Occupy Wall Street And The Demand For Economic Justice
Jeffrey Sachs | Oct 13, 2011 10:15 AM EDT
Around the world, young people -- students, workers, and the unemployed -- are bringing their grievances to the public square. The specific grievances differ across the countries, yet the animating demands are the same: democracy and economic justice. These demands will bring millions around the world together in protest and public education on October 15.
The young people occupying Wall Street and now protesting in several dozen American cities are not a "mob," the ugly deprecation thrown at them by Congressman Eric Cantor. They are channeling sentiments felt very widely throughout the country, indeed the world. Their defining message, "We are the 99 percent," draws attention to the way that the rich at the very top have run away with the prize in recent years, leaving the rest of society to wallow in wage cuts, unemployment, foreclosures, unaffordable tuition and health bills, and for the unluckiest, outright poverty.
It's not just the vast wealth at the top that they are questioning, but how that wealth was earned and how it's being used. Around 1980, the forces of globalization began to create a worldwide marketplace connected by finance, production, and technology. With globalization came new opportunities for vast wealth accumulation. Those with higher education and financial capital have generally prospered; those without higher education and financial capital have found themselves facing much tougher job competition with lower-paid workers half way around the world.
Yet these market forces, powerful as they are, have been only a part of the story. Politics has played a powerful role. In some countries, like the social democracies of Northern Europe (notably Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland), government policies have ensured that all parts of society can benefit from the new globalization. In others, notably including the United States, politics have amplified the surge in power and wealth of the new financial elite.
In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan greatly amplified the pressures of inequality by attacking unions, slashing top tax rates, and deregulating financial markets, just as globalization was beginning to pressure the poor and middle class. Backed by Washington, CEOs began to help themselves to stock options and compensation packages unimaginable in the past, equal to hundreds of times the pay of their employees. U.S. companies increasingly parked their international earnings in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens, with the knowledge and even connivance of the IRS. With politicians dependent on the corporations and CEOs to fund their campaigns, the forces of inequality unleashed by globalization and amplified by Reagan, have been left almost wholly unattended by the nation's politicians ever since.
We know what happens when greed feeds greed. Wall Street lost its scruples, if not its basic commonsense. Our marquee firms -- Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, JP Morgan, AIG, Countrywide Financial, and others -- not only acted rapaciously but fraudulently, in an epidemic of corporate corruption. Yet many of the CEOs until today have not accepted responsibility or paid a price. Still they are guests at the White House state dinners, and their senior colleagues are the "bundlers" of mega-campaign contributions for 2012.
The sense of injustice, in short, is not just about the unfairness of a small part of society living in unimaginable wealth while so much of the rest of society lives in economic desperation. It's not just about the top 12,000 American households with more income than the poorest 24 million households. It's about the degradation of politics that turns wealth into power through campaign financing, lobbying, and the revolving door of business and government.
Vast inequality and the accompanying sense of injustice explain why the protests have also exploded in Chile and Israel, two countries doing rather well in economic growth and employment. Chile, Israel, and the United States are three of the five most unequal economies of the high-income world, together with Mexico and Turkey. As in the U.S., a small proportion of households in both Chile and Israel control an enormous proportion of the economy.
Protests come to the streets when the normal political channels are blocked. In Tunisia and Egypt, the blockage was the most severe: long-standing authoritarian rulers and their families keeping a tight grip on power (with the foreign policy support of the U.S. it should be mentioned). In the U.S. the blockage is vastly more remediable but insidious nonetheless. Americans elected a President promising change, but since the President and Congress fund their campaigns from Wall Street, Big Oil, and the health insurance industry, the change is unimpressive.
The survey evidence is overwhelming that Washington responds to rich constituencies rather than to the median voter, much less to the poor. And Congress itself is disproportionately wealthy -- almost half of members are millionaires. According to the opinion surveys, Americans by a strong majority want to raise taxes on the rich, end the wars, and protect the social outlays. Yet corporate lobbying mangles this clear call from the public. We end up with extended tax cuts for the rich, open-ended war, and agreements between the White House and Congress to gut civilian budget outlays in the coming decade.
No, Mr. Cantor, this is not a mob. These are America's young people, soon to be the nation's leaders, and they are telling us something about Washington's corruption, cronyism, and chronic mismanagement of the economy. With the exception of a few voices along with Warren Buffett, many of America's rich on Wall Street and beyond remain smug, self-satisfied, and intent on holding on to every last dollar of their vast fortunes.
