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Monday, October 17, 2011

OWS: Toward a statement of purpose

From the NYT:
“Demands are disempowering since they require someone else to respond,” said Gabriel Willow, a protester strolling past a sleeping-bag pod of young adults in the park last Monday.
What idiocy. Disempowerment is when people don't respond to you. The OWS movement, as I've said before, has gone about its business in many wrongheaded ways; nevertheless, the the thing has caught on. These are desperate times, and a desperate people need to rally around something.

There has been a lot of talk about formulating demands. That's good. But aside from the question of demands, these protests need a definition. The right is mounting a huge effort to portray the OWSers as Marxists and anti-Semites. This propaganda campaign will succeed unless it can be countered.

Like it or not, a generation of Americans has been trained to view "capitalism" as neo-liberalism: You can't call what you're doing "capitalism" if Milton Friedman might not have approved of it. Similarly, many Americans define "socialism" as Marxism as Bolshevism as let's-burn-all-the-churches-and-kill-baby-Jesus.

This was not always the case. People used to be smarter about such things.

When I was a boy, it was generally understood that West Germany -- a country which experienced a miraculous post-War growth -- had made remarkable gains through an admixture of capitalism and socialism. Few Americans had a problem with that. By contrast, today's ideologues look back on 1970 and see no difference between West Germany and East Germany: Seen through libertarian eyes, both were equally guilty of Marxist sin. But at the time, the difference between West and East was considered important enough to justify a nuclear war.

We need to return to an era when it was generally understood that both capitalism and socialism came in differing flavors. Neo-liberalism, or unfettered laissez faire, ain't the only trick in the book. There are other tricks -- tricks that work better. When Mike Wallace confronted Ayn Rand on television in the 1950s, he almost laughed at loud at her distaste for what he wisely called "regulated capitalism." Why on earth would she detest a system which worked so well? What a ridiculous woman!

Ha Joon Chang (yes, I know that I often refer to his works) devotes the final chapter of his book 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism to the "What is to be done?" question. His first piece of advice: Expand our concept of capitalism.
There are different ways to organize capitalism. Free-market capitalism is only one of them – and not a very good one at that. The last three decades have shown that, contrary to the claims of its proponents, it slows down the economy, increases inequality and insecurity, and leads to more frequent (and sometimes massive) financial crashes.

There is no one ideal model. American capitalism is very different from Scandinavian capitalism, which in turn differs from the German or French varieties, not to speak of the Japanese form. For example, countries which find American-style economic inequality unacceptable (which some may not) may reduce it through a welfare state financed by high progressive income taxes (as in Sweden) or through restrictions on money-making opportunities themselves by, say, making the opening of large retail stores difficult (as in Japan). There is no simple way to choose between the two, even though I personally think that the Swedish model is better than the Japanese one, at least in this respect.

So capitalism, yes, but we need to end our love affair with unrestrained free-market capitalism, which has served humanity so poorly, and install a better-regulated variety. What that variety would be depends on our goals, values and beliefs.
Now we are getting somewhere. Here's the first big idea we must push: Capitalism comes in more than one flavor. We are not forced to choose between Milton Friedman and the Bolshevik bogeyman.

(The second big idea concerns the distinction between finance capitalism and industrial capitalism. That's a topic for another post.)

We still need to finesse our terms. Just as the Republicans learned that the label "death tax" works better (for their purposes) than "estate tax," we must seek an alternative to the phrase "free market capitalism." That term sounds far too pleasant; it conjures up images of happy cabbage sellers at a medieval fair. In its place, I propose "predatory capitalism" and/or "anarchic capitalism."

We should also emphasize one key fact: What we want is not new.

The phrase "regulated capitalism" refers to the way things used to be, back when this country was the envy of the world -- back when America made things, back when politics were a whole lot saner. Again, think of Mike Wallace in his studio, smirking at the Great Objectivist Cigarette Hag who was foolish enough to criticize regulated capitalism, the system that gave us interstate highways, U.S. Steel and Cinerama. Wallace smirked his smirk on national teevee, confident that the whole damned country was smirking along with him.

We lost our prosperity because we stopped smirking at the Hag.

So here's a motto, here's a demand, here's a self-definition:


We believe that the strange new ideology of unrestrained predatory capitalism has failed. We want a return to the system of regulated capitalism that served us so well in the first three decades of the post war era.

Read and re-read those words in boldface. Do you think that this formulation will scare Middle America? I don't. The Fox Newsers will have an awfully hard time arguing against the "Back to the Future" idea.

Don't let the Fox crowd define who are you. Define yourselves as advocates of Regulated Capitalism. Smirk at anyone who expresses disdain for such an obviously sensible idea. Once the concept of "regulation" is buffed and shined and made respectable once more, all sorts of excellent things become possible.
I think you need to emphasise the crony in US capitalism, not the predatory. Americans seem very happy with the idea of predatory to my european eyes. They seem to have no problem with deceptive advertising or gratuitous commercial lying that in Europe would meet the definition of fraud.

What is particularly obnoxious about the current US strain of capitalism is that very little of it involves competition. Rather it is about lobbying Washinton for bail outs, tax breaks, and monopolies. In return the politicians get kick backs. The only capitalism on show is the market for bribes.

