Archive for the ‘Occupy movement’ Category

April 20, 2014

Published: Saturday 19 April 2014
We sail in an unstable political ocean, surfing bursts of protests and unexpected revolts emerging across the globe: 843 large protests in the last eight years.
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If Karl Marx raised his head, he would be absolutely baffled: Revolts are shaking the world, bursting in the most unexpected places, but they rarely take power. The conditions for rebellion are as sharp today as in the nineteenth century, but few protests lead to the literal meaning of revolution, that “violent change in political, economic or social institutions of a nation.”

In addition, working people, whom Marx called the proletariat, seem not to have found control of the worldwide riots they are sparking – nor is class struggle the leitmotif of the wave of social unrest that has been repeating since the Arab Spring. Instead, a new political subject – more diffuse, more heterogeneous, more unclassifiable – is blurring the boundaries and formal definitions of revolution.

Measuring the period between 2006 and 2013, we live in the most agitated era in modern history – more intense than 1848, 1917 or 1968 – according to the World Protests report released last fall by the Initiative for Policy Dialogue and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in New York. We sail in an unstable political ocean, surfing bursts of protests and unexpected revolts emerging across the globe: 843 large protests in the last eight years, according to the study.

British journalist Paul Mason sees a strong parallel between the current unrest and the waves of discontent stirring in 1848 and 1914. The philosopher Alain Badiou even envisions a “rebirth of the story” in a new age of “riots and uprising” after a long revolutionary interval. It may be what we are seeing now with the constant procession of protests and pop-up revolts. People take the streets. They hack codes (legal, social, urban). They build new communities. But the establishment, in most cases, barely ruffles.

The increasing global revolution remixes and recombines social ties. However, when a revolt takes power, as in Ukraine, it may be with the help of conservative or even fascist, neo-Nazi forces. And a popular uprising against a dictatorship, as in Egypt, may lead to a new military government. “The protester” may have made the 2011 cover of Time magazine, notes Mason, but “not a single revolt has achieved its goal.” When Passe Livre protests in Brazil reached their initial goal (reduction of the public transport fare by 20 cents), the crowd already had dozens of new demands: quality education, political transparency, participatory democracy… Is global revolution infinite revolution?

However, some of the recent revolts do not even fit the definition of “popular” – and certainly few have anything to do with the Marxist-Leninist vision of an uprising by the proletariat. Time’s cover protester can be a Spanish graduate with no future. A poor worker in Brazil drowning in bank debt. Or a Turkish middle-class employee whipped by Istanbul’s gentrification. Today, urban precariat or netizens – insufficient concepts but more proper than proletariat – can fight hand to hand with retirees outraged by political corruption in Bulgaria or Greece. 

Do we live in the most revolutionary era of history or just a prelude of discontent like the one that led to social unrest in 1848? Is the big explosion still coming?

Around the World in 843 Riots

The World Protests report – which was compiled by Isabel Ortiz, Sara Burke, Mohamed Berrada and Hernán Cortés, and is perhaps the most comprehensive study of its kind produced to date – details 843 significant protests that occurred in 84 countries between 2006 and July of 2013. Its methodology is classical. It does not talk of networked revolts, cross-subjective infections or global connections. The symbolic, emotional or effective memes used in those protests – like the one enjoining the 99% against the 1% in 2011 – appear in small boxes under the report.

The study mentions Occupy Wall Street and the Spanish Indignados, looking at the objective causes of these revolts and the particulars that defined them: lawsuits, who were the organizers, the formats of the protests, the opponents, the results. At first glance, the reader may not recognize the radical novelty of this report, which revealed that the main cause of the 2006-2013 riots was “economy or anti-austerity measures” (488 protests), and that marches or demonstrations were still the most common protest format (437).

However, a careful observation of the World Protests study shows other surprising details. Even while analyzing the objective causes, explanations or macro-economic conditions that led to the wave of rebellion, something else is shaking the world. Governments may still appear to be the main opponents of the demonstrators, says the report, but something more liquid and atmospheric is unscrewing the established order. The demand for “Real Democracy” is the second most common claim in the protests (210), while the “failure of representative democracy” was the cause of 376 protests.

World Protests reveals that “New agents of change” (such as Occupy, 15M/Indignados, Anonymous, etc) have become, as organizers, almost as important as unions. The “occupations” and “assemblies” (219 total) are now the second most common format for protests, following classic demonstrations. The emergence of “leaks” – such as the Iraq, Afghanistan and other logs released by Wikileaks, the Edward Snowden files, or the political databases released by Anonymous at the start of the 2011 Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia – complement this intriguing new landscape of global rebellion painted by the World Protests report.

Networked Revolución

“The State is institutional and static, the revolution is fluid and dynamic,” said Emma Goldman in 1924, describing how the “State killed the Russian Revolution,” while widening the semantic field of revolution for the 21st century. What Goldman could not witness, we may be seeing right now: an underground, symbolic, liquid revolution that is eroding the foundations of the State.

This revolution prefers the lateral, the asymmetrical, rather than the solid and defined territories of conventional politics. Perhaps we have entered into a new age of resistance, as Costas Douzinas points out – an era with new “forms, strategies and subjects of resistance,” a new insurrectionary era played by a new diffuse, lateral, inter-class, transnational subject. Such a subject replaces the ideologies and close identities of the past with a new activist ecosystem, driven by hyperlocal desires while participating in a new magma of intercontinental struggle.

Marx would be dazed and confused. Perhaps he would be enjoying the insurrectionist virality of this new century. Maybe he would also be understanding that “masses” and the proletariat are giving way to a new collective body – a new crowd that disperse and reconfigure the world without taking power, as John Holloway used to say. Faceless crowds without leaders are replacing politics in parts of the world without changing the operating system suddenly. What we are seeing is a resilient and mutant crowd that, although it is not able to take formal power, finds the gaps (and hacks) inside to sow the seeds of the new world.

Or perhaps the planet of 843 riots is not immersed in a revolution. Perhaps it’s a new networked renaissance. “The renaissances are recontextualizing historical moments,” argues Douglas Ruskoff. And maybe, above all, a symbolic revolution is brewing in the minds of people everywhere. The difference, now, is that subjective revolution does not depend on a vertical apparatus as in Hitler’s Germany. Rather, the subjective revolution may be born after connecting nodes, after a sequence of assembled indignation and linked social empowerments.

The symbolic revolution are like wheels without brakes, from the networks to the streets, remixing a single shout in a multi-cause revolt as happened in Istanbul’s Gezi Park or the Passe Livre protests in Brazil. It is not for 20 cents: it is for civic rights. And in the world of 843 revolts, nothing is linear or predictable. In Mali, they take the streets against the rights of women. In France, against gays. In Austria and Singapore, against immigrants. And if the citizens of the richest country in the world decide that their social situation is outrageous enough, they too would do a forceful revolt.

Paul Mason cites a comment made by Virginia Woolf in the early 20th century, in trying to explain the 21st century: “Around December 1910 human character changed.” Virginia Woolf was referring to a revolution in social life and art that transformed the conventions of the Edwardian era into “something dead.” Protesters, says Mason, may have now made the our century seem as alien and remote as the 19th century was to Woolf and her revolutionary circle.


