Monthly Archives: February 2012

Occupy Wall Street Revisited: Who Is Being Occupied By Whom?

From the very outset I was an enthusiastic supporter of Occupy Wall Street. To me it represented the reawakening of the political left after four decades of uninterrupted slumber.  Maybe the radicalization of America had finally begun.  Americans might soon opt for jobs, health insurance, social security, better education, and a cleaner environment rather than drones, Navy Seals, and Delta Force death squads.

One could not help but be struck by the amount of energy emanating from tiny Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan and how this energy had spread to hundreds of towns and cities in dozens of countries worldwide providing the foundation for an international revolt against Wall Street, Corporate America, and the American Empire.  Perhaps a window of opportunity would be opened which would allow consideration of heretofore unimaginable political paradigms such as radical decentralization, direct democracy, secession, or even peaceful dissolution of the American Empire.  But it has not happened.  Why not?  Most of OWS’s proposals for dealing with the American Empire are neither very radical nor likely to see the light of day.  The fundamental premise underlying OWS is that the U.S. Government is still fixable.  But what if that is not true?

Below we outline eight reasons why OWS is doomed to failure.

1. Leadership.  Occupy Wall Street prides itself in the fact that, just like the Internet, it is a leaderless organization.  No one is in charge.  However, one is hard pressed to come up with a long list of successful leaderless revolutions over the span of history.

Although Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the iconic leader of the American Civil Rights movement in the 60s, there were numerous other high-profile, charismatic leaders including Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael, James Farmer, and Fannie Lou Hamer.  The Anti-Vietnam War movement also had multiple leaders such as Dr. Benjamin Spock, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Senator Eugene McCarthy, and Senator William Fulbright, though none of the stature of Dr. King.  Lech Walesa and Václav Havel led Poland and Czechoslovakia respectively away from Communism in 1989.

Revolutions need strong leaders.  OWS has no such leaders, and it shows.

2. Organization.  One of the reasons the leaderless Tahrir Square Revolution in Egypt has come unglued at the seams one year later is that there was no political organization in place to monitor the transition government to see that it carried out the mandates of the revolution.

Each separate OWS movement is loosely organized around a consensus based General Assembly which serves as the governing body of the local movement.  Verbal communication is supplemented in all General Assembly meetings by a unique form of sign language by which an individual member expresses his or her approval, disapproval, or desire for more information with regard to a particular issue, for example.  The consensus requirement and the sign language tend to prolong General Assembly meetings endlessly.

Some General Assemblies have a distinct touchy-feely character in which process always trumps substantive discussion.  No one is in charge.  Meeting facilitation is a shared responsibility.  Mutuality, inclusiveness, and political correctness are far more important than political strategy.  Hurt feelings are to be avoided at all cost.  More time is spent on deciding how to process particular issues rather than on the issues themselves.

3.  Political Process. The idea of a mass political movement operating independently of the mainstream electoral politics has considerable appeal.  But to effect change one must have some form of political process, not no political process at all.  Although standing, sitting, or sleeping in a park or some other public space may make one feel good, it is not clear how this helps curb the power of a ravenous empire.

A National General Assembly has been called for July 4, 2012 in Philadelphia to consider a list of grievances and solutions to be presented to the U.S. Government.  Two delegates, one man and one woman, will represent each of the 435 congressional districts in the United States.  What is unclear is why the OWSers believe the U.S. Government would be motivated to respond to such a list?  The U.S. Government marches to the beat of Wall Street, Corporate America, and the Israeli Lobby which have their own agendas.

4.  Internet.  Supporters of OWS are unrestrained in the praise which they heap on the Internet and social networks like FaceBook.  They claim that without the Internet OWS would not be possible.  It’s as though cyberspace were their god.

