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First posted at the real economics blog

There are probably many people protesting in Liberty Park who believe that they invented protests against financial institutions and glory in the fact they they have inspired copycat #Occupy movements around the world.  Sorry, but the folks who have been protesting neoliberalism at events like The 1999 Battle of Seattle, the Yes Men, ATTAC, and dozens of groups like them, all have legitimate claims to what the patent world calls "prior art."

These seasoned vets have been remarkably indulgent of the newcomers.  As well they should be.  After all, trying to get outsiders to understand what they were protesting has been their biggest problem for years.  The main link between anti-neoliberalism (anti-globalization) protests of the 1980s and 90s, and #OWS, is a Canadian outfit called Adbusters whose bright idea it was.

And it will take awhile for #OWS to catch up to the folks in Spain who were already camped out in public places last spring.  Spanish youth even organized a march on Brussels hoping that their plight just might get a better hearing from the arrogant Euro bureaucracy if they showed up after a 1500 km hike.

Occasionally, these protests will be labeled "populist."  As measured against the real historical Populists of 1892, the term "populist" is one of the most misused terms ever.  Most academics, politicians, and journalists now use the term to describe anything they find vaguely icky about the scary masses.   However, with #OWS, the term actually applies.  I am reasonably certain that the historical Populists would feel quite at home with the various social and economic critiques advanced by #OWS (mixed in with an occasional "We could have told you THAT in 1892.")

The reemergence of real Populism partly explains why the cultural manifestations of #OWS have been so breath-takingly excellent.  Of course, this is one of the main reasons why the elites are so terrified of Populism.  They have seen the power of pop culture--€”in fact, many of them got rich off of it.  One of the great sayings of Populism was, "There is as good in the ranks as ever came out of them."  Folks scrawling signs on pizza boxes have produced gems that rival anything produced by the big New York ad agencies.  That is not so surprising considering that real Populism will always be better than the fake variety they use to sell car insurance.

European elites should be wary of the Greek spring
The fear of 'contagion' shouldn't be just about the euro -- this Greek resistance could spread across Europe

Costas Douzinas, Sunday 6 November 2011

The Greek prime minister George Papandreou's loss of power is not surprising: the reaction of Greeks to the 27 October agreement with its new tranche of austerity measures and the further undermining of national independence was devastating for the government. The next day, a military parade was abandoned as protesters occupied the streets, and the president had to flee; parades elsewhere were similarly interrupted. The political elites, who felt unassailable for 30 years, now sense the popular anger and are unable to comprehend or contain it. 

The call for a referendum was the irrational act of a regime that had lost touch with the people and was trying desperately to save its skin. Papandreou's gambit looked like a veiled threat to the eurozone authorities and was interpreted as such by leaders who have been strongly rebuffed in recent referendums by the French and the Dutch - where two of the core nations rejected the European constitution and ended aspirations for the creation of a European superstate based on neoliberal principles. "Referendum", a dirty word in the corridors of Brussels, evoked the fear elites feel when the people momentarily enter the political stage. 

But Papandreou's plan was not a late recognition or a democratic redress of the repeated humiliations visited upon Greeks, or a reassertion of sovereignty against the IMF and Germany. On the contrary, it was the government's attempt to regain the initiative against its own people clamouring to see it exit the stage. The inability to predict the angry reaction of the Europeans turns it into a dispiriting swansong of a dispirited and utterly defeated government, a blackmail that backfired. 


But the gamble did not succeed. The Socialist MPs gave their confidence in order to delay elections and save the party from total collapse on condition that Papandreou resign and a national unity government formed. The frantic negotiations that followed between Pasok and rightwing New Democracy finally brought together the political elites in a big austerity coalition. Elections, initially planned for 4 December, will be delayed now as the two parties, obedient to European diktat, prepare to face a people who have largely rejected their political machinations. more 

If you want a real economics reason for popular anger at the economic situation, look no further than this chart.  The math is a little cheesy but the conclusions are valid.  (I covered the impacts of rising energy prices on the real economy last winter.)

It Now Takes 5 Hours Of Work To Earn Enough Money To Fill The Gas Tank
Global Macro Monitor | Nov. 8, 2011

Another awesome piece of work from our friends over at The Chart Store.   The chart below is a times series of the numbers of hours of work — based on the average hourly wage — needed to buy a barrel of crude oil.    Given the current wage of $19.53 in October it now takes 4.7 hours of work to purchase a barrel of crude.  Add another couple of hours when Iran heats up.