Bernardo Gutiérrez is a Spanish journalist and writer who researches networked revolutions, hacker culture and peer-to-peer politics. Based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, he is the founder of the global innovation network and participates in the Global Revolution Research Network (GRRN) of Open University of Catalonia. Follow him at @bernardosampa. – See more at:

NSA Surveillance, the Occupy Movement and Defending Our Constitutional Rights

June 22, 2013

OCCUPY.COM/News Report
Published: Saturday 22 June 2013
The rules the government has imposed on itself are little more than a formality: the government will access our information regardless of any bureaucratic hurdles it has to jump, whether citizens are suspected terrorists or not.
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According to the government’s loose interpretation of constitutional law, all Americans are suspected terrorists, all 300 million of us.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees Americans freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, without probable cause. “Probable cause,” however, doesn’t have a strict definition, according to the National Security Agency when monitoring all of our phone calls, emails, text messages and social media activity.

The NSA also argues that the bulk of its surveillance is only for suspected foreign terrorists, yet foreign Facebook accounts make up just 0.01% of the NSA’s surveillance. Meaning the other 99.99% is us.


President Obama and the NSA allege that innocent Americans won’t be monitored, though that makes about, as much sense as saying people in a swimming pool who want to stay dry won’t get wet. If any of your communication happens digitally, it’s traceable. If it’s traceable, it’s being tracked. We’re all caught up in this massive surveillance net, even though the vast majority of us aren’t terrorists planning attacks. 

Normally, if a government agency like the NSA wants access to an American citizen’s communications, they have to submit a request to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to look over the requested information. As Stephen Colbert pointed out, the FISA courts haven’t once denied government requests to snoop through our communications, and the NSA has admitted to listening to our phone calls without a warrant.

What this essentially boils down to is that the rules the government has imposed on itself are little more than a formality: the government will access our information regardless of any bureaucratic hurdles it has to jump, whether citizens are suspected terrorists or not.

While a lot of law-abiding Americans have been surprised to find out that their government was spying on them, people affiliated with the Occupy movement have known it for some time. Even though government agencies knew Occupy Wall Street was a nonviolent movement, they investigated the movement as they would a domestic terror cell.

In Boston, while federally funded fusion centers like the Boston Regional Information Center (BRIC) were tasked with finding and investigating potential terrorists, the local cops and the feds were all focusing its resources on the Occupy Boston movement. We spent tens of millions of state and federal tax dollars treating law-abiding Americans as criminals simply for expressing their constitutionally protected First Amendment rights.

Dossiers were assembled on activists and were classified under “Criminal Act,” “Extremists,” Civil Disturbance,” and “HomeSec- Domestic.” This all took place while Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev went under the radar of counter-terrorism agencies despite repeated warnings from the Russian government.

Other documents released as a result of FOIA requests show that the violent crackdown and eviction of Occupy encampments in late 2011 was a federally coordinated effort overseen by the Department of Homeland Security. Most Occupy activists weren’t at all surprised to learn that the government was going widely beyond its stated goal of counter-terrorism, and was simply monitoring all Americans’ communication at all times, regardless of the absence of any wrongdoing. If Congress were genuinely concerned about this, they would be present during briefings that addressed the scope of federal surveillance, rather than skipping out so they could fly back home.

NSA officials, the Obama administration and diehard Obama partisans have argued that if one isn’t doing anything wrong, then one has nothing to worry about in terms of government surveillance. But what those aforementioned groups forget is that people who believed that citizens have certain inalienable rights that should never be breached by tyrannical governments founded our country.

Ben Franklin said that those who would trade liberty for a little temporary security will lose both and deserve neither. This latest episode is a clear indicator that our government has gone beyond its obligations to uphold the law and is blatantly violating constitutional freedoms. If we let this abuse happen without repercussions, our constitutional rights will soon only exist on centuries-old paper.



Carl Gibson, 25, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary “We’re Not Broke,” which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Manchester, New Hampshire. You can contact Carl at, and listen to his online radio talk show, Swag The Dog, at

Wall Street Still Runs the Show

May 9, 2013

Published: Wednesday 8 May 2013
This Tuesday, the House Financial Services Committee will be reviewing nine bills that gut many of the reforms passed to regulate derivatives on Wall St. in 2010.
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One might think that with the wave of scandals that have rocked the banking industry in the last several months, from HSBC money laundering to drug cartels, to the lies perpetuated in the JP Morgan London Whale trades, that politicians might have some sense of shame about continuing to deregulate on behalf of the banks. One might think that even if they are captured completely by their true bosses–Wall Street–that politically, they would have enough sense to go easy, lay low, and not carry the water for the banks so soon after this deluge of scandals.

You’d be wrong.

This Tuesday, the House Financial Services Committee will be reviewing nine bills that gut many of the reforms passed to regulate derivatives on Wall St in 2010. These bills vary in the specifics of their aims, but all effectively make profits easier for Wall Street, often at the expense of the American public.


As Mike Konzcal wrote for the Washington Post, “One bill would weaken cross-border regulations, allowing U.S. firms that run their derivatives in other countries to avoid following the new derivative rules. Another would exempt inter-affiliate swaps, or derivatives between various corporate entities, from having to follow the new Dodd-Frank derivative rules.” 

But by far the most egregious of these bills is HR 992. Currently, banks can hold three kinds of derivatives in the same accounts as depositor funds–those that enjoy FDIC insurance. HR 992 would expand this to allow banks to hold ANY kind of derivative, with one exception (a structured swap, which is defined in the bill), in the insured depository.

The reason this is a problem is because derivatives are senior in bankruptcy. In the event a big bank went under, hedge funds sitting on the other side of trades with the bank would get money paid back to them first. If the hedge funds and other companies the bank traded derivatives with (what is technically called a “counterparty”) exhausted the funds set aside to insure the regular depositors (those with checking and savings accounts), the FDIC would have to:

1) sell assets from the failed bank to raise money.

2) try and fight to get back some of this money from the derivatives counterparties. If that didn’t work, the Treasury would step in and give a loan to the failed bank for 5 years–which essentially is a bailout. Banks want to hold their derivatives in the insured account because it makes it cheaper for them. HR 992 at its heart is about making the cost of doing business cheaper for Wall Street at the expense of Main Street.

These bills will most likely pass the Republican-controlled House Financial Services Committee. They will likely garner support from every Republican on the committee. Republican Randy Hultgren will certainly vote for his bill, HR 992 mentioned above. The head of the committee, Jeb Hensarling (known for a lavish ski vacation with Wall Street lobbyists). Another Republican, Scott Garrett, is also stuffed full of Wall Street cash, and will be sure to show his support for the banking lobby on Tuesday.

But there are also many Democrats who will likely vote for these bills. Jim Himes of CT (@jahimes) is a co-sponsor of one of the dangerous HR 992. David Scott of GA (@repdavidscott) is another co-sponsor, and he will also show allegiance to Wall Street on Tuesday. Carolyn Maloney of New York (@RepMaloney), will also likely vote on behalf of the banks, as she has proven a long-time ally of Wall Street.

