Sunday, October 09, 2011

From Arab Spring to American Fall?

The chickens seem to have come home to roost as young people, unable to get ahead, while saddled with unserviceable student loans, and older folk, unable to find jobs in a shrinking economy, are taking to the streets to express their disgust at a system which has left out 99% and benefits only 1%. The Occupy Wall Street movement has taken inspiration from Tahrir Square, practicing direct democracy and non-violence and setting up operational and social services in Zuccotti Park under the resurrected name Liberty Plaza. A library even. They've reminded the cops they too are part of the 99% and invited them to join in solidarity, reminiscent of the Egyptian protesters offering flowers to Mubarak's soldiers.

Right Here All Over (Occupy Wall St.) from Alex Mallis on Vimeo.

Their demands, published in a manifesto, are admirable, covering a wide range of abuses. Have the American people, who seem to be broadly represented, finally woken up to their condition of wage slavery and financial chattelry? Are the activists tenacious enough to occupy public spaces for long enough to wrest concessions from the Powers That Be? You can be sure even if all their demands are met it will result in superficial reforms and regulations that will allow the corporatocracy to continue business as usual maybe a bit less brazenly.

Talk of revolution and manifestos is well and good, creating media buzz and a feel-good camaraderie on the barricades and behind the digital redoubts, but nothing less than the dissolution of the monetary system will bring about real change. We have conflated the meaning of money with wealth and power for so long that it is unthinkable to even consider overturning the tables in the temple.

Ecological economists who promote a steady-state economy like Herman Daly, Bernard Lietaer and David Korten limit their proposals to reforms of the present monetary system.
Participatory economics touted by the left and being taught at Liberty Plaza may give the appearance of empowering the grassroots but the economic balance of power will remain substantially unchanged. Some like Charles Eisenstein promote the idea of a gift economy which relies on people's better angels to give freely without expectation of return. This may have worked for Trobriand Islanders of a bygone era but is not likely to hold much truck in today's complex global systems. I fully support localization and recognize that power down, downsizing and downshift are inevitable but i don't see people going back to trading a cord of wood for a loaf of bread outside of intentional communities. The few voices on the fringe who do advocate doing away with money, like Jacque Fresco and his proposal for a Resource Based Economy, promoted by the Zeitgeist Movement and others, are paid scant attention even by progressives. None have said just how the free-for-all would be managed.

The wealthy will not willingly give up their power. They hold all the aces in the house of cards. The solution then is to withdraw from their game, shift to another system of accounting and distributing wealth so they are left holding bags of worthless cash.

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