Occupy Wall Street Deserves Respect

Originally published on The Huffington Post.wall street sign

I must admit that there is something about Occupy Wall Street that makes me think of the American Revolution. Not the fully developed American Revolution complete with an army, George Washington, and Valley Forge; I'm thinking of the earlier days, when there were only sporadic protests and occasional clashes.

All those historic events took place in a world very different from the modern world. The economy of the colonies was based on farms, and most people were farmers. And when those people rebelled, it was clear that they were rebelling against what they saw as oppressive government.

For me the most remarkable thing about Occupy Wall Street is that it is not protesting against the government. Its people are not in Washington marching down the Mall to urge change on a reluctant Congress. No, they believe that Wall Street and the major corporations have Congress in their power; so they are going to where the power is and where they believe the problem originates.

And they could be right in their choice of target.

Some American History -- Political Parties

The world of 1776 was a largely agricultural world, mainly small farms. There were few large organizations. There were almost no corporations.

Far from worrying about corporations and their possible political power, our founding fathers were even dubious about political parties themselves.

George Washington was against having political parties; he thought that people could simply vote and elect those they thought best suited to run the government. This was easier to imagine in the agriculture-dominated world in which he lived than in today's complex society. However, even in that simpler world, political parties sprang up almost immediately and they have been with us ever since.

We still think of government today in pretty much the same terms that were used then. When we think of governing, we think of the government, the voters, and the political parties.

But that way of thinking about today's world is wrong; it leaves something essential out.

Government in Today's World -- the Power of Money

We are no longer a nation of farmers; we are today a nation of corporations. In today's world, unlike the world of 1776, there are many centers of economic power. And those centers, such as the major banks and great corporations, use the power of money on a large-scale to affect the actions of government.

Today's political candidates with enough money can reach directly to anyone in the country, but without that money they believe they cannot win elections.

And between elections, because of the complexity of modern finance and industry, bills relating to their interests can be loaded with special sections intelligible only to those who benefit from them. These centers of economic and political power have enormous influence on the actions of government. And that influence is often used for their own benefit.

We need to get used to the idea that in addition to voters and political parties affecting government, there is in today's world the often decisive influence of money. And that power is being used.

Global corporations influence our governmental policies on trade and the offshoring of jobs. Financial industry money influences how much or how little change will be imposed on Wall Street. The tax code has been gradually restructured and loopholed so that the wealthy often pay lower rates than those below them on the economic ladder.

The Goals of Corporations

Furthermore, starting in the 1980s, corporations narrowed their own purposes. Instead of sharing productivity gains with their work force and considering also their effect on the community and the country, they shifted to a single focus, maximizing profit. Their executives became large-scale shareholders through stock options so that the corporate leadership and the shareholders united on a single goal, maximizing profits to raise the stock price. However, since as Professor Edward Wolff of New York University has shown, two-thirds of all corporate shares are held by the wealthiest five percent of Americans. The focus on maximizing profit means that the effect of corporate activity is to make the wealthy wealthier.

Effects

These factors explain why, despite the economic hardship that Wall Street's self-serving policies inflicted on the nation, Wall Street and the major corporations are having record years while the rest of the country struggles. They have demonstrated clearly that their fortunes are not linked to those of most Americans. And this gap between the richest and the rest is not the product of the recent crash, but has been growing over the last 30 years.

So Occupy Wall Street may be right not to waste its time on a government that it sees as a tool of the few, and instead to go directly to what it sees as the true source of political power.

Goals and Plans

One reproach leveled against Occupy Wall Street is that it has no plan. And that is probably correct. But it does have a goal. Goals and plans are different: a goal is where you want to get to; plans explain how you are going to get there. Goals are the effect you want; plans are the means to produce that effect.

Occupy Wall Street has a goal that is probably best expressed by the phrase "Democracy not Plutocracy." While their people don't have a plan, they do have a goal. They want to change the system so that its wealth and power are not so concentrated in the hands of a few.