Despite the fact that the ongoing wave of banking scandals demonstrate that the megabanks willfully violate existing laws, politicians on both sides of the aisle remain ready and willing to march ahead on their behalf, tearing down even the meager protections put in place after the financial crisis.

The bipartisan support for these bills shows that Wall Street still runs the show. And it also shows that even in the wave of revelations of money laundering by banks to drug cartels, politicians are still willing to risk populist rage in order to demonstrate where their ultimate allegiance lies. The banks remain so powerful, that Democrats and Republicans alike are willing to risk their re-elections rather than stand up to the criminals on Wall Street who give them their marching orders.

Occupy Your Victories

September 18, 2012
Tom Dispatch/Op-ed
Published: Monday 17 September 2012
“Occupy didn’t seem remarkable on September 17, 2011, and not a lot of people were looking at it when it was mostly young people heading for Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park.”

Occupy is now a year old.  A year is an almost ridiculous measure of time for much of what matters: at one year old, Georgia O’Keeffe was not a great painter, and Bessie Smith wasn’t much of a singer. One year into the Civil Rights Movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was still in progress, catalyzed by the unknown secretary of the local NAACP chapter and a preacher from Atlanta — by, that is, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Occupy, our bouncing baby, was born with such struggle and joy a year ago, and here we are, 12 long months later.

Occupy didn’t seem remarkable on September 17, 2011, and not a lot of people were looking at it when it was mostly young people heading for Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. But its most remarkable aspect turned out to be its staying power: it didn’t declare victory or defeat and go home. It decided it was home and settled in for two catalytic months.

Tents and general assemblies and the acts, tools, and ideas of Occupy exploded across the nation and the western world from Alaska to New Zealand, and some parts of the eastern world — Occupy Hong Kong was going strong until last week. For a while, it was easy to see that this baby was something big, but then most, though not all, of the urban encampments were busted, and the movement became something subtler. But don’t let them tell you it went away.

The most startling question anyone asked me last year was, “What is Occupy’s 10-year plan?”

Who takes the long view? Americans have a tendency to think of activism like a slot machine, and if it doesn’t come up three jailed bankers or three clear victories fast, you’ve wasted your quarters. And yet hardly any activists ever define what victory would really look like, so who knows if we’ll ever get there?

Sometimes we do get three clear victories, but because it took a while or because no one was sure what victory consisted of, hardly anyone realizes a celebration is in order, or sometimes even notices. We get more victories than anyone imagines, but they are usually indirect, incomplete, slow to arrive, and situations where our influence can be assumed but not proven — and yet each of them is worth counting.

More Than a Handful of Victories

For the first anniversary of Occupy, large demonstrations have been planned in New York and San Francisco and a host of smaller actions around the country, but some of the people who came together under the Occupy banner have been working steadily in quiet ways all along, largely unnoticed. From Occupy Chattanooga to Occupy London, people are meeting weekly, sometimes just to have a forum, sometimes to plan foreclosure defenses, public demonstrations, or engage in other forms of organizing. On August 22nd, for instance, a foreclosure on Kim Mitchell’s house in a low-income part of San Francisco was prevented by a coalition made up of Occupy and Occupy Noe Valley (two San Francisco neighborhoods) along with ACCE, the group that succeeded theRepublican-destroyed ACORN.

It was a little victory in itself — and another that such an economically and ethnically diverse group was working together so beautifully. Demonstrations and victories like it are happening regularly across the country, including in Minnesota, thanks toOccupy Homes. Earlier this month, Occupy Wall Street helped Manhattan restaurant workers defeat a lousy boss and a worker lock-out to unionize a restaurant in the Hot and Crusty chain. (While shut out, the employees occupied the sidewalk and ran the Worker Justice Café there.)

In Providence, Rhode Island, the Occupy encampment broke up late last January, but only on the condition that the city open a daytime shelter for homeless people. At Princeton University, big banks are no longer invited to recruit on campus, most likely thanks to Occupy Princeton.

There have been thousands of little victories like these and some big ones as well: the impact of the Move Your Money initiative, the growing revolt against student-loan-debt peonage, and more indirectly the passing of a California law protecting homeownersfrom the abuse of the foreclosure process (undoubtedly due in part to Occupy’s highlighting of the brutality and corruption of that process).

But don’t get bogged down in the tangible achievements, except as a foundation. The less tangible spirit of Occupy and the new associations it sparked are what matters for whatever comes next, for that 10-year-plan. Occupy was first of all a great meeting ground. People who live too much in the virtual world with its talent for segregation and isolation suddenly met each other face-to-face in public space. There, they found common ground in a passion for economic justice and real democracy and a recognition of the widespread suffering capitalism has created.

Bonds were formed across the usual divides of age and race and class, between the housed and the homeless as well as the employed and jobless, and some of those bonds still exist. There was tremendous emotion around it — the joy of finding you were not alone, the shame that was shed as the prisoners of debt stepped out of the shadows, the ferocity of solidarity when so many of us were attacked by the police, the dizzying hope that everything could be different, and the exhilaration in those moments when it already was.


People learned how direct democracy works; they tasted power; they found something in common with strangers; they lived in public.  All those things mattered and matter still. They are a great foundation for the future; they are a great way to live in the present. 

Maybe Occupy was too successful a brand in that it sometimes disguised how much this movement was part of popular surges going on around the world: the Arab Spring (including the three successful revolutions, the ongoing Syrian civil war, uprisings in Yemen, and more); the student uprisings in Montreal, Mexico, and Chile that have continued to develop and broaden; the economic revolts in Spain, Greece, and Britain; the ongoing demonstrations and insurrections around Africa; even various acts of resistance in India, Japan, China, and Tibet, some large and powerful. Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, these days a lot of the world is in some form of rebellion, insurrection, or protest.

And the family resemblances matter.  If you add them all up, you see a similar fury at greed, political corruption, economic inequality, environmental devastation, and a dimming, shrinking future.

The Heroic Age

Nevertheless, the one-year anniversary is likely to produce a lot of mainstream media stories that will assure you Occupy was only a bunch of tents that came down last year, that it was naïve, and that’s that. Don’t buy it. Don’t be reasonable, don’t be realistic, and don’t be defeated.  A year is nothing and the mainstream media is oblivious to where power lies and how change works, but that doesn’t mean you need to be.

That same media will tell you 99 ways from Tuesday how powerless you are and how all power is made by men in suits who won or bought elections, but don’t buy that either. Instead, notice howterrified Vladimir Putin was of three young performers in bright-colored balaclavas, and how equally frightenedWall Street is of us. They remember something we tend to forget: together we are capable of being remarkably powerful. We can make history, and we have, and we will, but only when we keep our eyes on the prize, pitch a big tent, and don’t stop until we get there.


