09 October 2011

A modest proposal for the Occupy Wall Street movement

I generally agree with Paul Krugman here – I see in the Occupy Wall Street movement a loose collection of disparate movements in what vaguely appears to be a productive direction. But then I read embarrassing articles like this, and my palm gravitates automatically to my forehead. Yes, Columbus Day is something of which even good Catholics ought to be well and thoroughly ashamed (Chris being as unabashed a genocidal bastard as many contemporary twentieth-century dictators one might care to name), but it has nothing to do with a movement to – and let me check if I have this right – occupy Wall Street. I would say that staying on message is the challenge now, but it is sadly apparent (particularly to outside observers) that a message is precisely what the movement lacks. And this isn’t a concern troll talking, unless one is willing to count Paul Krugman also as a concern troll, but rather a potentially interested and certainly sympathetic bystander.

So, if I may, as a potentially interested and certainly sympathetic bystander, offer a humble suggestion, I would like to propose the following. If Occupy Wall Street is genuinely interested in counteracting the destructive influence of large banks on the political arena and on the body politic in general, it would seem to me that making it a priority to impose an interest rate limit (or, to use an elegant term for a more civilised age, an ‘anti-usury law’) on banks in the United States would be a good place to start. If they are feeling somewhat bolder and more idealistic (a strong likelihood in the target demographic of OWS), perhaps reintroducing some of the Social Credit ideas of Cliff Douglas as a set of concrete policies: in place of the Fed, a full-reserve national bank under the direct control of the legislature (in our case, the US Congress) and a regulatory agency to ensure that the money supply does not exceed or run short of the productive capacity of the economy. Be nice if we could get Citizens United reversed and corporate personhood overturned, but first things first.

Anyway, just tossing ideas out there. See if there are folks who are keen.


  1. One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

    Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

    Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

    To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

    “Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”


  2. Hi Ross!

    Thanks for the link - I'll certainly check it out!

    With regard to the spatial elements of capitalism, I certainly won't disagree with you on the general point; I think you have that exactly right. But I will, however, object to part of the follow-up, and point out that the benefits of our current capitalist structure do in fact deliberately accrue to very specific spaces. For this reason - and for the reason that people are generally sensitive to the power of mythology (even in our enlightened age) - I'm not sure exactly what is so problematic about the spatial metonym of Wall Street or the NY Stock Exchange, particularly if the goal is to engage with a reawakening anti-capitalism and help people to understand properly what IS wrong with the current economic structure?

    Completely agreed with you also on the ultimate lack of difference between interventionist and laissez-faire capitalism. The job of the state is to provide justice, not to protect industrial accumulations of wealth whilst throwing the rest of the society a bone through a slightly more-progressive tax structure or a New New Deal.

  3. Hello Mr. Cooper,

    Those are all great ideas. My big concern with OWS is that the crowds will decline when the weather gets worse and people will say (perhaps with some justification) that the whole thing was just a circus and not very serious.