In having a goal and no plan they are the exact opposite of Washington where plans abound. But it is often much less clear what goal those plans serve or what effect they will actually have.

The Significance of Occupy Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street focus on Wall Street, not on government, points out to us that in today's world, in addition to voters and the very visible political parties, there is also the less visible but often decisive influence of money. Very often this money is from the wealthy and the great corporations.

Occupy Wall Street has brought to our attention the goal of lessening the concentration of economic and political power. In short form, they are for Democracy not Plutocracy. Doing something about the concentration of power is not a subject discussed in Washington. But sometimes a country needs worthwhile goals, even worthwhile goals without a plan. It is up to us to find ways to get there.

If we choose to do nothing, the factors that are causing the present extreme concentration of power will continue to operate with the same effect. We are still in the early days of dissatisfaction with the political process, but we may not have forever to solve this problem.

Occupy Wall Street deserves our respect for stubbornly refusing to let us avert our eyes from what is happening to our country.

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Comments

Understanding how we got here

It will be written for the instruction of those who come after us, that in the years 1933-1940, the outstanding experiment of the North Americans in seeking to preserve a free political system by means of limitation and division, or decentralization of governmental authority, came to an end, and that a new cycle began in which they again found themselves the mere pawns and playthings of centralized power. And in the analysis of the failure, the impartial historian will not hesitate to ascribe it to the loss of those qualities of character in the mass and in government, without which the constitutional paper forms are lifeless and vain.

snip

The authority of Congress had sunk into such contempt that these legislative acts centering despotic power in the President, were, in effect, executive decrees sent to Congress for mere registration. The Executive had swallowed up the Legislative branch.

THE ROOSEVELT COUP D'ETAT

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here we go again blaming

here we go again blaming everything on FDR, a president elected 4 times... this rule overturned by right wing republicans who never thought they'd have a president of their party again elected as president

once again we have an economic disaster created by republicans in which a democrat is trying to solve only to be vilified by the neo-conservatives.

you guys suck... plain and simple please just go away and let rational people fix the current problem

morons.

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that's some serious Kool-aid you're drinkin'

I like the fact the purple font color matches the purple kool-aid. Yeah, Jim Jones and watch out for the cult. You simply have to be kidding me. The FDR administration laid the foundations to grow the U.S. middle classes to the largest in it's history. All sorts of things, now taken for granted were done in FDR's administration. Congress went along with FDR mainly because the country was in absolute crisis and the people voted them in to do it. That was the first 100 days often referred to. Hello, it was 1934 and people were literally starving, never mind shelter. Then, there was this minor thing called Hitler and a world war, which had a tendency to stream line Congressional action.

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Too bad that so many people think they know it all

I figured I’d get a “judging a book by its cover” response from the comment. I’m finding the similarities between the Depression era and today quite astounding — but largely in documents originating from the period. Sure, some noble social INSURANCE (not entitlement) programs came from the period, but a lot also went wrong.

I believe that we (myself) included have a superficial understanding of the Great Depression. Yes, the document (written by an attorney) has the slant of producerism, but the document contains an outline of the period that has survived, and is free from spin and paraphrased interpretation of those who did not live through the Depression.

For instance, I'm looking for instances (written within the period) of blame being laid on tariffs as the cause for extending the Depression. I lean more towards the gold control act extending the Depression and the Bretton Woods act as a agreement that broke the depression (fixed gold prices caused later problems though). I’m only finding modern economists who blame tariffs -- to support the concept of Income Tax -- which in turn is required to support central banking.

(I just searched the ROOSEVELT COUP D’ETAT document, it does not contain the word “tariff”)

I take the conservative slant of the document with a grain of salt, as I do with progressive and liberal POV writing -- but I read them both to try to understand grievances vs. spin. The value of the document is that I see similar action/reaction to today's economic hardship, and evidence of how the central banks (once again) manipulated process.

IMHO: Most in OWS blame the banksters, but the tool to defeating the banksters is in restoring sound currency.