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We live in the heroic age itself, the age of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, of the Zapatistas in Mexico, of the Civil Rights Movement’s key organizers, including John Lewis and Reverend Joseph Lowery, and of so many nameless heroines and heroes from Argentina toIceland. Their praises are often sung, and the kinds of courage, integrity, generosity of spirit, and vision they exhibited all matter, but I want to talk about another virtue we don’t think about much: it’s the one we call patience when we like it or it appears to be gentle, and stubbornness when we don’t or it doesn’t. 

After all, Suu Kyi was steadfast during many years of house arrest and intimidation after a military junta stole the 1990 election she had won and only this year did the situation shift a little. The goals of the stubborn often seem impossible at inception, as did some of the goals of the Civil Rights Movement, or for that matter the earlynineteenth century abolitionist movementin the United States, which set out to eradicate the atrocity of slavery more than 30 years before victory — a lot faster than the contemporaneous women’s movement got basic rights like the vote. Change happens, but it can take decades; and it takes people who remain steadfast, patient (or stubborn) for those same decades, along with infusions of new energy.

I suspect the steadfastness of the heroes of the great movements of our time came not only from facts but from faith. They had faith that their cause was just, that this was the right way to live on Earth, that what they did mattered, and they had those things decades before the results were in. You had to be unrealistic about the odds to go up against the Burmese generals or the Apartheid regime in South Africa or Jim Crow or 5,000 years of patriarchy or centuries of homophobia, and the unrealistic among us drew on their faith and did just that, with tremendous consequences.

Realism is overrated, but the fact is that the Occupy movement has already had extraordinary results. We changed the national debate early on and brought into the open what was previously hiding in plain sight: both the violence of Wall Street and the yearning for community, justice, truth, power, and hope that possesses most of the rest of us. We found out something that mattered about who we are: we found out just how many of us are furious about the debt peonage settled onto millions of “underwater” homeowners, people destroyed by medical debts, and students shackled by subprime educations that no future salaries will ever dig them out of.

And here was Occupy’s other signal achievement: we articulated, clearly, loudly, incontrovertably, how appalling and destructive the current economic system is. To name something is a powerful action. To speak the truth changes reality, and this has everything to do with why electoral politics runs the spectrum from euphemism and parallel-universe formulations to astonishing lies and complete evasions. Wily Occupy brought a Trojan horse loaded with truth to the citadel of Wall Street. Even the bronze bullcouldn’t face that down.

Meeting the Possibilities Down the Road

A 10-year plan would function like a map: we could see where we had been, where we are, and where we want to go. In San Francisco, participants in the one-year anniversary events will burn student loan and mortgage contracts to symbolically free the prisoners of debt. In New York, Occupy Wall Street itself is focusing on debtor’s assemblies and debt burnings for the one-year anniversary. This September 17th, practical goals will be announced, a Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual will debut — and who knows, in 10 years’ time some of those goals could even be fully realized.

This will require unwavering determination, even when there are no results.  It means not being sour about interim and incomplete victories, as well as actual defeats along the way. In 10 years, we could see some exciting things: the reversal of the harsh new bankruptcy laws, the transformation of educational financing, and maybe even a debt jubilee, along with major changes in banking and mortgage laws.

The victories, when they come, won’t be perfect.  They might not even look like victories or like anything we ever expected, and there will be lots of steps along the way that purists will deplore as “compromise.” Just as anything you make from a cake to a book never quite resembles the Platonic ideal in your head, victories may not look like their templates, but you should celebrate them, however imperfect they may be, as further steps along the road and never believe that the road ends or that you should stop walking.

Still, if you’re talking about results, I’m convinced that pressure from Occupy and the student activists around it was what put student debt in the Democratic platform and has made it a major talking point of the Obama campaign. I worry that if, 10 years from now, the landscape of educational finance has been transformed for the better, no one will remember why or how it happened, or who started it all, so no one will celebrate or feel how powerful we really can be.

It will be taken for granted the way, say, voting rights are for those of us so long disenfranchised. Most people will forget the world was ever different, just as most people will never know that more than 100 coal-fired plants were not built in this country thanks to climate and environmental activists and few note that the Keystone XL pipeline would have been finished by now, were it not and the rest of the opposition. This is why stories matter, especially the stories of our power, our victories, and our history.

Looking Back with Gratitude, Looking Forward With Fierceness

Once there was a great antinuclear movement in this country, first focusing on the dangers and follies of “peaceful” nuclear power, then on the evil of nuclear weapons, and it won many forgotten victories. Ever notice that we haven’t actually built a reactor since the 1970s, partly because safety standards got so much higher?  Who now remembers the Great Basin MX missile installations that were never built, the nuclear waste dumps — at Sierra Blanca, Ward Valley, and Yucca Mountain, among other places — that never opened?

Who still even thinks about some of the arms-reduction treaties? And yet little of this would have happened if those antinuclear movements hadn’t existed.  So thank an activist, and thank specifically the visionaries who showed up early and the stubborn ones who stayed to work on the issue long after the millions involved in the early 1980s nuclear-freeze movement had given up and gone home. Some of them are still at work, and we’re all beneficiaries.

One of the first groups in the round of antinuclear activism that began in the 1970s was the Clamshell Alliance created in 1976 to oppose New Hampshire’s proposed Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. One reactor was built and is still operating at Seabrook; one was cancelled due to opposition.  Building the first reactor cost five times the initial estimate and led its owner, Public Service of New Hampshire, to what was then the fourth largest bankruptcy in U.S. history when it was unable to make ratepayers pick up the bill. You can read that as a partial victory, but Clamshell did so much more.

Their spirit and their creative new approach inspired activists around the country and helped generate a movement. Sixty-six nuclear power plants were cancelled in the wake of Clamshell. Keep in mind as well that the Clamshell Alliance and many of the antinuclear groups that followed developed non-hierarchical, direct-democracy methods of organizing since used by activists and movements throughout the U.S. and beyond, including Occupy Wall Street, whose consensus-based general assemblies owed a lot to a bunch of hippies no one remembers.

Bill Moyers met with Clamshell Alliance members in 1978, when he thought they were beginning to be victorious in inspiring a national movement and they thought they were failing. What he said is still worth quoting:

“That Friday night, I expected to meet a spirited, upbeat group that was proud of its accomplishments. I was shocked when the Clamshell activists arrived with heads bowed, dispirited, and depressed, saying their efforts had been in vain. The Clamshell experience of discouragement and collapse is far from unusual. Within a few years after achieving the goals of ‘take-off,’ every major social movement of the past 20 years has undergone a significant collapse, in which activists believed that their movements had failed, the powerful institutions were too powerful, and their own efforts were futile. This has happened even when movements were actually progressing reasonably well along the normal path taken by past successful movements!”

With Occupy, remarkable things have already happened, and more remarkable systemic change could be ahead. Don’t forget that this was a movement that spread to thousands of cities, towns, and even rural outposts across the country and overseas, from Occupy Tucson to Occupy Bangor. Remember that many of the effects of what has already happened are incalculable, and more of what is being accomplished will only be clear further down the road.

