Thursday, November 17, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and the False Cry of "What Do They Want?"

Now that the one percent of the population that owns the "private" economy has been put on the defensive, the corporate media is making a show of false concern that the Occupy Wall Street protesters need to seize the moment and pursue change in the electoral arena that capital dominates from top to bottom. The upshot is that Wall Street wouldn't have systematically lowered the standard of living for eighty percent of Americans for the past three-and-a-half decades if it had known that the victims of that policy would find it objectionable, so now those "inadvertent" victims need only pressure their elected representatives with a precise message and relief will be dispatched forthwith. Sure.

Our leaders are not idiots, as might appear, but they are desperate. The system of global capital has fallen into deep crisis with no solutions in sight, while worldwide protest continues to grow. The only way of arresting the momentum of popular rebellion is to straitjacket it within the arena of sound bites and bumper sticker slogans, where it can be gradually suffocated.

Obviously, we should not take the bait. The only reason big business has sat up and taken notice of the plight of the 99% is because the 99% announced loudly and inconveniently that it had no intention of remaining passive one moment longer. On the eve of Occupy Wall Street's emergence into the national spotlight there was no shortage of damning reports showing the vast destruction an increasingly lopsided distribution of wealth was wreaking, but those reports were routinely ignored. Wall Street has never cared that misallocation of wealth inevitably produces grotesque poverty and mass insecurity, and it doesn't now. It only cares about profit and market share, and anything that threatens its drive to maximize them. The latter is the only reason the corporate media deigns to notice Occupy Wall Street at all.

Now is the time to insist that capitalism is the central problem, not this or that corrupt politician or greedy corporation. Capitalism is by its very nature greedy, and capitalist politicians are by their very nature corrupt. There is little point in pretending otherwise.

We have been told - ad nauseam - that the "free market," i.e., capitalism, delivers a broad prosperity while protecting individual liberty against unwanted encroachments by the state. To whatever extent this may have been true in the past, it is clearly untrue in the American present, where the middle class is shrinking, poverty is growing, and the Bill of Rights serves as toilet paper for a national security state determined to wage endless war.

The Occupy Wall Street movement ought to say, loudly and repeatedly, that free markets don't exist. Their doctrinal requirements are regularly flouted by the entire developed world, which became developed protecting its fledgling markets against international competition it couldn't hope to beat until its own markets got established. How could it have been otherwise? There isn't a single industrialized country that got that way adopting the fantasies of the free market enthusiasts. And when these fantasies are imposed, economies collapse, as with Argentina in 2001, which was the International Monetary Fund's most faithful adherent of free market orthodoxy.

In point of fact, all developed countries feature extensive state involvement in the allegedly private economy, including in the U.S.. So the issue is not free markets vs. government involvement, it's the nature of that government involvement. That is to say, the question is simply whether the government should promote exclusively business interests, or the general welfare of all Americans. Occupy Wall Street says the latter, but the message will not be taken to heart unless popular rebellion remains in the streets.

Overwhelming majorities of Americans support federal guarantees of public assistance for those who can't work, unemployment insurance, subsidized prescription drugs and nursing home care for the elderly, at least a minimum level of health care, social security, and federally guaranteed child care for low-income working mothers. None of this can be justified on "free market" grounds. In fact, the free marketeers have long been hard at work stripping away these social democratic protections.

In short, neoliberal "free market" economics undermine education and health, increase inequality, and reduce labor's share in income. That's why there is an Occupy Wall Street movement, and why there must continue to be.

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