A Big Messy Essay on… Occupy Wall and Bay Streets.

Hey, what's Marlon Brando doing in this article about Occupy Wall Street? OH SHIT! That's Mussolini! I hope this essay doesn't turn into some crap about the US going fascist. I bet it does... Yep. It does.

Here’s a piece I’ve been meaning to write for at least two weeks. I thought perhaps the Occupy movement would have passed on before I got the chance to commit some of my thoughts to web-paper, but luckily the movement has surprised me by instead growing in strength and reach. This weekend, supporting protests will start in Toronto and Montreal (the two cities in which I reside) and add to that the coaxing of someone with whom I was fighting on Twitter and suddenly, the desire to write emerges.

The aforementioned Twitter fight  was generally centred on some comments I’d made about the intent of the Occupy Toronto protest. Assuming, as I might, that the protest would take on a similar tone to the one in New York, I opined that potential occupiers might want to consider the status of Canada’s banks and its banking regulations before making themselves look foolish in the streets.

Thanks to the Bank Act of 1991 (enacted under the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, which ain’t easy for me to admit) Canadian banks were not allowed to exist solely as investment entities, as was the case with large US institutions like Lehman Brothers. Knowing that, it seemed to me that a Bay Street protest might be the source of some misdirected anger. Even before 1991, Canadian banks didn’t have anywhere near the freedom to operate offered to American banks under the Glass Steagall Act (1933). So, if there is a problem with the banking system in Canada, one could argue that the problem lays in Ottawa with the regulators. In fact, I could make the same argument about the US as well. The difference in the US is that the banks, unfettered by regulation, began to act in a predatory manner which rightfully earned them the derision of the people.

Over the course of this exchange it was suggested to me that perhaps I was commenting on the protests without really know what they were about. In my defense, to the best of my knowledge and research, they weren’t about anything. The relatively empty Occupy Toronto website and Facebook (found here and here, respectively) did little to help me obtain the knowledge that it had been suggested I lacked. At that point, the argument hit an impasse. Actually, when I was accused of using “bizarre hyperbole” and I responded with the appropriately hyperbolic, “WRONG!”, then the discussion hit an impasse.

Zoom forward to today and a question from the same noble gentleman on Twitter asking me if my views on the subject had changed. Rather than answering in a series of tweets or simply replying with a very honest, “Yes and No.”, I’m going to break up my thoughts into a few short sections.

Be warned, this is a bit disjointed; but I think it ultimately makes most of the points I wanted to make.

#1 Supreme Benefit of Globalization…in under 500 words

There is one overwhelming benefit to the globalization of world market. Granted, it’s a benefit only felt in the First World, but it is a sizeable one nonetheless. Globalization prevents large scale war.

The intrinsic coupling of the economies of large states has done more than diplomacy ever could in preventing the world’s superpowers and European powers from attacking one another. (In this case, I grant superpower status to the US, Russia and China based on their enormous military strength) There are considerable risks to starting even a cold war with China, for example. The US could hardly stand to staunch the flow of money and goods from China and China couldn’t very well afford to lose America as its #1 customer.

This hasn’t done much for the developing world. Their inability to take part in the grander, interlinked market has, in many cases forced developing countries to manage their requirements for food, water, resources and cold hard cash the old fashioned way; go into the nearest country and take what you need. It also helps to thin out the neighbours population, so they aren’t tempted to come after you in the same way you went after them.

So, the inevitable side-effect of a system that heavily favours the largest economies is that while they’re unlikely to war (which is a huge benefit), smaller states are left only the scraps, over which they must fight viciously.

As a fun academic exercise and to provide a little sober second thought, one might consider the effect of a large scale banking crisis in a country like the United States in a world that did not have deeply linked economies. What might the Americans to do the fill their depleted coffers if they’d never broken out of pre-Wilson isolationism?

What’s that you say? What about the depression? They got out of the depression with the New Deal. Well, yes…but mostly no.

Ask yourself this: How did the Germans fix their post-WWI inflation and depression? Or, what eventually pulled the US of out their depression? That’s right, 70,000,000 deaths. The Second World War.

Realizing the relationship between mass death and economic linkage forces you to take a long, hard look at the state of the world and decide just how much you really hate globalization. Also, how much would you be willing to risk to bring about its end. Either way, there’s a dear price to be paid; by us, or them, or everyone.

The Really Bad Result of Economic Disparity

So if the prevention of war is the A1 benefit of Globalization, what’s the major downside?

Put simply, globalization creates a power elite, which will inevitably replace democracy with a structure that’s more favourable to commerce. That structure is called Corporate Statism and have unquestionably entered it’s era; best exemplified in the United States, but clearly evident throughout Europe and Asia as well. If you want to learn more about the corporate statist model and it’s side effects, just read up on Italian Fascism. Not only will you likely recognize the symptoms present in much of the Western world, but it’ll also help you see where we might soon become; a disengaged, yet disgruntled populace slowly relinquishing our freedoms while waiting for the government to fix our economic woes, as they promised.

