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Saturday, 15 October 2011

Indignant or Occupy?

In Brazil, Russia, India and China it will be a normal Saturday for the educated young aspirational middle classes; they will browse the global chain stores, take a coffee in a global coffee shop and return to their apartment with some token of global brand identity; a bottle of Johnny Walker, perhaps, or something from Agn├Ęs B. Over the weekend, before they return to their careers in aerospace, electronics, marketing or energy they may well tune their satellite TVs to news broadcasts of their old-West counterparts out on the streets today. The Indignant movement started in Spain, a protest by the educated young that the middle class lifestyle had evaded them. No Vuitton belt or bottle of Jim Beam in Seville. The Occupy movement started in New York, a protest by Americans who claim 'we are the 99%' and that the 1% have deprived them of an aspirational middle class lifestyle. No cabin in the Hamptons for those stuck in Alphabet City. 

"International capital is mobile, and is running circles around the world's governments, frankly" speaks an economist on Radio 4's Today as I type. The author of 'The Price of Civilisation', Jeffrey Sachs, appeals for the return of a humanistic and communitarian ethos in America. The blurb for the book includes
Sachs goes deeper than an economic diagnosis. By taking a broad, holistic approach—looking at domestic politics, geopolitics, social psychology, and the natural environment as well—Sachs reveals the larger fissures underlying our country’s current crisis. He shows how Washington has consistently failed to address America’s economic needs. He describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. He also looks at the crisis in our culture, in which an overstimulated and consumption-driven populace in a ferocious quest for wealth now suffers shortfalls of social trust, honesty, and compassion.
This is, of course, true. And the Occupy protesters and the Indignant protesters on the streets today are essentially angry about the same thing. The balance of global power has slipped away from the political class and towards the global corporates, not in some sinister conspiracy but through the wholly natural behaviour of monopolies and oligopolies in excluding competition and strengthening their grip. We, the West, are spent-out; the corporates have squeezed about all they can from our markets. The burgeoning markets and debt-potential of the BRICs are now their focus, rich honeypots of spectacular GDP growth and rapidly expanding middle classes, young populations and a sort of societal energy that powers rapid change. 

Corporatism and the power of Leviathan States and Super States are the enemies both of laissez-faire capitalism and classic Liberalism, but the targets identified by the protesters are as fatuous as these things usually are; "... the WTO, the IMF, the ECB, the UN, the G8, the banks". The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in our selves. Both strands of protest today are by essentially 'an overstimulated and consumption-driven populace in a ferocious quest for wealth', by a furious young fighting for material gain. In 1968 they fought for Love; in 2011 it's for Money. 

"You are right to be indignant. The fact is, the system is not working right ... We've socialized losses and privatized gains. That's not capitalism. That's not a market economy." – Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, speaking to Occupy Wall Street.


outsider said...

How true.
When I shop at the local supermarkets,I buy "Bitish" produce if available, which has the added advantage of varying one's diet with the seasons. But I know that most of the vegetables are not picked or packed by British workers. Hardly any Spanish produce is picked or packed by Spaniards. Yet we have more that two million unemployed. Youth unemployment is even worse in Spain.
Why? Partly because of the nexus between social security and immigration. But fundamentally because we have swapped aspiration for the dignity of manual labour.

Equality of opportunity used to be a Conservative slogan, for obvious reasons. Now it is the mantra for all parties. They are not interested in those "left behind" in "dead end" jobs. Even for the Labour Party, the object is somehow to elevate the "bottom" half of society into the top half. In America, the working class is even called the "Middle Class". That is a recipe for failure, conflict and unemployment.

One niggle: surely China is the ultimate in corporatism, not its antithesis.

Sean said...

rice paddy to rice paddy in three generations, or shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves for us "Westerners".

Anonymous said...

A quick comment:


When the basic requirements for life are supplied very cheaply for the whole population (and I am talking about food, drink and shelter) by a very small number of people, then the rest of the population can do ANYTHING AT ALL. Thus we have musicians, authors, dancers, politicians, librarians, decorators, etc.

But how can people exchange their efforts? How can a musician trade his entertainment value with a decorator's skill at decorating?, of course. Thus, the business of the Government becomes control and supply of MONEY.

We have come to a point, especially as concerns youth unemployment where this system has failed. Keynes saw this problem nearly 100 years ago. He said that, in periods of high unemployment, the Government should provide actual WORK!

One of the problems with Thatcher's privatisations is that the Gov (including Local Authorities) no longer has a direct way to 'provide work', other than through the NHS and Civil Service and Fake Charities and Quangos. but those sort of organisations do not 'provide work' which is suitable for the actual youths who are unemployed - they provide work for the middle classes.

Cameron said that he would kick into touch the sham 'employment programmes'. Instead, he says that he will spend £14,000 per individual unemployed person to 'train' each such person. WELL, NO! Spend £14,000 PAYING such people to for 'work done'. Empower Local Authorities to identify worthwhile work which needs to be done and fund that work, even if it is not really necessary. It is not the least bit difficult. The work could be keeping the streets clean or cleaning public buildings - the sort of work which is useful, but can be stopped in periods of full employment. That last statement is important - the work involved should be 'desirable' but not 'necessary'.