Go out into the streets and celebrate the one-year anniversary and start dreaming and planning for 2021, when we could — if we are steadfast, if we are inclusive, if we keep our eyes on the prize, if we define that prize and recognize progress toward it and remember where we started — be celebrating something much bigger. It’s a long road to travel, but we can get there from here.

See Tom Engelhardt’s response here.

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San Francisco writer Rebecca Solnit is the author of thirteen books about art, landscape, public and collective life, ecology, politics, hope, meandering, reverie, and memory. She has worked with climate change, Native American land rights, antinuclear, human rights, antiwar and other issues as an activist and journalist. A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she is a contributing editor to Harper’s and frequent contributor to the political site and has made her living as an independent writer since 1988.

Occupy Movement Bears Fruit

September 18, 2012

Yes! Magazine/Infographic

Published: Tuesday 18 September 2012
On the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, we gathered together just a few of the most vibrant projects taking place under the movement’s banner and put them in a visual format.

Occupy Oi (Reactore Restart): Now Broadcasting

July 1, 2012


“Saikado Hantai!”: “No Restart (Reactors)!”

Colonized by Corporations

May 15, 2012

Posted on May 14, 2012

By Chris Hedges

In Robert E. Gamer’s book “The Developing Nations”is a chapter called “Why Men Do Not Revolt.” In it Gamer notes that although the oppressed often do revolt, the object of their hostility is misplaced. They vent their fury on a political puppet, someone who masks colonial power, a despised racial or ethnic group or an apostate within their own political class. The useless battles serve as an effective mask for what Gamer calls the “patron-client” networks that are responsible for the continuity of colonial oppression. The squabbles among the oppressed, the political campaigns between candidates who each are servants of colonial power, Gamer writes, absolve the actual centers of power from addressing the conditions that cause the frustrations of the people. Inequities, political disenfranchisement and injustices are never seriously addressed. “The government merely does the minimum necessary to prevent those few who are prone toward political action from organizing into politically effective groups,” he writes.

Gamer and many others who study the nature of colonial rule offer the best insights into the functioning of our corporate state. We have been, like nations on the periphery of empire, colonized. We are controlled by tiny corporate entities that have no loyalty to the nation and indeed in the language of traditional patriotism are traitors. They strip us of our resources, keep us politically passive and enrich themselves at our expense. The mechanisms of control are familiar to those whom the Martinique-born French psychiatrist and writer Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth,” including African-Americans. The colonized are denied job security. Incomes are reduced to subsistence level. The poor are plunged into desperation. Mass movements, such as labor unions, are dismantled. The school system is degraded so only the elites have access to a superior education. Laws are written to legalize corporate plunder and abuse, as well as criminalize dissent. And the ensuing fear and instability—keenly felt this past weekend by the more than 200,000 Americans who lost their unemployment benefits—ensure political passivity by diverting all personal energy toward survival. It is an old, old game.

A change of power does not require the election of a Mitt Romney or a Barack Obama or a Democratic majority in Congress, or an attempt to reform the system or electing progressive candidates, but rather a destruction of corporate domination of the political process—Gamer’s “patron-client” networks. It requires the establishment of new mechanisms of governance to distribute wealth and protect resources, to curtail corporate power, to cope with the destruction of the ecosystem and to foster the common good. But we must first recognize ourselves as colonial subjects. We must accept that we have no effective voice in the way we are governed. We must accept the hollowness of electoral politics, the futility of our political theater, and we must destroy the corporate structure itself.

The danger the corporate state faces does not come from the poor. The poor, those Karl Marx dismissed as theLumpenproletariat, do not mount revolutions, although they join them and often become cannon fodder. The real danger to the elite comes from déclasséintellectuals, those educated middle-class men and women who are barred by a calcified system from advancement. Artists without studios or theaters, teachers without classrooms, lawyers without clients, doctors without patients and journalists without newspapers descend economically. They become, as they mingle with the underclass, a bridge between the worlds of the elite and the oppressed. And they are the dynamite that triggers revolt.

This is why the Occupy movement frightens the corporate elite. What fosters revolution is not misery, but the gap between what people expect from their lives and what is offered. This is especially acute among the educated and the talented. They feel, with much justification, that they have been denied what they deserve. They set out to rectify this injustice. And the longer the injustice festers, the more radical they become.

The response of a dying regime—and our corporate regime is dying—is to employ increasing levels of force, and to foolishly refuse to ameliorate the chronic joblessness, foreclosures, mounting student debt, lack of medical insurance and exclusion from the centers of power. Revolutions are fueled by an inept and distant ruling class that perpetuates political paralysis. This ensures its eventual death.

In every revolutionary movement I covered in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, the leadership emerged from déclassé intellectuals. The leaders were usually young or middle-aged, educated and always unable to meet their professional and personal aspirations. They were never part of the power elite, although often their parents had been. They were conversant in the language of power as well as the language of oppression. It is the presence of large numbers of déclassé intellectuals that makes the uprisings in Spain, Egypt, Greece and finally the United States threatening to the overlords at Goldman Sachs, ExxonMobil and JPMorgan Chase. They must face down opponents who understand, in a way the uneducated often do not, the lies disseminated on behalf of corporations by the public relations industry. These déclassé intellectuals, because they are conversant in economics and political theory, grasp that those who hold power, real power, are not the elected mandarins in Washington but the criminal class on Wall Street.

This is what made Malcolm Xso threatening to the white power structure. He refused to countenance Martin Luther King’s fiction that white power and white liberals would ever lift black people out of economic squalor. King belatedly came to share Malcolm’s view. Malcolm X named the enemy. He exposed the lies. And until we see the corporate state, and the games it is playing with us, with the same kind of clarity, we will be nothing more than useful idiots.

“This is an era of hypocrisy,” Malcolm X said. “When white folks pretend that they want Negroes to be free, and Negroes pretend to white folks that they really believe that white folks want ’em to be free, it’s an era of hypocrisy, brother. You fool me and I fool you. You pretend that you’re my brother and I pretend that I really believe you believe you’re my brother.”

Those within a demoralized ruling elite, like characters in a Chekhov play, increasingly understand that the system that enriches and empowers them is corrupt and decayed. They become cynical. They do not govern effectively. They retreat into hedonism. They no longer believe their own rhetoric. They devote their energies to stealing and exploiting as much, as fast, as possible. They pillage their own institutions, as we have seen with the newly disclosed loss of $2 billion within JPMorgan Chase, the meltdown of Chesapeake Energy Corp.or the collapse of Enron and Lehman Brothers. The elites become cannibals. They consume each other. This is what happens in the latter stages of all dying regimes. Louis XIV pillaged his own nobility by revoking patents of nobilityand reselling them. It is what most corporations do to their shareholders. A dying ruling class, in short, no longer acts to preserve its own longevity. It becomes fashionable, even in the rarefied circles of the elite, to ridicule and laugh at the political puppets that are the public face of the corporate state.

“Ideas that have outlived their day may hobble about the world for years,” Alexander Herzenwrote, “but it is hard for them ever to lead and dominate life. Such ideas never gain complete possession of a man, or they gain possession only of incomplete people.”