When Lech Walesa and Václav Havel led their respective countries to freedom from Communism back in 1989, they did it the old fashion way.  There was no Internet.  They had to rely on a combination of hard work, person-to-person contact, grass roots organizing, moral suasion, and, yes, political discipline.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates would have us believe that the Internet leads to empowerment and enhanced democracy.  But who is being empowered by whom?  Those transfixed by iPads and iPhones have little time to participate in civic affairs and are a threat to no one.  Above all, what the Internet does extremely well is keep us busy – distracted from noticing what the cipherpriests are doing to us in the name of freedom and democracy.

Proponents of the so-called Arab Spring movement claim that the key to its success was the extensive use of the Internet by protestors.  Unfortunately, the results of the Arab Spring movement have proven to be a very mixed bag.  The Internet has not been able to make up for a lack of leadership and organization skills.

5. Objectives.  From the beginning OWS has attracted a very diverse set of protestors with an equally diverse portfolio of concerns including income inequality, poverty, greed, unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, student debt, health care, environmental degradation, racism, sexism, corruption, violence, and imperialism to mention only a few.

In sharp contrast to OWS the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-Vietnam War movement, the Polish Solidarity movement, and the South African Anti-Apartheid movement all had very specific, clearly defined objectives.  There was absolutely no doubt about what business they were in.

6. Vision.   Conspicuously absent from OWS is any well-defined vision of the future for the United States.  What would OWSers like to see the United States become when it grows up?

Notwithstanding overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the vast majority of supporters of OWS behave as though they believe the U.S. Government is fixable.  Most of them cling to the fantasy that some combination of campaign finance reform or laws banning corporate personhood will solve all of our problems.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

These OWS adherents fail to realize that those who own, operate, and control our government like things just the way they are.  There simply are not going to be any constitutional or legal restrictions limiting the rights of corporations.  Nor are there going to be any meaningful campaign finance reform laws.  It’s not going to happen.

Two recent books, Why America Failed by Morris Berman and Deep Green Resistance by Aric McBay, Lierre Keith, and Derrick Jensen, suggest that at least a handful of writers on the left have begun to question whether or not the Empire is truly fixable.  They are starting to doubt whether President Barack Obama or his Republican opponents have any clue as to how to solve most of our problems.

But if the Empire is going down, which it surely is, and it is indeed unfixable, then what exactly is the point of Occupy Wall Street?  To go down with a sinking ship.

When all is said and done, there is but one morally defensible alternative to a failing evil empire, peaceful dissolution, just like the former Soviet Union.

7. Image.  Although fringe political movements such as OWS, the Alaskan Independence Party, the Second Vermont Republic, and the Texas Nationalist Movement attract some very intelligent people, they also attract their share of crazies.  Until Occupy Vermont came along, I thought surely the Second Vermont Republic had already attracted most of the crazies in Vermont.  I was mistaken.

Somehow, a man running for governor who appears on a TV debate with a fake knife stuck through his head doesn’t do a whole lot for the credibility of the cause.  Nor does a seventy-five year old man with long hair strumming an out-of-tune guitar singing off-key political songs with unintelligible lyrics on a TV show sponsored by Occupy Vermont.

Although Bill O’Reilly’s mean-spirited portrayal of OWS is grossly unfair, some of the TV images of OWS protestors do not instill confidence in their ability to change the world.  Many of them come across as stereotypical radical, disgruntled, hippie malcontents.  The problem lies when they become the defining image of a fledgling political movement.

8. Occupation. Is it possible that the real purpose of Occupy Wall Street has little to do with either the 99 percent or the 1 percent but rather everything to do with keeping the political left in America decentralized, widely dispersed, very busy, and completely impotent to deal with the collapse of the American Empire. The fundamental question is “Who is being occupied by whom?”  A good occupier is someone who is completely occupied protesting, processing, communicating via sign language, social networking on the Internet, and promoting pseudosolutions to problems of an unfixable, failing empire.  Occupiers are all occupied doing exactly what their handlers would have them be doing, namely, being fully occupied.

