arch-peace news and articles


When the 1% have gained at the expense of the 99%

By Ajith Kuruvilla

Alan Grayson former democratic representative for Florida and economist recently noted on the television, ‘Wall Street wrecked the economy three years ago and nobody has been held responsible for it…they are upset about the fact that Wall Street has iron control over the economic policies of this country and that one party is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street and the other party caters to them as well.’2 The masses are dissatisfied with the state of economic policy which allows rich bankers a free ride on the back of the poor and the middle class. Young people from Europe to the US to Australia have greater difficulty finding a job, are more likely to face higher taxes, less generous handouts from the government and will stay with their parents longer to pay off the debts incurred from our excess over the last 10 years. The middle class face higher mortgage repayments in an economy where house values are dropping and where falling wages, reduced pension returns and inflation could ruin any signs of an early retirement. Protesters from young people, factory workers, middle class and the elderly - people on the left and on the right all have a legitimate right to feel the system has let them down. After all weren’t we promised free markets would create prosperity?

But what are we protesting? Higher taxes of the rich, hatred of people employed within the financial economy, disgust against government – or is it a new world order? Each country has a different set of problems to address, with protest groups seeking attention for various issues. However ‘populist anger, especially if it has no coherent agenda, can go anywhere in times of want. The 1930s provided the most terrifying example.3 After a decade of confidence and affluence, the world was shook into darkness, the stock market crashed and we collapsed into the Great Depression. Millions of people out of work, with a deep scented hatred of the government and the bankers, lead to the breakdown of basic societal norms. It was generally believed that the US entry into World War II was the catalyst towards job creation. Industry and people were quickly needed to be involved in the war effort, from building artillery to serving on the front line.

Politicians on the other hand get caught up in vote grabbing slogans rather than constructive solutions. Conservative media commentators have been able to encompass the anger of the masses against the state without providing any solutions and at the same time obstructing any potential solutions. Worrying politicians channelling populist anger without a clear or coherent agenda can lead to severe consequences.

However it is only when activism and anger materialise into actions the issue of an in-coherent agenda backfires. Any movement which seeks radical change will require time and patience. It took over a decade for the world to get out of depression and it was not until after the Second World War a new set of rules for financial institutions was created. Recent acts by Occupy Sydney don’t help the cause. When ten activists decided to occupy the seventh floor of an empty office building in central Sydney, did they consider they were trespassing onto private property? Did they consider actions such as this become easy targets for people that don’t want change> to latch onto? History has shown us that major paradigm shifts in society such as the struggle for colonial freedom and equal rights for Black Americans took over 50 years to achieve. After the end of the great depression in the 1940’s, it took another 10 years before world leaders could agree on new regulations for world banking systems.

Answers such as ‘the spotlight is going away from change’ do not justify radical acts aimed at capturing media attention; rather a more Gandhian position, aimed at the ‘search for truth’ is a more appropriate course of action. At present, there are more questions than answers. This is the time for questions to be asked of our politicians. This is the time to question will there be sufficient money generated by taxing the rich to allow for all the expenditure governments’ make. Recently Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond warned of “social unrest" unless the UK generates more growth and jobs. Is the answer growth, this perpetual need to work and consume and work and consume so that the system keeps regenerating? Or is it a radical overhaul of a neo-liberal form of capitalism? If the answer is to be gone with capitalism, then what will come in its place? Major societal change in the 20th century occurred when the masses were mobilised. The political scientist Thomas Ferguson identified the ‘investment theory of political parties’ recognising powerful investors rather than unorganised voters as the dominant force in campaigns and elections; this is not democracy in any form. Only the search for truth will achieve any change, not short term radical actions. The search for truth will inform ordinary people and allow for participation in the formation of public policy rather than a role in endorsing decisions made by the wealthy.

This is the time to deepen our analysis of the systems that produce an unjust distribution of wealth and power. It is not yet the time for action. ‘Rallying around a common concern about economic injustice is a beginning; understanding the structures and institutions of illegitimate authority is the next step. We need to recognise that the crises we face are not simply the result of greedy corporate executives or corrupt politicians, but rather of failed systems.’4 These gatherings should go back to the first principles, a movement of public dialogue about what we want our future to be about. So next time you decide to go down to a rally to protest against a system that is inherently unfair to the vast majority of the population, keep in mind the aim is to remind the politicians that they govern for 100% of the population and not the 1%. More importantly don’t get caught up in any other secondary debates!

1 the general slogan circulating protests in New York
2 Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)
3 Rage against the machine: People are right to be angry. But it is also right to be worried
about where populism could take politics, The economist, Oct 22nd 2011
4 Occupy demands: Let's radicalise our analysis,
2011/11/201111191022862285.html. Robert Jensen 09 Nov 2011


Post a Comment