The Tipping Point

I’ve repeated the same tweet a few times in the last week or so and it goes like this: “We either have to decide to tear the system down and start again or we have to shut up and live with it.”

I mentioned above that an individual on Twitter had taken exception to my suggestion that the message of the Occupy movement (at least, as it stood 2 weeks ago) was misdirected and ultimately purposeless. And depending on how you evaluate the system, I’m either right or I’m delusional.

Taking the Canadian system at face value, there’s little point to an Occupy Bay Street movement. Canadian banks were heavily regulated in 1991 and the result of that legislation was a banking industry that couldn’t rely on speculation in the way their southern cousins could. Regulation also prevented the predatory issuing of mortgages to people who obviously couldn’t pay them as well as the debt swapping that followed the housing boom in the US. Our housing market hasn’t yet collapsed and doesn’t look prone to doing so and finally, while we do have a degree of income disparity in Canada, our aged but relatively robust social safety net does catch many who fall through the cracks. People, who in the American system, would plummet.

If you take the Canadian system at face value, we have major problems, but they’re not irreparable. Our most pressing matter is a political one, attributable to our antiquating electoral system. Despite the impression we might get at election time, I don’t think Canadians as a whole are shifting to the right. Quite the contrary, if there was a Conservative shift within the electorate, the results of the recent provincial elections have shown it to be the briefest of flirtations. Most provinces have seen big gains by the NDP, a trend I think will continue over the next 4 years.

Canada is certainly in desperate need of electoral reform, but I think that reform is achievable within the established system.

The problem is our US brothers and sisters, who are fucked up in a way we can’t possible imagine.

If Americans believe, as I do, that their state has been completely corrupted and that the power elite have overrun the political, economic and media foundations of their society than they (as we, to a certain extent) are faced with a pretty awful ethical dilemma. If they can’t bare the thought of their children being fed the first doses of Soma while being patted on the head, then they haven’t much choice but to sow revolution. Conversely, if being a revolutionary seems like too much of a risk, then they haven’t much choice but to grin and bear it. In my thinking, there is no middle ground.

My favourite example is the call from the Occupy movement and from prominent celebrity endorsers, like Michael Moore and Chris Hedges to prosecute the banks. What nonsense! One cannot expect the government to prosecute the banks when the government and the banks are one entity. Is the power elite likely to throw itself in jail? Have you seen any evidence of that so far?

The American system is almost irreparably broken. Their rights of American citizens are being eroded at a furious pace, their government has taken to assassinating their own citizens and their political system is so corrupt that a person with good intentions could never get with a 1000 miles of a seat of elected power.

We Have to be Honest

A slight tangent…

We 99 percenters also have to be a little more honest with ourselves. We have to admit our addiction to cheap foreign-made goods and our desire to have an endless selection of them. If we are to change the world, we must be willing to admit our own failures as a consuming culture and in turn, be willing to change our ways. We have to learn to live with less of everything. No, we have to force ourselves to live with less. It’s the most direct, non-violent action we can take against the foundations of Corporate Statism.

Finally

This should really be some kind of thesis paper, as I’m racing rather incompletely through ideas. I suppose that’s the wondrous thing about Twitter, you can’t afford to be anything by succinct. Let me try to sum up…

The United States appears to be on the brink of economic collapse. But don’t be so easily fooled. Having run out of wars and false flags (I’m not referring to 9/11, thank you.) to use as an excuse for limiting the freedoms of its citizenry, the US power elite has simply invented a new crisis and have found a new scapegoat: The Citizenry.

Yes, you caused the problem and now you are going to have to fix it. Unions and their workers (You) are bad. Immigrants (You) are bad. The poor (You) need too much. And the sick (You) cost too much. So well have the US power elite played this game that they’ve actually turned the citizens against each other, promoting the creation of fringe groups like the Tea Party to keep the middle class angry and confused.

The US is not about to collapse. But it is changing. And what happens at these protests might just determine how it changes. Either all the way fascist, or maybe a proper correction back to some form of democracy.

So…knowing that…back to Bay Street.

  1. If the Occupy Bay Street movement exists to protest US levels of inequality in Canada, then the movement’s leaders haven’t a clue what’s going on in their own country.
  2. If the Occupy Bay Street Movement exists to protest economic disparity in Canada, then the movement should go to Ottawa, which is the ultimate source of our disparities. We ought not get so caught up in trying to speak for others (as is so often the case in the Western activist movement. We’ve always got someone for whom we think we need to speak) that we forget we’ve our own issues to address and a system by which we can address them.
  3. If the Occupy Bay Street Movement is just a big love-in intended to show our solidarity with the people of the US while they try to decide if they’re going to have a Second Revolution or not, that’s great. I’ll join in. (But, please see #2 as a caveat.)

But…

If it’s all three, which I assume it will be, then the movement will have to get good at figuring out how to explain to people why they’re there at all. Because  in my mind, all those goals can’t coexist.