In summary, Occupy Wall Street represents a huge distraction.  It very successfully diverts attention away from the fact that the United States is the largest, wealthiest, most powerful, most materialistic, most environmentally irresponsible, most racist, most militaristic, most violent empire in history which does all too little to support the vast majority of its citizens other than the superrich.

What OWS does best is keep hundreds of thousands of people busy, people who might otherwise be a threat to the Empire.

What if President Obama were to convene a secret national task force to prevent the possibility of a revolution in the United States in the event of a collapse of the U.S. economy?  Such a task force might include the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Security Council, as well as the commanding officers of the Navy’s Seals and the Army’s Delta Force.  It’s hard to imagine the task force coming up with a recommendation to prevent a revolution that would be more effective than Occupy Wall Street.

Thomas H. Naylor

February 17, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

www.vermontrepublic.org.

Occupy Wall Street and the Peaceful Dissolution of the American Empire

From the very outset when Occupation Wall Street was first launched on September 17, 2011 in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan it attracted a very diverse set of participants with an equally diverse portfolio of concerns including income inequality, poverty, greed, unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, student debt, health care, environmental degradation, racism, sexism, corruption, violence, and imperialism to mention only a few.

Within a few weeks the movement spread to hundreds of towns and cities in dozens of countries worldwide.  The staying power of its revolt against Wall Street, Corporate America, and the American Empire has been truly remarkable.

However, OWS has been subjected to considerable criticism from the political establishment for its lack of focus and the absence of a political process for achieving its far-flung objectives.

Notwithstanding overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the vast majority of supporters of OWS behave as though they believe the U.S. Government is fixable.  Most of them cling to the fantasy that some combination of campaign finance reform or laws banning corporate personhood will solve all of our problems.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.

These OWS adherents fail to realize that our government is owned, operated, and controlled by Wall Street, Corporate America, and various foreign interest groups, who like things just the way they are.  Because of its sheer size, the United States is unsustainable, ungovernable, and, therefore, unfixable, just as was the case with the former Soviet Union.  There are not going to be any constitutional or legal restrictions limiting the rights of corporations.  Nor are there going to be any meaningful campaign finance reform laws.  It’s not going to happen.

Thanks to two recent books, Why America Failed by Morris Berman and Deep Green Resistance by Aric McBay, Lierre Keith, and Derrick Jensen, a growing number of Occupy Wall Streeters are starting to see the light of day and question whether or not the Empire is truly fixable.  They are beginning to note that neither President Barack Obama nor any of his wild-eyed Republican opponents has any real solutions to our endless list of problems.

But if the Empire is going down, which it surely is, and it is completely unfixable, then what is the point of Occupy Wall Street?  To go down with the sinking ship.

The Occupy Wall Street movement just might create a window of opportunity for a new world disorder – a disorder that rejects cant and dogma; a disorder that fosters creativity, possibility, and seething human enterprise; a disorder, most importantly, that promotes the decentralization of governance.

The only morally defensible alternative to a failing evil empire is peaceful dissolution.  Indeed, radical decentralization represents by far the most effective way to deal with the plethora of concerns expressed by Occupy Wall Streeters.

It’s high time the OWSers concentrate their efforts on the root cause of all of our problems, namely, a corrupt, ravenous empire.  There is one and only one objective, the peaceful dissolution of the American Empire. Nothing else matters.

Thomas H. Naylor

February 13, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

www.vermontrepublic.org.

Occupy World Street

Ross Jackson is an interesting guy who has just published a very interesting and timely book entitled Occupy World Street: A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform (Chelsea Green, 2012).  Born a Canadian, Jackson has a PhD in Operations Research from Case Western Reserve University, but has lived in Denmark since 1964.  Not only is he the former manager of a hedge fund, financial derivatives, currency-exchange trading firm, but he currently heads up two international NGOs related to small, sustainable, ecovillages.

