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Notes to myself, possibly of interest to others.
-- Bill Northlich

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Vitus "Occupy Wallstreet" Post. Long.

Everyone and - or especially - their dog has posted on the Occupy Wallstreet phenom.  Because there is a lot of fairly uninteresting stuff to read about it, Vitus has resisted weighing in.  However, a family member asked what we thought.

Vitus's reaction is:  The protests in the 60's-70's were about the war.  That was the defining issue.  Now there is no defining issue easily enunciated.  Until there is, the OWS movement will drift.

Vitus could offer:  Rentier Takeover of America.  Short, gets to the point, but maybe not compelling.

There is anger and frustration, sure.  But no one's life is on the line.  Back in the day, it was - sort of.  Young men were actually afraid to go to the war and be killed.  No such dynamic applies today.

The only chance OWS has is that someone will be able to enunciate what it's about in a way that many understand.

Vitus believes the defining issue that OWS is trying, explicitly or implicitly, to surface here is that recently we have experienced an  ideological manipulation and corruption of some early and sacred themes of the American Experience:
  • Free Markets.  Its actually funny that certain rightist personalities frequently try to cast today's mild reformist political initiatives as Anti-Free Market.  The Soviet Union was anti-free market.  The idea of free markets has been been co-opted by various rightist groups into a meme that complains loudly about carefully selected government actions.There is not much complaining about outright government support of certain industries (oil industry subsidies, drug and health industry subsidies, banking deregulation...)
  • The associated idea of the "Invisible Hand" of Adam Smith.  James Madison in Federalist 10 and 51 argued that the country should be organized soas to give maximum political freedom (no Women, no Blacks, landholders only - such were the times) and thusly, following Smith,  Madison incorporated both umpired strife and virtuous citizenship into the meta-principles of the Constitution.  However starting in ernest in the late 70's the Hand has been systematically stripped of its "umpired" and "virtuous" aspects, and, via the cry of "Reduce Government!", has been an anchor of our current Wild West version of crypto-criminal capitalism
  • Property is not Destiny.  We can be whatever we choose to be as long as we are willing to work for it.  Many early Americans came to these shores to escape the class system and centuries-old legacies of the propertied lording over the plebeians.  In the New World, one was what he worked to become, not what he was destined to be by his given slot in the hierarchy of land ownership.  There was virtually no escape from non-landed status as late as the 19th century in England and it’s minions.  
    • Adam Smith said all income derives from one of three things:  Profit, Wages, and Rent.  Rent has had a bad name since the beginning - it’s the only income that frequently does not require work on the part of the person who receives it’s benefit. In the modern version of the US, the old landed suzerains have evolved to financial suzerains.  We are debt-servants to interests who increasingly build their fiefdoms by paying to change the Law and Government, versus working to produce innovation, product, and positive change.  
    • By plan or accident, these are the Rentiers of today.  They are not a cult or cabal, meeting in secret to hatch their venal schemes.  In fact they are quite open about their activities - in agressive business roundtables and pseudo-academic think tanks such as the Koch Bros. funded Heritage Foundation.  They are unified by a parasite ideology which infects and perverts deep American traditions of freedom in the market and the private sphere:  Freedom is great when we are clear that we are talking about my freedom!
Coolidge's aphorism that The Busniess of America is Business" may still hold truth, but since at least Reagan, The Business of Business in America has changed from building products and providing services to using the power of Law and Government to gain advantage.  This is in truth what the Credit Crisis has been all about.  The great deregulation - Gramm–Leach–Bliley, CFMA, etc; Financial Innovation; Ratings Agency misbehavior; etc are all one or another form of government and legal intervention on behalf of “business”, in this case banking, interests.  None of these things add efficiency or social value.  Paul Volker famously said the only worthwhile banking innovation in 40 years has been the ATM, and “I wish someone would give me one shred of neutral evidence that financial innovation has led to economic growth — one shred of evidence.”
OWS will, in Vitus's estimation, need to tap into the above strain of thought to persevere. What is the slogan or elevator pitch? It's not clear. The task is daunting.
PS - Yves Smith worries that enunciating a vision for OWS might kill it. Clearly we disagree.

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