This loss of faith means that when it comes time to use force, the elites employ it haphazardly and inefficiently, in large part because they are unsure of the loyalty of the foot soldiers on the streets charged with carrying out repression.

Revolutions take time. The American Revolution began with protests against the Stamp Act of 1765 but did not erupt until a decade later. The 1917 revolution in Russia started with a dress rehearsal in 1905. The most effective revolutions, including the Russian Revolution, have been largely nonviolent. There are always violent radicals who carry out bombings and assassinations, but they hinder, especially in the early stages, more than help revolutions. The anarchistPeter Kropotkinduring the Russian Revolution condemned the radical terrorists, asserting that they only demoralized and frightened away the movement’s followers and discredited authentic anarchism.

Radical violent groups cling like parasites to popular protests. The Black Panthers, the American Indian Movement, the Weather Underground, the Red Brigades and the Symbionese Liberation Army arose in the ferment of the 1960s. Violent radicals are used by the state to justify harsh repression. They scare the mainstream from the movement. They thwart the goal of all revolutions, which is to turn the majority against an isolated and discredited ruling class. These violent fringe groups are seductive to those who yearn for personal empowerment through hyper-masculinity and violence, but they do little to advance the cause. The primary role of radical extremists, such as Maximilien Robespierre and Vladimir Lenin, is to hijack successful revolutions. They unleash a reign of terror, primarily against fellow revolutionaries, which often outdoes the repression of the old regime. They often do not play much of a role in building a revolution.

The power of the Occupy movement is that it expresses the widespread disgust with the elites, and the deep desire for justice and fairness that is essential to all successful revolutionary movements. The Occupy movement will change and mutate, but it will not go away. It may appear to make little headway, but this is less because of the movement’s ineffectiveness and more because decayed systems of power have an amazing ability to perpetuate themselves through habit, routine and inertia. The press and organs of communication, along with the anointed experts and academics, tied by money and ideology to the elites, are useless in dissecting what is happening within these movements. They view reality through the lens of their corporate sponsors. They have no idea what is happening.

Dying regimes are chipped away slowly and imperceptibly. The assumptions and daily formalities of the old system are difficult for citizens to abandon, even when the old system is increasingly hostile to their dignity, well-being and survival. Supplanting an old faith with a new one is the silent, unseen battle of all revolutionary movements. And during the slow transition it is almost impossible to measure progress.

“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong,” Fanon wrote in “Black Skin, White Masks.”“When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.”

The end of these regimes comes when old beliefs die and the organs of security, especially the police and military, abandon the elites and join the revolutionaries. This is true in every successful revolution. It does not matter how sophisticated the repressive apparatus. Once those who handle the tools of repression become demoralized, the security and surveillance state is impotent. Regimes, when they die, are like a great ocean liner sinking in minutes on the horizon. And no one, including the purported leaders of the opposition, can predict the moment of death. Revolutions have an innate, mysterious life force that defies comprehension. They are living entities.

The defection of the security apparatus is often done with little or no violence, as I witnessed in Eastern Europe in 1989 and as was also true in 1979 in Iran and in 1917 in Russia. At other times, when it has enough residual force to fight back, the dying regime triggers a violent clash as it did in the American Revolution when soldiers and officers in the British army, including George Washington, rebelled to raise the Continental Army. Violence also characterized the 1949 Chinese revolution led by Mao Zedong. But even revolutions that turn violent succeed, as Mao conceded, because they enjoy popular support and can mount widespread protests, strikes, agitation, revolutionary propaganda and acts of civil disobedience. The object is to try to get there without violence. Armed revolutions, despite what the history books often tell us, are tragic, ugly, frightening and sordid affairs. Those who storm Bastilles, as the Polish dissident Adam Michnik wrote, “unwittingly build new ones.” And once revolutions turn violent it becomes hard to speak of victors and losers.

A revolution has been unleashed across the globe. This revolution, a popular repudiation of the old order, is where we should direct all our energy and commitment.  If we do not topple the corporate elites the ecosystem will be destroyed and massive numbers of human beings along with it. The struggle will be long. There will be times when it will seem we are going nowhere. Victory is not inevitable. But this is our best and only hope. The response of the corporate state will ultimately determine the parameters and composition of rebellion. I pray we replicate the 1989 nonviolent revolutions that overthrew the communist regimes in Eastern Europe. But this is not in my hands or yours. Go ahead and vote this November. But don’t waste any more time or energy on the presidential election than it takes to get to your polling station and pull a lever for a third-party candidate—just enough to register your obstruction and defiance—and then get back out onto the street. That is where the question of real power is being decided.

Those Revolting Europeans

May 7, 2012

Portrait, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, 06/15/09. (photo: Fred R. Conrad/NYT)

By Paul Krugman, The New York Times

07 May 12

The French are revolting. The Greeks, too. And it’s about time.

Both countries held elections Sunday that were in effect referendums on the current European economic strategy, and in both countries voters turned two thumbs down. It’s far from clear how soon the votes will lead to changes in actual policy, but time is clearly running out for the strategy of recovery through austerity – and that’s a good thing.

Needless to say, that’s not what you heard from the usual suspects in the run-up to the elections. It was actually kind of funny to see the apostles of orthodoxy trying to portray the cautious, mild-mannered François Hollande as a figure of menace. He is “rather dangerous,” declared The Economist, which observed that he “genuinely believes in the need to create a fairer society.” Quelle horreur!


Comment: These are results of the occupy movement, 99.999% against 0.001%.

80% (in truth 99.999% if not with money making) of Japanese are against nuclear

power after witnessing Fukushima disaster, not believing in the governmental safety myth. See the previous article in this site (0.001% meltdown):

The Nuclear Power Industry has Melted in Japan and France

The 99 Percent Wakes Up

May 4, 2012

Darrell Willis wears a '99%' button and an American flag at the corner of LaSalle and Jackson during an Occupy Chicago protest, 10/03/11. (photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
Darrell Willis wears a ‘99%’ button and an American flag at the corner of LaSalle and Jackson during an Occupy Chicago protest, 10/03/11. (photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

go to original article

By Joseph Stiglitz, The Daily Beast

03 May 12


here are times in history when people all over the world seem to rise up, to say that something is wrong and to ask for change. This was true of the tumultuous years of 1848 and 1968. It was certainly true in 2011. In many countries there was anger and unhappiness about joblessness, income distribution, and inequality and a feeling that the system is unfair and even broken.

Both 1848 and 1968 came to signify the start of a new era. The year 2011 may also. The modern era of globalization also played a role. It helped the ferment and spread of ideas across borders. The youth uprising that began in Tunisia, a little country on the coast of North Africa, spread to nearby Egypt, then to other countries of the Middle East, to Spain and Greece, to the United Kingdom and to Wall Street, and to cities around the world. In some cases, the spark of protest seemed, at least temporarily, quenched. In others, though, small protests precipitated societal upheavals, taking down Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, and other governments and government officials.