According to Jackson, “The current global structure is dysfunctional, undemocratic, corrupt, and exploitive of the environment, the developing countries, and even the citizens of the wealthiest nations.”  He goes on to say,

The current political leadership’s inflexible focus on economic growth makes it impossible to deal effectively with global issues like climate change, ecosystem damage, peak oil, and rationing resources.  Meanwhile, millions, if not billions of ordinary citizens are dissatisfied with the status quo and are crying out for change.  The dilemma seems to be:  those who can, will not; those who will, cannot.

Jackson’s understanding of the economic and environmental forces underlying what he considers to be the collapse of civilization is spot on.  It’s all about globalization!

Globalization refers to the integrated international system of mass production, mass marketing, mass distribution, mass consumption, mega financial institutions, and global communications.  This global network of markets, transnational companies, and information technologies effectively eliminates the need for national political boundaries, since money, capital, goods, services, and people flow freely across national borders.  Political and economic power are transferred from nation-states to transnational megacompanies accountable only to their shareholders.

Since globalization is often achieved through coercion, intimidation, exploitation, collectivism, monopoly, and American military might, local cultures, local values, local communities and local environmental concerns often receive short shrift.

Transnational megacompanies not only tell so called emerging market countries (most of the world) what they will produce, how it will be produced, when it will be sold, and at what price, but they also influence local working conditions, wages, benefits, and labor laws.  They often dictate local government monetary, fiscal, trade, and banking policies.  International money managers decide which foreign currencies are overvalued and which are not, as well as which countries should be punished for not playing by their arbitrary, self-serving rules.  This is truly a one-size-fits-all game.

No photograph was ever more prophetic in portraying the future of unfettered capitalism than a picture of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev each wearing cowboy hats taken near the end of their political careers.  So effective were Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in convincing governments everywhere to decentralize, to deregulate, to rein in organized labor, and to privatize public enterprises that transnational megacompanies like General Electric and IBM have virtually a free hand to operate globally with little or no interference from government or labor—just like the American West.  They play off one country against the other in pursuit of low-wage, tax-free, regulation-free manufacturing environments.

The U.S. government, Federal Reserve Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization are all committed to transforming the world economy into a giant global growth machine regulated by an international gambling casino in which resource allocation decisions are driven by a high-speed, multinational, high-tech crap shoot.  Satellite communications, fiber optics, and the Internet make it possible to transform small, manageable local problems into unmanageable global problems overnight.

President Bill Clinton called for a New Global Financial Architecture.  But what he proposed was nothing new at all—more trade, more budget cuts, more privatization, more foreign investment, more megamergers, more computer networks, less government control, lower interest rates, more IMF bailouts, and, as always, more economic growth.  He wanted everything to be bigger, more complex, more high-tech, and more interdependent—bigger markets, bigger trade agreements, bigger loans, bigger bailouts, bigger  banks and financial institutions, and bigger telecommunication networks.  Our government’s cryptic message to the rest of the world is, “Just be like us.”  One-size-fits-all!

Economists justify globalization on the basis of the so called “trickle down effect,” in which the benefits of global trade to the superwealthy eventually trickle down to the poor. But half of the world’s population lives on less than $2 per day, and many of these people have no access to clean water, electricity, or sanitation.  World Bank figures suggest that the trickle down effect may not be working so well.  In 1987, 1.2 billion people in the world were trying to survive on $1 a day.  Now over 1.5 billion are trying to do so.

Jackson correctly places a lot of the blame for the destruction of the planet on neoclassical, free-market economics.  He correctly notes that economics is not a science but rather a pseudoscience pretending to be a science.

British economist Joan Robinson got right to the heart of the problem in her 1962 book Economic Philosophy when she said, “Any economic system requires a set of rules, an ideology to justify them, and a conscience in the individual which makes him strive to carry them out.”  In other words, underlying every sophisticated economic theory and mathematical model lies a political ideology.

