At an event this weekend marking the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, I was reminded why the success of these protests was so improbable in the first place. It wasn’t just that we’d tried this sort of thing before and it had never worked. It wasn’t the predominance of anarchists, whom we were all accustomed to dismissing as the irrelevant fringe at progressive protests. It was also the smell. New York City smells bad enough on its own. But put populists in a public encampment for a few days and it stinks. After months, it’s repulsive.
I was an early skeptic of Occupy Wall Street. “I want to know what democracy looks like, not what it smells like,” I wrote at the time. This was a roundabout way of criticizing the movement for its lack of polish, its incoherent leadership structure, its fuzzy demands—all that chaos that was swarming around Zuccotti Park. On its face, Occupy was a Type A organizer’s worst nightmare.
Yet, in spite of the odds that stood against it, Occupy Wall Street did not repel America, but attracted it, crystallizing and dramatizing the inequality that has become the central political struggle of our time. In the wake of an economic collapse that devastated every community in America and with a progressive movement that had been unable to respond to small crises—let alone major ones—with any unity of purpose or voice, Occupy stepped into the void. With threadbare blankets, it somehow wove together the disparate agendas of the left. Like the countless tent poles at protests across the country, Occupy gave the too-often cowering American left a spine.
But what, a year later, can we say the movement accomplished? Reflecting on Occupy’s anniversary, The New York Times, columnist Joe Nocera quoted a Prospect story that asked, “Can Occupy Wall Street Become the Liberal Tea Party?” Nocera wrote, “A year later, we know the answer: It can’t, and it isn’t. For all intents and purposes, the Occupy movement is dead, even as the Tea Party lives on.”
But perhaps this is the wrong measure of success.
The tactics and grassroots energy that Occupy harnessed were nothing new to the left. Certainly, its scale was unlike anything seen in decades, but progressive organizations—from Code Pink to MoveOn to the Rainforest Action Network—had long engaged in direct action and employed community-organizing-style tactics to build consensus. No, Occupy’s contribution was to give progressives a simple, effective way to talk about economic justice. That “We are the 99 percent” became such a powerful refrain was almost as refreshing as the fact that often-insular progressive organizations quickly took it up. The idea of the 99 percent didn’t take hold just because Occupy was chanting it, but because the narrative was repeated in e-mail after e-mail, speech after speech, report after report across the institutional left. Then, it crossed into the mainstream. “Just pay attention to political coverage,” says J. Matthew Smucker, who was involved at Zuccotti Park early on. “The number of times the 1 percent or the 99 percent are mentioned? It’s still not enough, but the conversation has definitely changed.” Occupy didn’t change the agenda for progressives; it changed how that agenda was articulated and for once got the rest of the country to talk about it.
But it wasn’t just the rhetoric that changed. “Occupy empowered the floundering progressive movement,” says Jodie Evans, co-founder of the activist group Code Pink. “Pieces of the Occupy movement live on inside an enormous number of organizations who will carry that spark forward.” Some of that work will continue to include protest tactics, like those of Code Pink (which occupied spaces long before Occupy even existed). While Occupy has favored protests over political engagement, the progressive movement that was inspired and invigorated by Occupy includes many organizations focused on electoral strategies, concrete policy advocacy and much more. In other words, Occupy is not the equivalent of the Tea Party; the progressive movement is. And Occupy made that movement more populist and powerful.
I was wrong about Occupy Wall Street. In pulling us professional progressives away from our business meetings and relentless focus on incrementalism, it reminded us all that dramatic, awe-inspiring change is possible. A year later, while the crowd celebrating the Occupy anniversary is still pretty stinky, the possibility for achieving big and bold change now fills the air all around us. And that has never smelled sweeter.