One More Thing…

Occupy is a very odd, but oddly appropriate name for the movement. It accurately describes the sit-ins which are popping up all over the country, but it also speaks to a certain historical reality relating to occupations.

Occupying forces have always been good at taking a place over, but have historically been bad at figuring out what to do once after the fighting’s finished and most importantly, how to get out when they’re done whatever they came to do. The charge levied at the Occupy movement that they haven’t–in general–much in the way of a plan for the future is so far pretty accurate. I fear activists have been a bit blinded by populist nonsense from the likes of Michael Moore, encouraging us to replace capitalism with democracy, as though a political theory could replace an economic one. The movement will have to be careful not to get lost in a filmmaker’s book promotion.

In conclusion-conclusion, a caution. If the movement does win some king of victory, it’d better figure out what it’s gonna do with it.

 

5 thoughts on “A Big Messy Essay on… Occupy Wall and Bay Streets.

  1. You’ve made some great points about the american system. But I have to disagree with you about the Canadian side of things. Maybe it’s because you and I probably live in completely different worlds, that I believe the Occupy Bay Street is something that really needs to happen. Just because our banking system is more regulated does not mean that Canadians arent a part of the 99 percent. I have been living in abject poverty since I was 13 yrs old, I’m now 35. Like thousands of other young canadians, I came from state care. I have seen election after election at every level and still have not seen substantial changes to our social safety nets. In fact, since the 90’s, the gap between rich and poor is widening. I will be standing in solidarity with our american friends, but I’ll also be standing up for Canada’s have nots, people like myself who are disabled and live far below the poverty line. Just because we arent as bad as other places, doesnt mean there arent dire issues that need addressing NOW. I like to call Canada, the ‘ghetto in the sunny meadow’. There are far too many unemployed and and far too many homeless. With a small population, effecting change should be alot easier. but somehow nothing ever changes. Our electoral system may be different than the US, but the attitudes between left and right are essentially the same. This is about reminding the powerful elites, that ultimately, we the people hold the real power.

  2. Very interesting post. For me, the Occupy movement is about halting the growing inequalities between the rich and the poor. For decades we as a species have had the means (financial, scientific, etc) to ensure that people don’t starve, families don’t face homelessness, sick people don’t die without proper care, but we are not doing this, because we are surrounded by a system that encourages consoldating wealth into an ever-shrinking minority on the backs of the majority. There is no rational reason why this should be, other than the inertia of history. The occupy movement is an attempt to redirect our focus. It’s the 21st century, so why are millions starving?

  3. From the Welfare state to the state of well-being, to encourage the tendencies of volunteerism, encore careers is the purpose of these Occupations.

  4. Thanks for writing.

    Globalization benefits developing countries immensely in material terms. We can’t shut them out of the benefits as easily as we did in the old days of trade barriers.

    Coupling economies doesn’t prevent large scale war as far as I see. Nuclear warheads controlled by large bureaucratic actors do that much better. Still, the idea that money makers won’t war on each other is attractive, except that war-makers aren’t interested in money (even if money makers are interested in war).

    War and death are the by-products of the quest for power, not globalization.

    Power elites have always existed. A historian writing before the 2nd World War (sorry, I forget his name) wrote that oligarchs always run the show. Rome, the Soviet Union, Communist China, Revolutionary America or the US today, there is always a powerful elite. That’s not a product of globalization.

    Your spectre of a very powerful corporate elite that wants to subvert democracy is scary, though, and well founded. That ain’t capitalism, of course, and it ain’t rule of law or respect for fellow human beings, and it’s counter to, among other things, the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. And I really like how you’ve connected a disgruntled populace giving up freedom to a government that can’t carry through on it’s promises.

    I don’t think you’re right that we have to tear the system down or live with it. I think we have to ask some basic questions and get the logical answers out on the table. What’s right and what’s wrong isn’t that hard to figure out. It’s just hard to carry out.

    I’m intrigued by your idea about electoral reform here in Canada. It seems to be motivated by a right vs. left viewpoint. You know a lot of people in Canada vote Tory because they’re not from Toronto, right? Voting for Harper isn’t such a bad thing in BC, where we grow lots of pot, have lots of gay people (hey, I even know one or two, and they’re really nice) and have a pretty healthy NDP party. Go figure. Maybe there’s a bit of a regional element….?

    Anyway, thanks for writing. We need to address some basic social contract issues in a big way. I hope the internet helps us. Question for you in that regard: what entitles me to the fruits of your labour? Like, when I want your tax dollars to subsidize a pipeline to Prince Rupert so we can create good paying union jobs and sell lots of oil to China for the good of the nation. What entitles me to force you to pay taxes for that most excellent idea?

    We can re-write that sentence like this, of course: “What entitles me/you to the fruits of your/my labour when I/you want your/my tax dollars to subsidize [insert your/my good idea here] so we can [achieve aforesaid wicked idea] for the good of the nation”.

    I really think that’s where it starts. When we recognize that coercion is theft we’re left with either stealing or asking. Personally, I think asking is more sustainable, but I might be deluded.

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