End Crony faux-Capitalism. Stop bailing out the rich with the poor's money. And stop selling out democracy.

John W. Smart (Liberal Rapture) visit Occupy LA and found a noted discinclination to blame Obama for anything. In fact, he noted that there were few if any signs critical of Obama. There was speculation about this morphing into an OFA movement.

I think it may be tempting for people to displace their unrealized Obama hopes onto this movement. If OWS defines itself via demands or any other way, it becomes less of a blank slate and more difficult for the disappointed to find renewed hope. We need to be asking whether it is good for people to keep expecting all things from anyone or whether we need to wake up and get more realistic about both politics and movements.

I keep hoping OWS will call for Obama to step aside or fire Geithner or do something meaningful to address this crisis. That isn't going to happen if the same Obama supporters are behind this movement. Whatever happened to the reality-based community?
In the low-attention-span era, OWS needs something that can fit on a sign and be chanted by a group. Your boldface graf about regulating capital markets would not work. Two simpler, grok-able demands are the ones suggested by riverdaughter: "Tax the rich" and "End the wars." Perfect for two-sided placards and two-second soundbites.
heheh, as i was walking to occupy chicago this saturday, i passed by a group of socialist political activists who had a large sign equating obama with nazism, portraying him with the trademark little mustache. an older white woman was arguing with an older black woman pedestrian that this was not racism. so here in chicago, obama's homeland, we are more savvy than the californians, evidently. at least some of us recognize obama as a fraud.

I listened to William Black this afternoon on the Ratigan show. His suggestion? Get rid of Geithner, Holder and Ben Bernanke and get people in who will uphold the law, do the investigations and necessary forensic audits and get the fraud charges up and running.The FBI warned of massive mortgage fraud 7 years ago. And what's happened? Nada.

This is not capitalism we're living under. It's a rigged system for the guys at the top who have bought off the pols Left and Right. Call it Crony, call it a Monopoly, call it a Banana Republic, it simply isn't working.

We need to flush the system out. Until that time, it doesn't matter who wins elections because the result is the same: bought government serving those with the biggest wallets.

The Right wants to charge OWS with anti-capitalist names and slogans when, in fact, it's anti-capitalist to support the status quo. This goes beyond a Left/Right paradigm. The system has been corrupted. Nothing will change until we address that and return to the Rule of Law. From where I sit, OWS is focusing the light on the right thing: the 99ers are getting screwed for the benefit of the few.

Btw, there is a declaration [A Nonviolent Plan of Action] out there. Bloomberg Business [I think] had a rundown of future plans of the movement a couple days ago.

Peggy Sue
Well, I suggested getting rid of Geithner early on. I think the idea is picking up some traction. Holder should go as well.
Return the tax code to the end of the Reagan Administration (who could argue against the good old Raygun days?) and call the bill the Reagan Tax Reform Bill.

I grok "Tax the Rich", too , though I do like the idea of "predatory capitalism."
"Well, I suggested getting rid of Geithner early on."

I know you did, Joseph. And I thought it was a sweet idea then. We're either a country of Law or a country subject to the capricious [and as we've seen time and time again, greedy] desires of men [and women] in power.

The movement is a month old. The longer it holds on, the better chance we have for actual change. Otherwise, we're done. Stick a fork in it.

Peggy Sue
The NYT quoted Joseph about getting rid of Geithner. That must have helped get the idea out there. It's good to see it still being discussed.
Time for Congress to put the COUNTRY FIRST and themselves after.

Lets take our country back...and get Goldman Sachs out of our politics!

Warren Buffett, in a recent interview with CNBC, offers one of the best
quotes about the debt ceiling:

"I could end the deficit in 5 minutes," he told CNBC. "You just pass a
law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP,
all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election

The 26th amendment (granting the right to vote for 18 year-olds) took
3 months & 8 days to be ratified! Why? Simple! The people demanded it.
That was in 1971...before computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc.

Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution, seven (7) took 1 year or less
to become the law of the land...all because of public pressure.

Warren Buffet is asking each addressee to forward this email to a
minimum of twenty people on their address list; in turn ask each of
those to do likewise.

In three days, most people in The United States of America will have the
message. This is one idea that really should be passed around.

Congressional Reform Act of 2011
1. No Tenure / No Pension.
A Congressman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when
they are out of office.

2. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security.
All funds in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social
Security system immediately. All future funds flow into the Social
Security system, and Congress participates with the American people. It
may not be used for any other purpose.

3. Congress can purchase their own retirement plan, just as all
Americans do.

4. Congress will no longer vote themselves a pay raise. Congressional
pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3%.

5. Congress loses their current health care system and participates in
the same health care system as the American people.

6. Congress must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American

7. All contracts with past and present Congressmen are void effective
1/1/12. The American people did not make this contract with Congressmen.
Congressmen made all these contracts for themselves. Serving in Congress
is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen
legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and back
to work.

If each person contacts a minimum of twenty people then it will only
take three days for most people (in the U.S.) to receive the message.
Maybe it is time.


If you agree with the above, pass it on. If not, just delete.
The first demand of Occupy Wall Street should be for Barack Obama to resign immediately. It's all about fairness, and Obama has been a font of unfairness and treachery.
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