BY: Sally Kohn, The American Prospect, September 17, 2012
Last week I discussed in this column the idea that the vast amounts of money created by central banks and distributed for free to banks and bond funds – equivalent to $6,000 per man, woman and child in America and Â£6,500 in Britain – should instead be given directly to citizens, who could spend or save it as they pleased. I return to this theme so soon because radical ideas about monetary policy suddenly seem to be gaining traction. Some of the world’s most powerful central bankers – Mario Draghi of the European Central Bank last Thursday, Eric Rosengren of the Boston Fed on Monday and Mervyn King of the Bank of England this Wednesday – are starting to admit that the present approach to creating money, known as quantitative easing, is failing to generate economic growth. Previously taboo ideas can suddenly be mentioned.
The nice thing about this is it wouldn’t rely on some second-order effects through the expectation channel. With a big cash windfall a major fraction of the population are sure to spend it or use it to pay down some debt. When you’re in a depression, as we are, that’s just what the doctor ordered. This is as opposed to normal quantitative easing, which relies on pushing on the economy through the rotten banking system. Like a sponge, the banks absorb most of the money before it seeps out into the real economy.
Probably the biggest obstacle with this is how ridiculous it sounds. “The money has to come from somewhere,” people say. Actually, no it doesn’t. That’s the whole idea behind fiat money. Nothing behind it. “It’ll create hyperinflation,” conservatives will say. Nope. Right now we’re in a depression: we have very low inflation from too few people with jobs and money buying not enough goods and services to run the economy at potential.
Therefore, more spending will just pull in more idle people and resources. Only when the economy is at capacity is serious inflation a possibility. If it starts to happen, the Fed can easily act to restrain it.
The least convincing counterargument is the moral hazard one. “Can’t give people free money,” people say, “otherwise they’ll lose their moral fiber. Success must be earned.” I suppose all other things equal that’s the case, but that argument sure didn’t stop the Treasury from stuffing $700 billion down the rotting throats of the banks back in 2008, and it hasn’t stopped the Fed from stuffing God knows how many more trillions in cheap loans after it.
Again, I agree that moral hazard should be a consideration, especially for the richest and most powerful people and corporations, but we recognize in a crisis sometimes it’s more important to keep the system from collapsing than make sure every person gets exactly what she deserves. When we had a banking crisis, everyone agreed on this. Elites everywhere panicked, and swooped in with “incredible speed and force to bail out the financial sectors in which creditors are invested, trampling over prior norms and laws as necessary.” We’re now in the fourth year of an unemployment crisis, and it’s high time we found some similar urgency.
Nothing I haven’t said before, and still probably little chance of happening, but here’s hoping. Regular people could use a bailout every bit as much, if not more, than wealthy elites.
By: Ryan Cooper, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 9, 2012
For Mitt Romney, the fundamental argument underpinning his presidential candidacy is his experience as a top executive at Bain Capital, the huge Boston-based private equity firm. That is especially true now because he must disown his most important achievement as Massachusetts governor — health care reform — in order to assuage the Tea Party extremists in his own party. But what does his business career tell us about the economic policies that might be pursued by the Republican front-runner — and about his worldview? Much could have been gleaned from the career history of George W. Bush, if only voters had paid closer attention to the unflattering reports of his experience as oilman and baseball team owner that accumulated in 1999 and 2000.
As the stories behind Romney’s success unfold in the coming campaign, the answer is likely to be that Bain Capital has prospered during the past quarter-century promoting a harsher brand of enterprise — one that ruins communities, impoverishes workers, and exports American jobs, all in the name of shareholder “value.”
In the current issue of New York Magazine, reporter Benjamin Wallace-Wells begins the process of unpacking what Romney and his colleagues in management consulting and private equity have wrought upon the U.S. economy. Wallace-Wells opens his narrative with a telling recent anecdote from the campaign trail in Iowa, where Romney lectured a disbelieving crowd on the issue of corporate personhood. When a heckler urged raising taxes on corporations, Romney replied with condescension: “Corporations are people too, my friend….”