The chart does illustrate how real wages whip around with the price of crude oil.  As a rule of thumb one barrel of crude (42 gallons)  produces around 20 gallons or about one tank of gasoline.   So what took 2 hours of work to fill the tank 10 years ago now takes about 5 hours.   Of course this is a simplification as other byproducts are produced from a barrel of crude,  but it is does illustrate the point. more

The sense of betrayal over education, student loans, and joblessness is real and runs deep.  This waste of human potential is an ethical obscenity on many levels. But for those not swayed by ethical arguments, there is this—unless we harness the energy of the young, we will not survive.  I mean, even a slave-owner should be able to understand THAT!

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Comment Preferences

  •  Here's to those who have made (5+ / 0-)

    #OWS such a fascinating cultural experience!

  •  I think the only mistake to come out of (7+ / 0-)

    Liberty Square is the failure to recognize that OWS took off because a consensus had already formed.  Also, the potential for government by the people was never able to be actualized as long as there were certain impediments in the organization of government--specifically, immunity for public officials, official secrecy, selective service (the youth sent off to be killed as a matter of routine) and restricted civic participation (selective suffrage).  So, the populism of the past was stymied by organizational impediments which civil and consumer rights reforms, education and the liberation of information now makes possible, despite the energetic resistance mounted by the old guard.
    The time is ripe for the people to govern themselves. What was only a promise is being actualized. Resistance by the ruling class persists.  But, irony of ironies, the contraction of the ruling class behind the shield of money has so reduced their numbers that they are vastly outnumbered and the money, after all, is worthless.

    That said, 1% seems to have been a turning point and not just because 99 is a number to which all people who have ever been to camp or participated in an organized sport or traveled long distances can relate, because of those 99 bottles of beer on the wall. Also, there is something magical about counting backwards.  People do it to make themselves fall asleep.

    Back in 2006, the significant number of ueber wealthy was still 2% and our candidate for Congress in NH was talking about the "rest of us." Then, when we got to 1% and some were still wondering whether it should be 1 percenters or 1%ers, the 99% suddenly caught fire and, as they say, the rest is history.

    It isn't, btw, capitalism that's bound to self-destruct.  It's a monopoly of any kind.  That's because diversity is the essence of organic existence.  Diversity is the guarantor of life. The human species persists because it is exogamous.

    People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

    by hannah on Thu Nov 10, 2011 at 05:40:18 AM PST

    •  a brilliant comment (4+ / 0-)

      my current students are shocked that Chileans are demanding a free higher education again.  They have no idea that Europeans pay essentially nothing for their degrees.

      They don't even understand that their education is not for them and them alone, that colleges and universities exist because they produce a societal good, a civilization.

      I don't think the genie can go back in the bottle.

      But I do think capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction.

      However, its monopolist tendencies are key to that destruction, so you are beyond right about that.

      Diversity is the stuff of life, no doubt.

      If OWS survives the winter and I think it will, the Spring is going to be more interesting than 1968.

      Donate to Occupy Wall Street here:

      by BlueDragon on Thu Nov 10, 2011 at 05:51:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, the powers that be have been (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        preparing for a replay of 1968 for all the subsequent decades. Being conservative, they do hope and pray that history repeats itself and "next time" they'll be more prepared.  But, next time is never the same and history does not accommodate their inability to change.
        I still see the turning point as having come when Barack Obama assured the people of Egypt, and by extension the whole middle East, that the U.S. would no longer support the use of military force against the people.  The people of Cairo took him up on his promise and, at first, when U.S. warships passed through the Suez Canal, people on the ground thought that, as usual, it had been an empty promise.  But then, the U.S. trained Egyptian military stood down and the Arab spring took off. Libya looked, for a while, like a reversal, but the civilians on the ground, waging their pickup revolution, were able to tell the difference between being hit by accident and being a target and persisted in their demands.

        Political operatives of all stripes can hanker for their own dictator.  That Republicans are parading such inept specimens is to be decried because diversity is important in political parties, as well, and there is nothing good to be got from an organization rotting from inside.

        People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

        by hannah on Thu Nov 10, 2011 at 06:10:44 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  i'm not worried that we will go in a '68 circle (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          hannah, TexasTwister

          something is qualitatively different now.  it isn't just the economy.

          polar bears, etc.

          the medical industrial complex

          the innertubes, etc.

          but it is still the 10-15% who start the revolution and it always will be

          the difference is that the vast majority are scared and exhausted.

          plus the Hopi and Maya seem to have gotten it right: 2012 is going to be a very interesting ride.

          Donate to Occupy Wall Street here:

          by BlueDragon on Thu Nov 10, 2011 at 06:23:15 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Well Hannah.... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      techno, BlueDragon

      I appreciate your optimism, and hope you're correct.