America has rescued itself from undemocratic wealth twice before -- when the Gilded Age of the late 19th century was overtaken by the Progressive Era of the early 20th century, and when Hoover's economics and the Great Depression gave way to the New Deal in the 1930s, and then decades of economic prosperity that built a large middle class. The process of American renewal has begun anew.
Jeffrey Sachs is author of The Price of Civilization
Thursday, October 20, 2011
By James Howard Kunstler
on October 17, 2011 8:40 AM
on October 17, 2011 8:40 AM
It was amusing to see President Obama try to align himself with the OWS movement. The genial Millard Fillmore update asked them not to "demonize those who work on Wall Street." Of course, demonization proceeds from the failure of this president and his appointed agents in authority to subject those who work on Wall Street to the laws that mere mortals are supposed to follow in money matters. Hence, those who work on Wall Street appear to be something other than mortals. And since their work (on Wall Street) has had a malign influence on the common weal, some might leap to the conclusion that they are malevolent non-mortals, i.e. demons.
In this early stage of the convulsion rocking the western world, especially here in the USA, a peaceful ambience rules. That is because a game is being played. We played the game in 1968. It goes like this. You get people to turn out in the streets. The idea is to promote the right of public assembly as much as to make any particular point. (In fact, banners advocating all sorts of gripes appear.) Eventually, you get a lot of people in the streets. Feelings of happy anarchy sweep the crowd, a feeling that something special is underway, that the usual rules of everyday conduct have been suspended, in a good way. The crowd basks in the sunny glow of its own mass, happy solidarity. Everybody is behaving splendidly - more to feel good about.
After a while that gets boring, especially for young males with a lot of testosterone surging from loin to brain. They want to do more than bask in the radiance of their own righteous wonderfulness. They want to engage their large muscles, even if in the service of an idea, for instance the idea that they have been swindled. It is at first a vague idea, but large. But pretty soon it coheres emergently: swindled out of our future! Yes, it is so. Thousands of demon-like beings upstairs in the curtain-wall towers around Zuccotti Park, people wearing neckties and cultured pearls in warm offices with cappuccino machines down the hall, are at this very moment setting loose trading algorithms that will swindle us out of our future! You can see them up there at their evil, glowing screens!
That's when the yoga acrobatics and the hat crocheting are put aside and the street people - their ranks swollen into a horde-like meta-organism - start to express things beyond the right of public assembly. Something unseen goes through them, perhaps like the pheromone that transforms a field full of grasshoppers into a ravening swarm of locusts. Being people, they cannot take wing. But they can press forward and up against things, and they can surely break the glass in those sleek curtain-wall buildings (so much for "transparency") beyond which the bankers sit cringing in their expensive clothing.
Surely we are heading toward a moment like that. The bank employees upstairs must be getting a little nervous, anyway, just glancing out the windows at the moiling mob below. This is apart from the tensions internally roiling the banks themselves, not to mention the entire networked system of global banking, with all its fissures and cracks, as the merry-go-round of debt flies apart under the centrifugal force of insolvency. Come to think of it, these events could not have correlated more perfectly. Just as a horrific accident in finance is about to happen, a ready-made revolutionary mob is conveniently parked outside the pilot-houses of the world's great money vessels, so as to receive the crews directly into their open arms after the smash up.
President Obama could have changed the outcome if he had actually believed in change. He could have told his attorney general to enforce the securities law. He could have replaced the zombies at the SEC and told the new ones to apply all existing regulations. Before last year's election, he could have used his legislative majorities to repeal the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and reinstate the Glass-Steagall act. He could have initiated the process of deconstructing the giant banks back into their separate functions - so that banking once again worked as a utility rather than a launching pad for colossal frauds and swindles. Not only did he fail to do any of these things, he didn't even talk about it, or try.
Obama has a lot of nerve claiming to support the Occupy Wall Street movement. He should be one of the objects of its ire. I'm not even sure Obama will get to finish out his term of office. 2012 looks like a complete horror show in the making. The way world money matters are lining up this fall, some kind of debacle seems unavoidable, much worse than the 2008 fiasco. The normal political channels are clogged and sclerotic. Our institutions are failing us. The cast of "candidate" characters across the political spectrum convinces nobody that they can manage this republic.
The weather may determine the mood of the OWS crowd. If they don't go apeshit in the next two weeks, my guess is that the nation will hunker down into a dire, melancholy holiday season followed by a desperate winter leading to a raucous spring of political transformation - not necessarily of the best kind.
For the moment, we seem to be waiting for the proverbial first broken window.