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don't write economic fiction

that link is just pure fiction, CT, not appropriate for EP.

On Gold and it's relationship to the Great Depression, believe this or not, Bernanke has talked a lot about this and he has some really interesting research. some overviews on his research here.

Anyway, please refrain from linking to absurd CT.

and no, high tariffs did not cause the Great Depression. We've debunked that repeatedly as many other economists have as well. the U.S. was primarily a domestic economy in the early 1930's and Smoot-Hawley didn't raise tariffs by much in comparison to previous.

It's just a lobbyist talking point to push for more bad trade deals. They whip that bogus claim out as often as the other lobbyists name call people racist xenophobes to get their unlimited migration/foreign guest worker Visas passed.

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What is CT?

Who's writing fiction? Sterling E. Edmunds contributed articles to the New York Times.  I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the pdf.  Nothing on Snopes.com.

I read the post you linked, watched the videos and read the comments.  Not much on gold except that Bernanke appears to be of the opinion that the U. S. was hoarding, which would be necessary as reserves in order to create more paper dollars, and that the domestic gold valuation was manipulated?  If gold price manipulation was the case, it would cause a lack of confidence in the legal money and probably contributed to the run on the banks. 

Bernanke's speech is disturbing, does he work for the United States or the Global economy?  A targeted "inflation rate"  (CPI I presume) of above 2% coupled with "price stability" (i.e. flat wages) is a tax. A 100 dollar bill will lose $25.43 in purchasing power in 10 years, and desired policy dictates that wages will be fixed or lower (i.e. price stability).  The CPI excludes food and fuel, so there's no telling how badly inflation would devalue the Federal Reserve Note. (Price stability is achieved through immigration, which also causes housing inflation.)

I still don't get your resistance to brining up any document in the context of how the banksters conquered the USA in this forum.   For populism to succeed, knowledge of the tools that the elite use to divide the population is essential.

 

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Conspiracy theory

I don't really care if someone "wrote for the New York Times". That rubbish attacking FDR is not for this site.

Good frickin' God, look, this site is solid economics. Trying to claim somehow inflation is the fault, or due to immigration is pure, unmitigated bunk. So is trying to blame the housing bubble.

I'm sorry but please stop this nonsense.

Look, inflation has everything to do with global commodities and exchange rates and the housing bubble has everything to do with CDOs stuffed with MBSes.

I'm sorry but trying to blame everything on immigration is just really ridiculous.

The links aren't about the banks, it's a FDR blast which was a propaganda campaign that really hit up in 2008. Complete economic fiction and we'll assume that's because income inequality has swung into the macro economic economy and a host of people despise, absolutely despise middle classes or helping people, providing any social equalizers financially.

But look, I'm not interested in chasing down comments which claim things were are completely, 100%, economics 101, wrong. You can listen, learn but writing nonsense on this site does not fly.

Price stability is simply not wages. Labor costs are not the same thing as "price stability" and please, again, stop this.

It's one thing to argue against quantitative easing or using only core inflation for policy, but simply quite another to throw out a current rate, ignoring a strong deflationary period recently and project this claim Bernake's suggests we lose over 25% of PPP and keep wages flat. That is simply not what he is saying.

The links in the article touch on Bernanke's research papers, I'm not hunting down the connections for you beyond what I know I already looked at when writing up an article for this site.

I've had it on this frankly. I'm sorry, this site is also an educational reference site, so writing nonsense claiming it's fact is simply not going to be allowed.

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Strange ideas

Hello, weaver,

I have saved you from your -1 rating, countering it with a +1 to equal a great big ZERO. My view is that a -1 rating draws more attention to a comment than the ZERO does. (I'm not part of EP but I do get to vote on comments.)

Anyway, I think that there is something to the idea that the power of the executive branch expanded during the first two administrations of FDR, although this could hardly be rationally  termed a "coup d'état". You need to take note that the power of the executive branch cannot be equated to the power of the presidency especially since all those powers were (and are) subject to judicial review. Expansion of the powers of the executive branch was mainly due to creation of such entities as the SEC and the NLRB, with the power of the presidency carefully isolated from operations of those agencies.

