of the economy, society and culture, in the US and beyond. But as no organism can grow forever – and our global civilisation is in every way an organism – there will inevitably come a point at which limits are bumped into, problems becoming so obvious that they can no longer be ignored.
These are the “wide array of complaints, demands, and goals from the Wall Street protesters”. They are indeed “symptoms of the same core problem”, which becomes clear when looking at the Declaration of the Occupation of New York city, the list of grievances referring to what ‘they’ did. I’ll just pick out a few grievances from the list to bolster my argument:
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity,
and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
It is demanded of them that they act this way, because it maximizes profits and thus economic growth. If the bankers hadn’t done what they did (gambling with derivatives based on subprime lending), and if they hadn’t been bailed out, the economy would have stopped growing. The problem with that is that the engine of the economy can only go forward, at accelerating speeds by preference. The engine has to become more flexible and resilient, and to do that you have to replace the dominant economic theory that has perpetual economic growth as its goal.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence,
and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
Same thing. They poisoned the food supply because it was more economically efficient to do so. It increased profits, it boosted GDP growth, as do the health and social problems emerging from it. Food has to be cheap, so people can consume more of it, and have more money left to consume more things. Only monopolies can do that for you. If you want that to change, you must change the context in which farms operate. And changing that context, changes everything. It absolutely demands another economic concept to lie at the heart of your policies.
They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products,
endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
Yes, it’s called perceived and planned obsolescence. It’s been around a long time. There are conferences where engineers discuss how they can make appliances break after X time, but not so soon that consumers buy a new appliance from another brand. If they would make appliances last as long as possible, the economy would collapse. That’s because that economy floats on the idea that economic growth can and must last forever. More and more stuff needs to be produced and consumed by a docile population.
I could go on and on, and answer all points on the list like this. If it were up to me, the major slogan of the OWS movement would be something along these lines: ‘Infinite growth is not possible on a finite world, please replace the dominant economic concept’. This one demand could unify the Occupy Wall Street movement, without excluding anyone, without diminishing the importance of individual grievances. In fact, I honestly believe it’s the absolute prerequisite for lasting solutions to all the complaints on the Occupy Wall Street Declaration. Put it on top and let the show really begin.