Friday, October 14, 2011
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
By James Howard Kunstler
on October 10, 2011 9:17 AM
on October 10, 2011 9:17 AM
"Recession Officially Over," The New York Times' lead headline declared around 7 o'clock this morning. (Watch: they'll change it.) That was Part A. Part B said, "US Incomes Kept Falling." Welcome to What-The-Fuck Nation. I suppose if you include the cost of things like the number of auto accident victims transported by EMT squads as part of your Gross Domestic Product such contradictions to reality are possible. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, where are you when we really need you?
I dropped in on the Occupy Wall Street crowd down in Zuccotti Park last Thursday. It was like 1968 all over again, except there was no weed wafting on the breeze (another WTF?). The Boomer-owned-and-operated media was complaining about them all week. They were "coddled trust-funders" (an odd accusation made by people whose college enrollment status got them a draft deferment, back when college cost $500 a year). Then there was the persistent nagging over the "lack of an agenda," as if the US Department of Energy, or the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs was doing a whole lot better.
This is the funniest part to me: that leaders of a nation incapable of constructing a coherent consensus about reality can accuse its youth of not having a clear program. If the OWS movement stands for anything, it's a dire protest against the country's leaders' lack of a clear program.
For instance, what is Attorney General Eric Holder's program for prosecuting CDO swindles, the MERS racket, the bonus creamings of TBTF bank executives, the siphoning of money from the Federal Reserve to foreign banks, the misconduct at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the willful negligence of the SEC, and countless other villainies? What is Barack Obama's program for restoring the rule of law in American financial affairs? (Generally, the rule of law requires the enforcement of laws, no?)
Language is failing us, of course. When speaking of "recession," one is forced into using the twisted, tweaked, gamed categories of economists whose mission is to make their elected bosses look good in spite of anything reality says. I prefer the term contraction, because a.) that is what is really going on, and b.) the economists haven't got their mendacious mitts around it yet. Contraction means there is not going to be more, only less, and it implies that a reality-based society would make some attempt to acknowledge and manage having less - possibly by doing more.
Instead, our leaders only propose accounting tricks to pretend there is more when really there is less. The banking frauds of the past twenty years were a conspiracy between government and banks to provide the illusion that an economy based on happy motoring, suburban land development, continual war, and entertainment-on-demand could go on indefinitely. The public went along with it following the path of least resistance, allowing themselves to be called "consumers." They also went along with the nonsense out of the Supreme Court that declared corporations to be "persons" with "a right to free speech" where political campaign contributions were concerned - thereby assuring the wholesale purchase of the US government by Wall Street banks.
Praise has been coming in from all quarters for the peacefulness of the OWSers. Don't expect that to last. In the natural course of things, revolutionary actions meet resistance, generate friction, and then heat. Anyway, history is playing one of its little tricks by simultaneously ramping up the OWS movement in the same moment that the banking system is actually imploding, with the fabric showing the most stress right now in Europe. I shudder to imagine what happens when OWS moves into the streets of France, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Spain.
All of the action right now has the weird aura of being an overture to the year 2012, fast approaching as we slouch into the potentially demoralizing holidays of the current year. I don't subscribe to Mayan apocalypse notions, but there's something creepy about the wendings and tendings of our affairs these days. OWS is nature's way of telling us to get our shit together, or else. This means a whole lot more than bogus "jobs" bills and Federal Reserve interest rate legerdemain. It means coming to grips with the limits of complexity and purging the system of the idea that anything is too big to fail. What happens when Occupy Wall Street becomes Occupy Everything, Everywhere?
Saturday, October 08, 2011
It was a pretty fun night at Laura Moore Fine Art Studio tonight as Pernie Fallon and her mentor Steve Napper enjoyed the opening of their show "Journey Into Color" with some friends and students...if you didn't make down for 2nd Saturday by all means try and see the show before the end of the month...
More to come!
Thursday, October 06, 2011
The former Alaska Governor and VP candidate sent the following letter to her supporters on Wednesday:
October 5, 2011
After much prayer and serious consideration, I have decided that I will not be seeking the 2012 GOP nomination for President of the United States. As always, my family comes first and obviously Todd and I put great consideration into family life before making this decision. When we serve, we devote ourselves to God, family and country. My decision maintains this order.
My decision is based upon a review of what common sense Conservatives and Independents have accomplished, especially over the last year. I believe that at this time I can be more effective in a decisive role to help elect other true public servants to office – from the nation’s governors to Congressional seats and the Presidency. We need to continue to actively and aggressively help those who will stop the “fundamental transformation” of our nation and instead seek the restoration of our greatness, our goodness and our constitutional republic based on the rule of law.