Something Is Wrong

That the young people would rise up in the dictatorships of Tunisia and Egypt was understandable. They had no opportunities to call for change through democratic processes. But electoral politics had also failed in Western democracies. There was increasing disillusionment with the political process. Youth participation in the 2010 U.S. election was telling: an unacceptably low voter turnout of 20 percent that was commensurate with the unacceptably high unemployment rate. President Barack Obama had promised “change we can believe in,” but he had delivered economic policies that seemed like more of the same—designed and implemented by some of the same individuals who were the architects of the economic calamity. In countries like Tunisia and Egypt, the youth were tired of aging, sclerotic leaders who protected their own interests at the expense of the rest of society.

And yet, there were, in these youthful protesters of the Occupy Movement—joined by their parents, grandparents, and teachers—signs of hope. The protesters were not revolutionaries or anarchists. They were not trying to overthrow the system. They still had the belief that the electoral process might work, if only there was a strong enough voice from the street. The protesters took to the street in order to push the system to change, to remind governments that they are accountable to the people.

The name chosen by the young Spanish protesters—los indignados, the indignant or outraged—encapsulated the feelings across the world. They had much to be indignant about. In the United States, the slogan became “the 99 percent.” The protesters who took this slogan echoed the title of an article I wrote for the magazine Vanity Fair in early 2011 that was titled “Of the 1%, for the 1%, and by the 1%.” The article cited studies that described the enormous increase in inequality in the United States—to the point where 1 percent of the population controls some 40 percent of the wealth and garner for themselves some 20 percent of all the income. In other countries, the lack of opportunities and jobs and the feeling that ordinary people were excluded from the economic and political system caused the feeling of outrage. In his essay, Egyptian activist Jawad Nabulsi discusses how the system was fixed in favor of the upper classes, and he uses the word fairness repeatedly to describe what was lacking in Egypt under Mubarak.

Something else helped give force to the protests: a sense of unfairness. In Tunisia and Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, it wasn’t just that jobs were hard to come by, but those jobs that were available went to the politically connected. In the United States, things seemed more fair, but only superficially so. People who graduated from the best schools with the best grades had a better chance at the good jobs. But the system was stacked because wealthy parents sent their children to the best kindergartens, grade schools, and high schools, and those students had a far better chance of getting into the elite universities. In many of these top schools, the majority of the student body is from the top quartile, while the third and fourth quartiles are very poorly represented. To get good jobs, one needed experience; to get experience, one needed an internship; and to get a good internship, one needed both connections and the financial wherewithal to be able to get along without a source of income.

Around the world, the financial crisis unleashed a new sense of unfairness, or more accurately, a new realization that our economic system was unfair, a feeling that had been vaguely felt in the past but now could no longer be ignored. The system of rewards—who received high incomes and who received low—had always been questioned, and apologists for the inequality had provided arguments for why such inequality was inevitable, even perhaps desirable. The inequities had been growing slowly over time. It is sometimes said that watching changes in income inequality was like watching grass grow. Day by day, one couldn’t see any change. But as those who live near abandoned subprime houses know all too well, within a few months, scrub and weeds can quickly replace the best of manicured lawns. Over time, the change is unmistakable, and so too, over time, the inequality has increased to the point where it cannot be ignored. And that’s what’s been happening in the United States and many other countries around the world.

Even in the United States, a country not given to class warfare, there is today a broad consensus that the top should be taxed at a higher rate or at least not taxed at a lower rate. While some at the top may believe that they earned what they received through hard work, and it is their right to keep it, the reality (which many of the richest do realize) is that no one succeeds on his own. The poor often work far harder than the richest. In developing countries, the poor lack the chance of education and have no access to funds, and their economies are dysfunctional, but they work long hours carrying water, looking for fuel, and toiling at manual labor. Even in developed countries, life chances are affected by where one is born and the education and income of one’s parents. Often it comes down to luck, being in the right place at the right time.

It was not just the worsening inequality that outraged the protesters of 2011. It was a sense that at least some of those incomes were not honestly earned. Injustice motivated the Occupy Wall Streeters just as it motivated the young Tunisians of the Arab Spring. If someone earns huge incomes as a result of a brilliant contribution that leads to huge increases in incomes of the rest of society, it might seem fair that he receive a fraction, perhaps a substantial fraction, of what he has contributed. Indeed, the dominant paradigm in economics attempted to justify societal inequalities by saying (I should say, assuming) that they were related to differences in “marginal” productivities: those who, at the margin, contributed more to society got more.

Now, in the aftermath of the crisis, it seemed grossly unfair that the bankers walked off with outsized bonuses while those who suffered from the crisis brought on by those bankers’ reckless and predatory lending went without a job. It seemed grossly unfair that government bailed out the banks but seemed reluctant to even extend unemployment insurance for those who through no fault of their own could not get employment or to provide anything but token help to the millions who were losing their homes. What happened undermined the prevailing justification for inequality, that those who made greater contributions to society receive (and should receive) larger rewards. Bankers reaped large rewards even though their contribution to society—and even to their firms—had been negative. In other sectors, CEOs who ran their firms into the ground, causing losses for shareholders and workers alike, were rewarded with gargantuan bonuses.

If no one is accountable, the problem must lie in the economic system. This is the inevitable conclusion and the reason that the protesters are right to be indignant. Every barrel has its rotten apples, but the problem, as MIT Professor Susan Silbey has written, comes when the whole barrel is rotten.

Much of what has gone on can only be described by the words moral deprivation. Something wrong had happened to the moral compass of so many of the people working in the financial sector. When the norms of a society change in a way that so many have lost their moral compass—and the few whistle-blowers go unheeded—that says something significant about the society. The problem is not just the individuals who have lost their moral compass but society itself.

What the protests tell us is that there was outrage and that outrage gives hope. Americans have always had an idealistic streak, reflected both in the instruction in schools and in political rhetoric. Kids read the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal,” and they read the words literally, all men, white and black, and they believe them. They recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which promises “justice for all,” and they believe it.

Market Failures

The list of grievances against corporations was long, and longstanding. For instance, cigarette companies stealthily made their dangerous products more addictive, and even as they tried to persuade Americans that there was no scientific evidence of the dangers of their products, their files were filled with evidence to the contrary. Exxon had similarly used its money to try to persuade Americans that the evidence on global warming was weak, even though the National Academy of Sciences had joined with every other scientific body in saying that the evidence was strong. Chemical companies had poisoned the water, and when their plants blew up, they refused to take responsibility for the death and destruction that followed. Drug companies used their monopoly power to charge prices that were a multiple of their costs of production, condemning to death those who could not afford to pay.

The financial crisis itself had brought out more abuses. While the poor suffered from predatory lending practices, almost every American suffered from deceptive credit card practices. And while the economy was still reeling from the misdeeds of the financial sector, the BP oil spill showed another aspect of the recklessness: lack of care in drilling had endangered the environment and threatened jobs of thousands of people depending on fishing and tourism.

