Entries in #OWS (2)


Welcome to the Occupation


In many ways, the most remarkable thing about the global Occupy Wall Street (#OWS) protests is that they haven’t happened sooner. It has been a full decade since the anti-globalization movement imploded in a mess of its own internal contradictions, and I am honestly surprised that left has taken so long to self-organize into another mass protest movement. I would have expected that the knee-capping of the world economy three years ago and the subsequent decision to make everyone except those primarily responsible bear the brunt of the pain would have catalyzed some sort of march on the plutocracy. 

Perhaps the left was biding its time waiting to see what Obama might bring to the table.  Perhaps it was wrong-footed by the Tea Party, which stole a march on the whole idea by taking to the streets from from the other side. Maybe it was still too busy with the wrong-headed troops-out campaign against the war in Afghanistan. And maybe this is exactly the sort of unrest that lots of smart people have predicting would be the consequence of unchecked growth in inequality. At any rate, no one should be too surprised at what is going on: by the mere swing of the pendulum, we were due for a gathering of the left-wing tribes.

Overall,  my views on the usefulness of this sort of protest have not changed much since The Rebel Sell. But my general disdain is leavened in this case by three thoughts. The first is that inequality is a growing problem that all of us need to pay more attention to. And second: to the extent that inequality is magnified by a financial elite that has effectively discovered a way to game the American banking system, then Wall Street is the right and proper target of mass protest.

But finally, and maybe primarily, I'm increasingly inclined to think that regular mass public gatherings are useful for their own sake. Since Canadian prime ministers both Liberal (Jean Chretien: APEC Vancouver 1997) and Conservative (Stephen Harper: G20 Toronto, 2010) have no problem spitting on the constitution and unleashing the full and illegal power of the state against protesters when it suits them, it is probably valuable to assert the right to freedom of assembly pretty much whenever it pleases, for whatever reason at all. 

With that throat-clearing out of the way, here are some pieces  -- some by me, some by people a lot smarter than me – that I think help put the protests in a wider intellectual frame.

An essay by Joe Heath on why the banks didn’t actually go crazy.

An article I wrote last year for Canadian Business on the hard problem of inequality, and a follow up blog post exploring why it’s even harder than I thought.

Trent history prof Robert Wright situates the #OWS movement within the longer traditions of left-wing popular protest.

A column by me for the Ottawa Citizen on what it will take for the protests to be successful.

An excellent analysis by the economics professor Mike Moffat on why the 99 percent don’t really want to fix inequality.

 A thinkier sort of column I wrote on why governments are suddenly so keen to talk about happiness instead of economic growth.

Finally, I'm quoted in this story for the Canadian Press about the intellectual origins of #OWS. And Joe Heath gets a look-in at the end of this story about how Mark Carney called the protests constructive.



Annals of Stunt Leftism

Photo: Pat McGrath, the Ottawa Citizen

Perhaps feeling a bit put-out by the media attention being (finally) devoted to the Occupy Wall Street (#OWS, for those on Twitter) movement, an alliance of Canadian and European anti-free trade activists wheeled a Trojan Horse up to the gates of Parliament Hill in Ottawa today. In case the point of the action was lost on those not versed in Greek mythology, or perhaps those who have been struck on the head by a large rock, Canada's celebrity trade opponent Maude Barlow was on hand to explain why Canada and the EU should not have a trade pact.

"Just like the Trojan horse behind me, this trade deal carries huge threats," Barlow said.

In response to the appearance of the 14-foot high theatre prop, Gerald Keddy, parliamentary secretary to Canada's Trade Minister Ed Fast, admitted that he finally understood why the trade deal was so wrong-headed. "I was a big supporter of free trade with the EU until I saw that horse coming up Wellington Street," Keddy said.

"Only now, thanks to this literal Trojan Horse, do I understand that a trade deal is a metaphorical 'trojan horse' introduced into the Canadian economy," he went on. "I wish to thank Ms. Barlow, and her European co-protesters, for bringing this to my attention in such an unmistakable manner. I will be consulting with Mr. Fast and advising him of my opinions immediately."

I kid. He actually dismissed the concerns as being raised by "special interest groups ideologically opposed to free trade."