Tag: OWS

OWS v OOWS? OMG. WTF?


I’ve been a very bad (lame) duck of late, but for good reason. On top of many other duties, I am teaching a new graduate seminar this semester on Global Economic Governance with some very smart and fun students at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Each week we start the class by digging into the current news, which lately has been a veritable feast for IPE junkies. We’ve had particular fun with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) coverage, and more recently the “Occupy Occupy Wall Street” (OOWS) retort from the very proud and indignant 1%.

Last week, I asked my students to react to claims that the OWS movement needed to articulate some clear demands in order to capture the rhetorical advantage and be taken seriously. My students took to this task with gusto on their own internal class blogsite, while pushing back a bit with intelligent arguments for why the OWS movement should NOT have a clear message. Nonetheless, they did come up with a clever blurb for OWS and I promised to blog on this in hopes of attracting some smart (and undoubtedly snarky) feedback from Duck readers.

Here’s the message my students crafted:

For too long the 1% in our society has controlled the economic fate of the 99%. The financial elite are responsible for co-opting our democratic principles, capturing government institutions, and undermining the social contract of society. We bailed them out and they bailed on us. We need to throw out the policies that left them with the fruit and left us with the rinds; its time for change. We need to reform out tax policies, close corporate loopholes and increase transparency. The elite, the 1%, convinced us that they were too big to fail. We are the 99% and we are too big to fail.

(Note the very clever reference to the Tom Waits song, “Talking at the Same Time”)

For this week, I turned the tables and ask the students to try to craft a counter-response from the 1%. They clearly had a harder time with this task. This is certainly understandable if you consider that I am asking poor graduate students facing bleak employment prospects to defend the position of the wealthiest 1% in our nation. A few clever students did find some golden satire and a real OOWS response that are worth sharing:

First, a link to the Borowitz Report, “A Special Offer from America’s Corporations.”

Second, marketing advice for the Bank of America:

An ad could start with a Bank of America investment adviser (on-screen label tells viewer the employee’s job title) who says, “This is Joe (in walks a regular dude). For the past 10 years, I’ve helped Joe save so he could send his daughter to college this fall.” (see cute picture of a young woman setting up her dorm room)

Then another Bank of America employee (with an on-screen label that says “loan officer”) says: “Meet my friend Mary (enter Mary). Last year, I helped Mary open her own pet shop.”

Last BofA employee says: “And with my help, Louis bought his family’s first home.” (show picture of cute family with new baby in new home.)

And then the ad could wrap up with something, perhaps just words on the screen: “At Bank of America, we are 250,000 people whose job is to help make your dreams come true.

Finally, a REAL message from OOWS:

For 20 days, only one side of this story was told.

On October 5th, members of the 1% broke their silence.

Comprised of investment bankers in the wealthiest 1%, Occupy Occupy Wall Street’s displays of solidarity will continue to occur periodically in Liberty Square to protest “Occupy Wall Street.” Since their movement began on October 5th , #OOWS has gained the support of thousands of investment bankers across the country. “To be angry at the wealthiest Americans for their success is simply childish jealousy from those who have failed to create the same opportunities themselves,” representative John Selvig states. “America is not kindergarten; there are winners and losers. This is a country where if you work hard in the right field you can become extremely wealthy. We are proud of that wealth and will not sit back and watch a group slander it in our own backyard. We will not stop until #OOWS out-occupies the occupiers.” This movement believes that “The system is not broken and we will fight, at all costs, to maintain the status quo. We are the 1% and we are 100% proud!” For interview requests, or to be alerted to upcoming #oows events, email: us@oows.org

Note that on the OOWS website, you can buy a t-shirt proclaiming your 1% pride. (And it’s only $40 plus shipping and handling. Now that’s the capitalist spirit!)

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War and the Eurozone

PM and Chancellor Merkel press conference

Last week, at University of Bristol, I gave a talk called “The Future of World Order” to the student International Affairs Society. It was a speculative lecture, based on my 17 years directing the Grawemeyer Award (for Ideas Improving World Order) more than my scholarship per se. I warned the audience from the start of two personal biases: (1) I am an optimist; and (2) I don’t really put much stock in specific predictions. I tried to stick to big ideas more than particular policies.