Power of the presidency was expanded during World War II (not during the Depression). Power of the presidency always expands during times of war, although the most egregious of such anti-constitutional expansions have been the War Powers legislation and the PATRIOT Act, which occurred long after FDR's time and not in times of war declared according to the Constitutional provision for declaration of war.

And then there's the matter of your completely overlooking the role of the Fed in extending (or even in creating) the Great Depression. (The Federal Reserve Act is dated 1916, long before FDR's first administration.)

However, I give you a high grade for originality in your "leaning" toward FDR's gold regulations as extending the Depression -- I guess all the way into the Nixon Administration wink laugh

But how does that jibe with your recognition that "If gold price manipulation was the case, it would cause a lack of confidence in the legal money and probably contributed to the run on the banks." Are you aware that the runs on banks began in 1930, long before the first FDR administration (1933)? Are you aware of FDR's "nothing to fear but fear itself" radio talk that greatly restored confidence in banks?

Your idea that gold speculation contributed to runs on banks would seem to indicate that FDR's gold regulations contributed to confidence in the USD that lasted until Nixon repealed FDR's regulations in 1971. The original Bretton Woods agreement was in 1944.  So if that ended the Depression (???), per another of your leanings, then there was no Depression all the way until Nixon nixed the closed the gold window in 1971. But, if the Depression ended after Bretton Woods, then how could FDR's gold regulations have extended the Depression? And anyway there was no Depression into 1971.

BTW, there was an attempted coup against President Franklin Roosevelt, exposed by retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler in 1934.

Your remarks just don't add up.
 

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gone

After a major insult comment he's gone. Main reason is the comment feed has a feed, (so yes you are part of EP!) and I saw some stuff being indexed on unemployment that is completely wrong, inaccurate. I don't want EP to be associated with inaccurate macro economic statistical analysis.

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pissing in the wind

The intent of the occupy protesters does deserve respect. However, they have no leadership, no goal, and no plan. Just like the individual protesters themselves. They would like to say they are modelled after arab spring protests. However, the protesters in north africa had a goal. They wanted a new constitution and free elections after the removal of a dictator. Occupy protesters just want to "give it to the man", because that is all the detail that their limited education and pop culture driven mentality can produce. How will you give it to the man? By sitting in a cold park and protesting nothing in particular? Occupy protesters are just angry children throwing a temper tantrum. They need to grow up and join an organized movement with real leaders and real goals. Like nationalizing the Fed and banks, ending corporate personhood, limits to campaign funds, eliminating tax loopholes, single payer healthcare, and treason charges for corrupt politician and police.

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I know you are, but what am I?

"Occupy protesters just want to 'give it to the man', because that is all the detail that their limited education and pop culture driven mentality can produce."

Their is a wide spectrum of education and economic understanding within the movement. Referring to the protestors as if they are a homogenous monolith is simple-minded. Perhaps this is caused by your "limited education and pop culture driven mentality." (See, two can play this game.)

"They need to grow up and join an organized movement with real leaders and real goals."

So far the movement has succeeded in shifting the national discourse from an idiotic obsession with deficits (which amounts to Hooverism given the current state of the economy) to the issue of jobs and wealth inequality. Please show which "organized movement with real leaders and real goals" has managed to do as much. Hurling mean-spirited insults at the movement that has already gotten better results than any other group or phenomenon in the country is what I would call "just [an] angry [child] throwing a temper tantrum."

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I agree with both, at least in part

Although 'mountain matt' and 'miasmo' have contrary takes on the Occupy Movement, I agree with both on substantial points.

I agree with 'miasmo' here --

So far the movement has succeeded in shifting the national discourse from an idiotic obsession with deficits (which amounts to Hooverism given the current state of the economy) to the issue of jobs and wealth inequality.