But even before the crisis, the evidence was that the market economy was not delivering for most Americans. GDP was going up but most citizens were worse off. Not even the laws of economics long championed by the political right seemed to hold. Earlier, we explained how the theory that is supposed to relate rewards to social contributions had been falsified by the Great RecessionThe theory holds that competition is supposed to be so strong in a perfectly efficient market that “excess” profits (returns in excess of the normal return on capital) approach zero. Yet each year we saw the banks walking off with mega-profits so large that it is inconceivable that markets are really competitive. Standard courses in economics talk about the law of demand and supply, where prices are determined to equate the two. In the theoretical model, there is no such thing as unemployment, no such thing as credit rationing. But in fact, we have a world in which there are both huge unmet needs (e.g., investments to bring the poor out of poverty, to bring development to Africa and the other less developed countries in other continents around the world, to retrofit the global economy to face the challenges of global warming) and vast underutilized resources (e.g., workers and machines that are idle or not producing up to their potential). As of December 2011, some 25 million Americans who would like a full time job can’t get one, and the numbers in Europe are similar.

Innovation and globalization provide the most recent—and the most important—contexts to observe the failings of the market. Both were supposed to make our economy more prosperous, and yet both seem to have resulted in an economy in which most citizens are becoming worse off.

In recent research, Bruce Greenwald and I have traced the roots of the Great Depression to an increase in agricultural productivity so rapid that fewer and fewer people were needed to grow the world’s food. In the United States in 1900, a large portion of the labor force worked on farms; today less than 2 percent of the population grows more food than even an obese population can consume—and there are large amounts left over for exports. Over time, most people working in agriculture who were no longer needed looked for alternative employment. But at times, the movement away from agriculture was far from smooth. Between 1929 and 1932, agricultural prices plummeted, and incomes fell by an amount variously estimated at one-third or two-thirds. Such precipitous declines in income resulted in corresponding declines in demand for manufactured goods. Rural real estate prices plummeted and credit became unavailable, and so, despite their already low income, farmers were trapped in the declining sector. Just when migration out of the rural sector should have been increased, it came to a halt. If people had been able to relocate, if new jobs had been created, the increases in productivity would have been welfare-increasing, but as it was, given the market failures, those in both the city and the rural sector suffered.

It seems strange, in the midst of the Great Recession, when one out of six Americans who would like to get a full-time job is unable to get one, to see stores replacing low-wage cashier clerks with machines. The innovation may be impressive, profits may even be increased, but the broader economic and social consequences cannot be ignored: higher unemployment, lower wages for unskilled labor as the balance of demand and supply tilts more against workers, and greater inequality.

Political Failures

The political system seems to be failing as much as the economic system, and in some ways, the two failures are intertwined. The system failed to prevent the crisis, it failed to remedy the crisis, it failed to check the growing inequality, it failed to protect those at the bottom, and it failed to prevent the corporate abuses. And while it was failing, the growing deficits suggested that these failures were likely to continue into the future.

Americans, Europeans, and people in other democracies around the world take great pride in their democratic institutions. But the protesters have called into question whether there is a real democracy. Real democracy is more than the right to vote once every two or four years. The choices have to be meaningful. The politicians have to listen to the voices of the citizens. However, increasingly, and especially in the United States, it seems that the political system is more akin to “one dollar one vote” than to “one person one vote.” Rather the correcting the market’s failures, the political system is reinforcing them.

Tax systems in which a billionaire like Warren Buffett pays less taxes (as a percentage of his income) than those who work for him, or in which speculators who helped bring down the global economy are taxed at lower rates than are those who work for their income reinforce the view that politics is unfair, and contribute to the growing inequality.

The failures in politics and economics are related—and they reinforce each other. A political system that amplifies the voice of the wealthy also provides opportunity for laws and regulations—and the administration of laws and regulations—to be designed in ways that not only fail to protect the ordinary citizens against the wealthy but enrich the wealthy at the expense of the rest of society.

Globalization and Markets

My criticism of globalization lies not with globalization itself, but with the way it has been managed: it is a two-edged sword, and if it is not managed well, the consequences can be disastrous. When managed well—and a few countries have succeeded in managing it well, at least so far—it can bring enormous benefits.

The same is true for the market economy: the power of markets, for good and for evil, is enormous. The increase in productivity and standards of living in the past two hundred years have far exceeded those of the previous two millennia, and markets have played a central role—though so too has government, a fact that free marketers typically fail to acknowledge. But markets have to be tamed and tempered, and that has to be done repeatedly to make sure that they work to the benefit of most citizens. That market control happened in the United States in the progressive era, when competition laws were passed for the first time. It happened during the New Deal, when social security, employment, and minimum wage laws were passed. The message of the Occupy Wall Streeters, and other protesters around the world, was that markets once again needed to be tamed and tempered. Even in parts of the Middle East, where they brought increases in growth, the benefits did not trickle down.

From Cairo to Wall Street

In more than forty years of travel to developing countries, I have seen these problems at close hand. And throughout 2011, I gladly accepted invitations to Egypt, Spain, and Tunisia, and I met with protesters in Madrid’s Retiro Park, at Zuccotti Park in New York, and in Cairo where I spoke with the young men and women who had played a central role at Tahrir Square. As we talked, it was clear to me that they understood how in many ways the system has failed. The protesters have been criticized for not having an agenda, but such criticism misses the point of protest movements. They are an expression of frustration with the electoral process. They are an alarm.

At one level, these protesters are asking for so little: for a chance to use their skills, for the right to decent work at decent pay, for a fairer economy and society. Their requests are not revolutionary but evolutionary. But at another level, they are asking for a great deal: for a democracy where people, not dollars, matter; and for a market economy that delivers on what it is supposed to doThe two demands are related: unfettered markets do not work well, as we have seen. For markets to work the way markets are supposed to work, there has to be appropriate government regulation. But for that to occur, we have to have a democracy that reflects the general interests, not the special interests. We may have the best government that money can buy, but that won’t be good enough.

In some ways, the protesters have already accomplished a great deal: think tanks, government agencies, and the media have confirmed their allegations, of the high andunjustifiable level of inequality, the failures of the market system. The expression “we are the 99 percent” has entered into popular consciousness. No one can be sure where the Arab Spring or the Occupy Wall Street movements will lead. But of this we can be sure: these young protesters have already altered public discourse and the consciousness of both ordinary citizens and politicians.

Joseph E. Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia University and the winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Economics. He served on President Clinton’s economic team as a member and then chairman of the U.S. Council of Economic Advisors in the mid-1990s, and then joined the World Bank as chief economist and senior vice president. Stiglitz has received the John Bates Clark Medal. He was a Fulbright Scholar at Cambridge University, held the Drummond Professorship at All Souls College, Oxford, and has taught at M.I.T, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton.


Chatting with Chomsky

May 3, 2012

Laura Flanders
BLIPTV/Video interview
Published: Wednesday 2 May 2012

Noam Chomsky is a veteran of the civil rights, anti-war, and anti-intervention movements of the 1960s through the 1980s, but he has not just been watching the Occupy movement. This does not mean he is not in full support of this movement though. He has given lectures at Occupy Boston and talked with occupiers across the US showing that he is impressed by the spontaneous, cooperative communities some Occupy encampments created. A new publication from the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series has brought several of his lectures together.


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