Of course in the strictest sense he was right: The management, shareholders, and workers of every corporation are indeed human beings, and it is to those human beings that the money earned by corporations, after taxes, is paid. But as Wallace-Wells discovers, Romney and company have done much to change how those earnings are apportioned, encouraging massive increases in the amount appropriated by management and huge reductions in wages and benefits paid to workers. Creating incentives for managers to maximize stock prices — which would explode their own compensation — simultaneously undermined old-fashioned corporate responsibility toward employees, communities, and the nation as a whole. The deepest implication of the consultant creed that Romney represents is an ugly Darwinism — or so Wallace-Wells suggests.
But as consultants, there was only so much that Romney and the Bain crowd could do to change any corporation. Wanting to put their theories into practice, and sensing that big profits could ensue, they formed Bain Capital, whose record in corporate takeovers and turnarounds became the envy of the industry — and the ruin of thousands of workers and their families unlucky enough to become collateral damage.
The improved efficiency and productivity of private enterprise over the past two decades certainly were not without benefit to society, in lower prices, better technology and even, for a while, higher employment. But the perfect “alignment” of incentives between corporate managers and shareholders, without any regulatory brakes, led to worsening economic inequality, executive recklessness, stock manipulation, and a laser-like focus on the short term — in short, all of the ills that underlie American economic decline. Those same incentives have been trained on the political system to ensure decisions that benefit those same overpaid, seemingly sociopathic bankers and investors — now known as the “one percent.” They could scarcely hope for a more sympathetic candidate than the man from Bain.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, October 25, 2011
Republicans have been preoccupied for much of the year with those Americans who don’t make enough money to qualify for a federal income tax burden. Some are working-class families who fall below the tax threshold; some are unemployed; some are students; and some are retired. These Americans still pay sales taxes, state taxes, local taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare/Medicaid taxes, and in many instances, property taxes, but not federal income taxes.
This, apparently, annoys the right to no end. It’s why all kinds of Republican officials — including Mitt Romney and Rick Perry — want to “fix” what they see as a “problem,” even if it means raising taxes on those who can least afford it.
This argument is even manifesting itself in a new “movement” of sorts, intended to respond to progressive activists calling for economic justice.
Conservative activists have created a Tumblr called “We are the 53 percent” that’s meant to be a counterpunch to the viral “We are the 99 percent” site that’s become a prominent symbol for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Tumblr is supposed to represent the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes, and its assumption is that the Wall Street protesters are part of the 46 percent of the country who don’t. “We are the 53 percent” was originally the brainchild of Erick Erickson, founder of RedState.org, who worked together with Josh Trevino, communications director for the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation, and conservative filmmaker Mike Wilson to develop the concept, according to Trevino.
The overriding message is that the protesters have failed to take personal responsibility, blaming their economic troubles on others.
There are all kinds of problems with the right’s approach here, including the fact that they seem to want to increase working-class taxes and also seem entirely unaware of the fact that it was Republican tax cuts that pushed so many out of income-tax eligibility in the first place. There’s also the small matter of some of those claiming to be in “the 53 percent” aren’t actually shouldering a federal income tax burden at all, but are apparently unaware of that fact.
But putting that aside, take a look at Erick Erickson’s argument, presented in a hand-written message posted to the Tumblr blog: “I work three jobs. I have a house I can’t sell. My family insurance costs are outrageous. But I don’t blame Wall Street. Suck it up you whiners. I am the 53% subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain.”
Just for heck of it, let’s take this one at a time.
The very idea that Erickson works “three jobs” is rather foolish.
Blaming financial industry corruption and mismanagement for Erickson’s troubles selling his house is actually quite reasonable.
If Erickson’s reference to “family insurance costs” is in reference to health care premiums, he’ll be glad to know the Affordable Care Act passed, and includes all kinds of breaks for small businesses like his.
And the notion that victims of a global economic collapse, who are seeking some relief from a system stacked in favor of the wealthy, are “whiners” is so blisteringly stupid, it amazes me someone would present the argument in public.
If there are any actual “whiners” in this scenario, shouldn’t the label go to millionaires who shudder at the idea of paying Clinton-era tax rates?
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, October 11, 2011