I agree (in part) with 'mountain matt' here --

Like nationalizing the Fed and banks, ending corporate personhood, limits to campaign funds, eliminating tax loopholes, single payer healthcare, and treason charges for corrupt politician and police.

Here are my reservations about proposals of 'mountain matt' --

I don't think that the term 'nationalize' is how to describe taking control of the Fed away from the banks, because the Fed is already formally a part of the government, even though the FOMC is currently practically controlled by representatives of privately owned banks, rather than by public members of the FOMC. Also, the American Monetary Act -- the best proposal for monetary and financial reform -- envisions privately owned banks, although without their authorization to create money through fractional reserve practices.

See, American Monetary Institute --

www.monetary.org

All provisions of the American Monetary Act are included in bill currently before Congress, HR 2990.

See, PDF download on American Monetary Act --

www.monetary.org/hr6550bill.pdf

Also, see blog by Nikki Alexander (23 October 2011), Occupy the Treasury support HR 2990

__________

About "treason charges," the proposal of 'mountain matt' is extreme, although not really inappropriate in many cases. The problem is that without a change in the statutes for treason, it would be libelous to publish claims of treason.

But how about this? We should be demanding legislation broader than, but not unlike, the War Profiteering Prevention Act. The bill was never enacted, although some provisions were passed in 2008 -- as part of a deal that allowed oil drilling without regulations that, arguably, would have prevented the BP oil spill.

See, Costs of War are $4 Trillion article at Robert Oak blog here at EP (and my comment at bottom of page, including on the War Profiteering Prevention Act).

Also see, businesspundit.com article, The 25 Most Vicious Iraq War Profiteers

When I suggest legislation broader than war profiteering, I have in mind such things as possible profiteering through deliberate manipulation of the gold market by Speaker Boehner in August, in timing of his unexpected walk-out from White House debt ceiling talks. (Insider information in that if you knew about this action before the market closed, you could have made a fortune using margin available through the Merc.)

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Like nationalizing the Fed

Like nationalizing the Fed and banks, ending corporate personhood, limits to campaign funds, eliminating tax loopholes, single payer healthcare, and treason charges for corrupt politician and police.

 

Those are demands that most of the protestors would probably agree with. But it is a very valid strategic question to ask when is the right time to start making specific demands. This is a question that doesn't seem to have occurred to mountain matt. He seems to have assumed that the absence of specific demands at this point means that formulating such demands is beyond the intelligence and or knowledge and or maturity of the protestors. It seems pretty clear to me that the protestors are generally actually more politically sophisticated then mountain matt. They have figured out how to grow a large movement - already a bigger political accomplishment than matt has figured out how to do. It seems that so far the lack of specific demands has helped the movement to grow and command the attention of the nation and the 1%. It seems that simply articulating the problem in a very general way and then demonstrating willingness to engage in direct actions has been a brilliant strategy so far. Mountain matt's condescending dismissal is foolish.

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Roemer: 'Listen to OWS'

Buddy Roemer has gone to OWS at the park in NYC ... not to campaign but to listen. He is now urging all Americans to "listen to them." Here's from email received yesterday from Buddy Roemer for President campaign --

Team,
 
We released a new web ad today entitled, “America, Listen to Them.” As you know, Governor Roemer has  been the only candidate on either side to get behind the spirit of Occupy Wall Street. Throughout our history, Americans have stood up against injustice and inequality. Some like to criticize the Occupy Wall Street movement, and although Governor Roemer does not endorse everything they stand for, you cannot criticize their frustration and anger with the status quo and corruption occurring. Lobbyists and Wall Street executives rule Washington and our political system, and Governor Roemer is the only candidate that will work to end this.
 
Web Video – “America, Listen to Them”

Video Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAXR_czUR9c
 
 
Enjoy,

Carlos Sierra
Campaign Manager
 
P.S. Please spread the link to everyone you know via email, Facebook, Twitter and any other social media outlets and ask them to consider joining the team and donating!

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