In the presentation, I argued that any order built on coercion and force would inevitably face a legitimacy crisis — and would ultimately collapse. The implications are twofold, I think. Domestically, people will demand greater control of their own lives. This means the world will see many more emancipatory movements to topple autocrats and unaccountable sources of power — as illustrated just this year by events in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, the city of London, Wall Street, etc.

Internationally, it means order built on deterrence, brute force, or even the balance of power will give way to something that is more consensual, such as a security community. In support of this position, I talked a bit about John Mueller’s thesis that major power war is becoming obsolete — an outmoded institution, abandoned like slavery and dueling previously were. Could this thinking become even more pervasive, so that virtually any talk of war — internal or external — becomes outmoded? Eventually.

In the talk, I did not explicitly argue against the traditional state-centrism of international relations, nor call for the end of the states-system. However, I strongly implied that the future of world order will be more cooperative, focused on low rather than high politics (elevating the human security agenda), and much less violent.

This week, recovering from jet lag, I’ve been following the efforts to save the euro and Eurozone. One interesting aspect is that conservative leaders in Europe have certainly made some bold claims to sell their preferred outcomes. For instance, while traveling in Australia, British Prime Minister David Cameron used some classic statist language to highlight his concerns about the implications of ongoing negotiations:

“This is our key national interest, that Britain, a historic trading nation, has its biggest markets open and continues to have those markets fairly open and fairly governed.”

He later told the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson: “In business often it’s selling more to your existing customers that’s the best strategy.

What his comments reveal is that when – if – the eurozone crisis ends, big political questions will replace the big economic problems”

“We’re big sellers into Europe, we can do better in those markets if we liberalise further.”

Mr Cameron has vowed to protect the UK’s position and said on Friday that the City of London was one “area of concern… a key national interest that we need to defend”.

“London – the centre of financial services in Europe – is under constant attack through Brussels directives,” he said.

Note the words and phrases Cameron used: “key national interest,” “attack” and “defend.”

Next, consider these remarks Wednesday from German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

“Nobody should take for granted another 50 years of peace and prosperity in Europe. They are not for granted. That’s why I say: If the euro fails, Europe fails,” Merkel said, followed by a long applause from all political groups.

“We have a historical obligation: To protect by all means Europe’s unification process begun by our forefathers after centuries of hatred and blood spill. None of us can foresee what the consequences would be if we were to fail.”

Gulp.

Based on these quotes, scholars should perhaps worry about the long-term durability of Mueller’s thesis.

Well, at least slavery is gone. Right?

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The Occupation

Photo: Protester at Zucotti Park, 9/28/11;
Credit: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons

I support the on-going Occupy Wall Street protests.  I do not share the common complaint that the protesters need to formulate a clear list of demands – which is itself a rather odd demand to make of what seems to be an anarchist inspired movement.  The protesters’ lack of an explicit set of demands and coherent arguments when interfacing with corporate media is from my perspective a sign that the movement is an authentic expression of popular frustration.  Of course, specific demands may evolve organically through deliberative democracy… and if a list of demands does emerge from such a process, that would be welcome.

In the meantime, I would offer a few hurried thoughts/critiques about the movement so far in the hope of sparking a discussion with Duck readers…

1. Socio-economic domination is fractal as well as fractional.  By this I mean that patterns of domination are endlessly recreated at different scales.  

2. Sources of oppression are internal and external to the subject.  It is easy to target the blame on a tiny elite which is grotesquely wealthy and politically influential.  However, mass consumer practices are the fuel for the economic system. Adbusters, which helped to spark the current protests, has had much less success with its “Buy Nothing Day” campaigns, but perhaps this should be seen as integral to the OWS movement.

3. Wall Street is only part of a nexus of power that has left the country economically devastated.  Perhaps protesters should consider adding a movement to Occupy the Pentagon?  There have been some initial steps in linking the anti-war movement with the OWS protests, but a more symbolic spectacle may be needed.

4. Demands to limit “corporate greed” seem awkward or a tad naive.  Can corporate influence in politics and profit maximization really be limited without dissolving corporate personhood?

5. The globalization of protests to match the globalization of capital is strategic and intelligent.  However, global capital has regulative organizations which need to be pressured directly (e.g. the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision at the BIS).  So far, Basel is relatively quiet with only about 100 protesters participating. Whether such organizations are susceptible to popular pressure is debatable, but a protest outside the BIS would at least spotlight one of the institutions which could help to rein in global capital.

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