Since the 1980s the prevailing ideology in economics has been the free market, globalization ideology of University of Chicago economist Milton Freidman.  Although Ronald Reagan popularized this ideology in the 80s, it was Bill Clinton and his Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin along with Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan who presided over its implementation in the 1990s.  They created a regulatory environment which enabled globalization to thrive.  George W. Bush was little more than a naïve cheerleader for globalization, who failed to notice when it started to unravel.

The problem of economics according to the high priests of the free market can be summarized as follows:  Given the distribution of income and wealth, how do we achieve global economic growth in such a manner that we simultaneously allocate resources worldwide in a socially optimal fashion with a minimum of interference by government and organized labor?  The underlying premise of this paradigm is that, if consumers, managers, employees, and stockholders do their own hedonistic thing, their interests will converge in the long run and society will evolve toward some form of socially optimal equilibrium.  “This is an ideology to end ideologies,” said Joan Robinson.  Tinkering with the distribution of income or wealth is strictly taboo.  So too is questioning the sustainability of never ending economic growth.

There is absolutely nothing new about economists providing the economic underpinnings to support the prevailing ideology.  Since the days of Adam Smith, economists have supplied the rich and powerful with the kinds of answers they wanted to hear.  As John Maynard Keynes once said, “Practical men…are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.  Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

Today it is hardly surprising that few economists feel any discomfort whatsoever in justifying hedonism.  Most of the funding for economic research comes from large corporations and the federal government, both of whom have a strong vested interest in promoting greed so that the economy does not collapse.  While posing as objective social scientists, all too many economists are willing to sell their souls to the highest bidder.

Many believe that the meltdown of the U.S. economy was caused by too much credit and too much easy money.  Yet the government’s strategy for dealing with the problem seems to be more of the same.  If China or Japan were to pull the plug on their investments in U.S. Treasury bonds, the U.S. government could become insolvent.

Economics has long been known as the “dismal science.”  We believe this is a complete misnomer.  Economics as practiced in the United States today is no science at all, but rather a political ideology disguised as a science.  Economics is the “abysmal science,” and that’s a problem for all of us.

The broken integrated global economy is uncontrollable, unstable, unsustainable and unfixable.  It will continue to meltdown until it reaches a state of disintegration which is sustainable, and that could take a long time.

I believe that the global economy that reemerges after the disintegration of the old economy is complete will be a radically different kind of economy.  It will be a highly localized, decentralized economy.  Interestingly enough, the problem of peak oil will play an important role in preventing the reintegration of the global economy.  As the global demand for crude oil begins to increase after meltdown is over, the price of crude oil will once again skyrocket upwards imposing a very high cost on long distance trade flows. Ironically, in the post globalization era crude oil, or the lack thereof, will help keep the world decentralized and localized, and that may not be all bad.

While there may be little we can do to stop this process, there is a lot to be learned from the experience.  Now is the time to begin thinking about how we want to live, love, work, play, and do business in a more localized world.  It could prove to be a much more meaningful experience than life under globalization.

Jackson would replace all of the existing multinational organizations such as the UN, WTO, IMF, and World Bank with what he calls a Gaian World Order “to reflect the focus on the oneness of all planetary life in the emerging holistic worldview.”
The Gaian World Order would be launched by a dozen or so small nations which would constitute what Jackson calls the Gaian League.  The Gaian League might include such countries as Bolivia, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, Iceland, Norway, Venezuela, Senegal, Bhutan, New Zealand, Maldives, Tunisia, Mauritius, Malaysia, and Switzerland.  Once established, other nations would be invited to apply for membership.  The first order of business for the League would be the founding of eight other multinational organizations:  the Gaian Trade Organization, the Gaian Clearing Union, the Gaian Development Bank, the Gaian Congress, the Gaian Commission, the Gaian Court of Justice, the Gaian Resource Board, and the Gaian Council.  That’s a lot.

For those concerned with where life is going on the flagship earth and whether or not they want to go there, Occupy World Street is not only a wake-up call but also a call for action and a strategy for changing course before it’s too late.

Thomas H. Naylor

February 5, 2012

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

www.vermontrepublic.org.