(2011-10-03) Occupy Wall St Plausible Promise
Should the Occupy Wall Street Coalition have a Plausible Promise? Can it? This is a movement in search of a message, a community trying to define itself by listening. There seem to be two broad camps: one believes Occupy Wall St. should adopt a specific demand to address unequal distribution of wealth (Wealth Inequality) in America (views vary, of course, about what policy should be advocated to achieve this); while the other camp is focused on creating a Spectacle that will create its own momentum, grow larger, and define its goals at some undetermined point in the future.
Venkatesh Rao thinks the whole approach is hopeless, and its goals ridiculous. Basically, classical Collective Action theory is completely intellectually bankrupt in grappling with the complexity of modern problems. It is still of some use in medieval autocracies in the Middle East, but in the rest of the world, the one effect it is capable of producing (this "pressure and awareness" effect) is basically useless. All it does is polarize politics and make the political process even more broken than it already is. It is a blunt instrument. Why did it work a century ago? The problems were simpler... The problem today is that Wall Street represents an effective monopoly of ideas on how to run the economy, because they frame the game to which the economic policies of governments respond. If you don't have an alternative idea, you've basically got nothing. For an idea to be a serious one, it has to be global in scope and capable of providing the financial infrastructure for complex, large-scale technology-driven operations (New Economy). Piddly little local currency (LETS) movements and Eco Village BS will not do. As a test challenge, if your idea of a reformed financial system cannot power (say) the manufacture and delivery of something like the IPhone, it is a non-starter. If all your financial ideas can do is run stone age low-tech villages, not only can it not run a world of 9 billion people by 2050, it won't even attract any adopters outside the loony Hairshirt Green fringe (I just learned that term and love it).
I was thinking that Lawrence Lessig should have lots in common with this group, with his years-long Corruption focus. His new book Republic Lost just came out! (ahem Conspiracy Theory cough) Glenn Greenwald gives a summary. "There is only one issue in this country: Campaign Finance reform."... For him, describing the problem is not an end in itself, but the necessary prerequisite for his ultimate goal: spawning support for his recommended courses of action. For politically informed readers such as those here, those proposals are the meat of this book, the reason this is very worth spending your time to read. What makes his proposed solutions so engaging — and important — is that they are not mere academic exercises, nor are they confined to the trite responses good government advocates often offer. Rather, Lessig is, above all else, a committed advocate, a reformer, and thus — perhaps uncharacteristically for a law professor — cares first and foremost about results, about outcomes. His solutions are accompanied by suggested tactics, grounded in reality, that take into account political impediments, and that is what makes them worthwhile. (Uh, like what?) Lessig himself participates in the comment thread.
Oct12: Matt Taibbi has his list (does having multiple demands break the Plausible Promise model?): And I think the movement's basic strategy – to build numbers and stay in the fight, rather than tying itself to any particular set of principles – makes a lot of sense early on. But the time is rapidly approaching when the movement is going to have to offer concrete solutions to the problems posed by Wall Street. To do that, it will need a short but powerful list of demands. There are thousands one could make, but I'd suggest focusing on five...
Oct19: David Graeber talks about the early planning of the protests, and the importance of the consensus process (kinda like Open Space). I still don't think that can be a substitute for having actual demands, but I have more appreciation for the potential of this as a process-learning watershed event. The politics of direct action is based, to a certain degree, on a faith that freedom is contagious. It is almost impossible to convince the average American that a truly democratic society would be possible. One can only show them.
- Oct26: Barack Obama announces a plan to help. Obama will accelerate a law passed by Congress last year that lowers the maximum required payment on student loans from 15 percent of discretionary income annually to 10 percent for eligible borrowers. It goes into effect next year, instead of 2014. Also, the remaining debt would be forgiven after 20 years, instead of 25.
Oct26: Kevin Carson notes the popularity of the Jobs For All meme - essentially a return to a greenwashed version of the centralized corporate-state Consensus Capitalism of the mid-20th century. (Job Creation)
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