      •  Hope is not enough. The lust for power is (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BlueDragon, techno

        obsessive must always be resisted. The insecure, I suspect, we will always have with us and, since it seems impossible to cure insecurity, they just have to be stopped.
        Fear does not need to be feared. It has to be stopped in its tracks.  That's pretty obvious when one watches the Berkley cops. What's perhaps less obvious is what they fear.  It's obviously not the nonviolent people they've been ordered, like obedient Mafia henchmen, to attack. No, what the cops fear is their superiors, who hold the cops' ability to make a living in their hands.  The cops know full well that there is only one commandment--obedience.  If they fail to obey then, indeed, they will be out in the street.
        That's how triangulation works.  It leaves the enforcers between a rock and a hard place and, from the cops' perspective, the hard place has proved less risky. Which is why it is the system which has trained them to be offensive which must be reined in.
        Homeland security needs to be dismantled and our law enforcers have to be demilitarized. The nation is an amorphous entity which has been transformed into a secular deity.  

        "In the name of the nation and of the dollar and of the rule of law, humanity has been crucified."

        People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

        by hannah on Thu Nov 10, 2011 at 06:25:43 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  i'm not so sure that insecurity is incurable (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          capitalism creates enormous insecurity.

          there will always be people who break and run in fear, but in a decently healthy society, that can be kept to a minimum.

          also, they want to buy immortality and they are right: we are on the cusp of that which is just another reason we have to straighten up and fly right.

          even if they kill off the 99%, they cannot actually run the world the way they fantasize.  they still need slaves to clean the toilet for the time being.

          i have irrational hope that people are waking up but it will be a rough, rough ride.

          Donate to Occupy Wall Street here:

          by BlueDragon on Thu Nov 10, 2011 at 06:43:58 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Also, what is happening with (9+ / 0-)

    student loans needs more exposure.

    Moving the student loan program into the Department of Education is a frontal assault on the banksters.  It validates their worst fears.  That it is happening two years earlier than scheduled has created much anxiety.  I expect that when the ACA passed, it was expected that there would be plenty of time to remove this component--the plan to pay for the expansion of health care with the money that had previously gone to banks to subsidize defaulted student loans, loans that had gone to finance educational fraud.

    We have a long history of enterprise springing up like mushrooms to take advantage of the public purse.  We saw it with juvenile mental health treatment facilities in the eighties; we saw it with fraudulent transport agencies "serving" medicaid and medicare patients in the 90's; and we saw it in the creation of for profit adult education and training programs in the 2000s.

    The banksters are rightly concerned about the federal government "allocating credit" --i.e. handing out money directly to individuals so they can purchase what they need--because that undermines their being able to tap the public purse as middlemen.  However, since their administration of currency has proved so inept and corrupt, they have only themselves to blame.

    Consider, for example, the effort to hand them a sop by mandating that all transfers from the federal government be electronic, necessitating that recipients set up debit and checking accounts.  Instead of being appreciative of this guaranteed stream of money which banks can use as a float, they immediately turned around and levied unconscionable service fees on the customers. What better example of greed do we need?

    People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

    by hannah on Thu Nov 10, 2011 at 05:54:19 AM PST

  •  Great minds think alike (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlueDragon, hannah, techno

    A good idea will keep popping up spontaneously, and no one can make prior claim. There is nothing new under the sun.

    •  True. Consensus is a marvelous thing. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Unfortunately, and I do think it is a matter of fortune, some people's senses are not attuned to other people and so they have no way to share common ideas.  They perceive themselves as isolates and simply cannot connect.

      I suspect some of the older folk recognize themselves, on a very basic level, in the youth who are now getting help and care under the "special education" umbrella and the oldsters resent having been deprived.
      "Why should they get what I didn't have?" is a rather common question.

      My mother, during a lengthy but non-fatal illness, was moved to observe that she'd "never learned how to live and enjoy life." I though that quite a break-through until she added, "I wonder whose fault that was."

      People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

      by hannah on Thu Nov 10, 2011 at 06:39:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  "Real Economics"..... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    techno, TexasTwister

    Whoever gave the link to the site "Real Economic" -- Thanks so much!  Great site.

    Among other things, there's a great segment with economist Michael Hudson, who calls it like it is yet again.

    Hudson gives an update on Iceland and calls the Icelandic government Social Fascism, puts what's going on today in an interesting historic perspecitve, talks about Greece, odious debt, and explains why the Rule of Law no longer exists, in either state governments or international organizations.

    Highly recommend.

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