From the bottom of my heart I thank those who have supported me and defended my record throughout the years, and encouraged me to run for President. Know that by working together we can bring this country back – and as I’ve always said, one doesn’t need a title to help do it.
I will continue driving the discussion for freedom and free markets, including in the race for President where our candidates must embrace immediate action toward energy independence through domestic resource developments of conventional energy sources, along with renewables. We must reduce tax burdens and onerous regulations that kill American industry, and our candidates must always push to minimize government to strengthen the economy and allow the private sector to create jobs.
Those will be our priorities so Americans can be confident that a smaller, smarter government that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people can better serve this most exceptional nation.
In the coming weeks I will help coordinate strategies to assist in replacing the President, re-taking the Senate, and maintaining the House.
Thank you again for all your support. Let’s unite to restore this country!
God bless America.
– Sarah Palin
Monday, October 03, 2011
Here Come the OWSers!
By James Howard Kunstler
on October 3, 2011 8:24 AM
on October 3, 2011 8:24 AM
All last week across the media landscape, in pod, blog, flat-screen, and crunkly old newsprint columns, fatuous professional observers complained that the Occupy Wall Street marchers "have no clear agenda" or "can't articulate their positions." What impertinent horseshit. I saw a statement on one OWSer's sign that said it all:
$70,000 College Debt
$12,000 Medical Bills
Where's My Bailout?
What part of that is unclear to interlocutors of what we called "the establishment" back in the day? That would be the day of the Vietnam War and the Aquarian Upsurge. One difference being that in 1968 we at least had some solidarity in the older generation coming from figures of gravity like Senators Robert Kennedy (bumped off), Eugene McCarthy, J. William Fullbright, George McGovern, Rev Martin Luther King (bumped off), and even one US Attorney General, Ramsey Clark. Today, the entire "establishment" is a clueless, hopeless blob of self-interested, craven opportunism. Even the arty fringe - the people who pretend to be an avant-garde- are nothing but narcissistic self-branding operations masquerading as culture leaders.
The worst offender this past week was the prating empty vessel Nicholas Kristoff at The New York Times who affected to offer the OWSers his own tidy agenda of nit-picky, arcane tax reforms (e.g "Close the 'carried interest' and 'founders' stock' loopholes") and limp-dick banking regulations (e.g. "[move] ahead with Basel III capital requirements"). David Plotz and his Gen X sidekicks at the Slate Political Podcast were equally mystified. I have some heartier suggestions: bring the full weight of the RICO act and the federal anti-fraud statutes down on Lloyd Blankfein, Jamie Dimon, Brian Moynihan, Angelo Mozilo, and a host of other impudent schmekels still at large in their world of Escalade limos and Gulfstream vistas. Or, if that's just too difficult, how about a handy lamppost and about 40 feet of stout nylon cord?
It is cosmically ironic, of course, that the same generation of Boomer-hippies that ran in the streets and marched through the maze of service roads around the Pentagon has become a new "establishment" more obtuse, feckless, greedy and mendacious than the one they battled with over 40 years ago. I guess they just don't see that their time has come to get right with reality - or get shoved aside and trampled. The essence of the OWSer's argument is pretty simple: they've got a raw deal; somebody dealt them a bad hand; someone ran their society into a ditch and not a goddammed one of the older generation will set in motion the machinery to correct the situation, or even acknowledge it.
At the apex of this new establishment is the Baby Boomer's moral trophy president: Barack Obama, whose election made the Boomers feel good about themselves - while they preceded to loot the national treasury's accumulated capital, and then reach forward a few generations to rob their legacy, too. I haven't heard Nicholas Kristoff (or any of his colleagues at The New York Times) complain about Mr. Obama's stupendous inattention to the crimes of Wall Street, or to the dereliction of his proconsuls in the SEC and the Department of Justice. I'd at least send somebody to hold a mirror under Eric Holder's nostrils to see if he is actually alive.
For my money, the OWSers have plenty to yell about. Apart from the crimes and turpitudes of their elders, the younger generation hasn't even been prepared for the massive change in reality that these times are heaving them into. If it was me out there, I'd conclude that I'd better make up the future on my own, with no help from my parent's generation. In fact, that future is rushing toward all of us so cold, hard, and fresh even in this autumn season that it might splatter the banking establishment - and the global economy - like a bug on a windshield. The OWSers have a front row seat down there in lower Manhattan. The financial gangrene (thank you Zero Hedge) is not just seeping anymore, it's blowing through the arteries of the money underworld like fracking fluid. The damage can't be contained. Let the Arabs have spring. The OWSers of America own the fall. Rock on OWSers and don't let the "pigs" (as we used to call them) get you down.