October 06, 2011

Occupying Wall Street

It seems to me that a movement such as Occupy Wall Street is long overdue and was inevitable once it became apparent that the previous, within-the-system approach, electing Barack Obama, was a total bust. If for no other reason, Obama's presidency has at least served the salutary purpose of demonstrating just how fundamentally broken the regular political system has become. As for the usual sneering, dismissive comments by the standard members of the commentariat, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal, many others, it won't matter in the long run, because a movement such as OWS is also about the completely broken system of corporate-owned media and message control involved in the "Manufactured Consent" of which Noam Chomsky has written so many times. (Generally speaking, if you're trying to decide on the bona fides of an argument about how the American political system works, and Noam Chomsky is on one side and Ann Coulter is on the other, go with Noam.)

What guarantees the longevity and durability of such a movement is that the conditions which produce it, a moribund economy and a completely unresponsive, bought-and-paid-for government, are not going away within any relevant time horizon. Things, in fact, are likely to get considerably worse as it becomes increasingly obvious that the strains imposed by the retiring Baby Boom population on the "Entitlements" (I should probably refer to them as the "aspiring retirees," because I don't think they're going to be at leisure very long) are going to make Social Security and Medicare something we used to be "entitled to," but are no longer affordable. This is basically the morality play unspooling in the European socialist democracies even now. I along with most Americans used to marvel at their wonderful system of lengthy vacation, full medical care, paternity and maternity leave, pensions, early retirement and the rest, but it seems that Europe, after integrating itself along United States lines, then plunged full speed ahead into economic globalization, just as we did, and now their whole socialist paradise is falling apart, and for the same reasons. If the world's economic water is seeking its own level, that level is not a Greek civil servant retiring at 52 on full salary and lifelong free medical care. It's somewhere between that and a Chinese factory worker making running shoes and four dollars a day. There, as here, the arbitrage of labor made a lot of plutocrats rich while impoverishing and/or destroying the middle classes.

As in the case of the United States, Europe sustained the illusion of prosperity at the same standard as before for several decades after globalization was in full swing by means of debt, at both the private and sovereign level. Now they're where we are, with economies struggling with sky-high energy costs (much higher there, in fact) under conditions of debt saturation.

Nevertheless, the central bankers and politicians there sound like the Federal Reserve and politicians here, armed with a full panoply of indecipherable acronyms, all of which seem to run afoul of the Complexity Principle, that as things get integrated at higher and higher levels, with ever more Byzantine details and moving parts, that the complexity itself begins to exact a terrible price on the efficient functioning of the system, and, what is even worse, failure correlation is built into the system so that when it goes, the whole thing goes down. As happened in the United States when the process of mortgage securitization had the effect of correlating the entire, nationwide housing market.

At this point the Democrat vs. Republican scenario only has relevance for those in the media who make their living by drawing specious distinctions between the two. The Good Guys versus Bad Guys shtick works well if you're Bill Maher or Randi Rhodes, on the Demo side, or Rush Limbaugh or the Red State blog on the other. By couching everything in terms of thesis and antithesis, as if these two parties represented opposing "philosophies" or fundamentally different visions of the "way forward," the celebrity members of the Commentariat can make a nice buck. It makes a good story line because it meets the dramatic requirement of conflict in the narrative. Thus, Randi Rhodes and Bill Maher can cluck a little about Barack Obama's record on civil liberties and the Bill of Rights, which is probably the worst record of any American president in history, while still vindicating their man because the Republicans, if they were in power, would be much, much worse. (Does that mean when they assassinated American citizens without a trial or due process of any kind, they would kill them twice?)

My guess is that the typical, young demonstrators involved in the nationwide OWS movement understand these things at variable levels of sophistication. They're on the street because there is really no other place to be to make the point. They tried sending (as I did) Barack Obama twenty-five bucks every couple of weeks back in 2008, and this is where we are: with a Democratic Party competing for the affections of the banking and defense contracting industries, with wars proliferating all over the globe, with no energy policy, and with lobbyists crawling all over the politicians like fleas, with money utterly controlling the political process on both sides of the aisle, and with no accountability of any kind asserted against the criminal financial class who profited by the economy's destruction.

Thus, with regard to Occupy Wall Street: more power to them.

UPDATE: I came across this after I wrote the above, a quote from an International Monetary Fund advisor named Robert Shapiro: "If they can not address [the financial crisis] in a credible way I believe within perhaps 2 to 3 weeks we will have a meltdown in sovereign debt which will produce a meltdown across the European banking system. We are not just talking about a relatively small Belgian bank, we are talking about the largest banks in the world, the largest banks in Germany, the largest banks in France, that will spread to the United Kingdom, it will spread everywhere because the global financial system is so interconnected. All those banks are counterparties to every significant bank in the United States, and in Britain, and in Japan, and around the world. This would be a crisis that would be in my view more serious than the crisis in 2008...."

Do you ever wonder what it was we gained by all this complexity and correlation?

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