A few weeks ago, someone supporting the worldwide Occupy Movements took issue with criticisms of those protesters I raised in a piece called, "Help Wanted: Dissidents". I responded. He then followed up with additional criticisms.
Given the fact I rarely get a chance to debate, and the issues at hand - matters like the future of Capitalism, and the stability of governments in the developed world - are of such importance, I'm replying to his follow up.
If you haven't read the first exchange, for context, I suggest you read it here: "A Response to Some Criticism". In today's back and forth, the Occupy supporter's criticisms are in bold, my replies in regular text.
Thank you for actually replying.
Thank you for criticizing me.
The working class comment mainly came from my incredulity that you could look at the thousands of protests globally and choose to rail against a thousand or so New York hipsters "so hopelessly inarticulate they can't even muster coherent demands."
I railed against all protestors lacking a plan. No plan, no real change, just the illusion of it. That's as solid as Newton's observations on gravity.
What about the half a million Israelis demanding social equality, quarter of a million Londoners protesting against tuition fees and cuts to social welfare, and the Wisconsin revolt against anti-union legislation – are these class conflicts a mere sideshow?
How does one demand social equality? I'd like to be the social equal of Jamie Dimon (or at least get reservations to the same places he does). Should I be able to protest outside his office, demand I receive commensurate compensation, and be granted that for my efforts? Should I be able to push through a law that says he can't receive more than X times my income, and have any amount above that confiscated from him? This trends into Communism. And if you want to see serious repression of the poor, I invite you to move to a Communist nation. There, the Party rules all, and cronyism isn't debated as something needed to be curbed, but accepted as the official economic system, sanction for speaking against which is imprisonment, and in some cases, assassination.
See the main difference between you and what I would call the global working class is that they have an idea of community, of obligations to society and a belief that they are entitled to support when they need it.
Read a bit about the strife in China, and in India, and in other nations with enormous "working class" populations. The social friction is multiples of what we have here. China is segmenting into a nation of brutally divided "haves" in the cities and destitute "have nots" in rural areas. India's working class is gentrifying into a middle class with such ferociousness the country is suffering from runaway inflation. And the corruption in its government is so extreme, foreign investors are becoming spooked about putting money there, no matter how excellent its labor force happens to be. Good "working class" folks, showing their devotion to communal values.
See, here's the thing about the working class. There is no such thing as the "working class." That's a romantic descriptive used by sectors better defined as the "poorly paid" to suggest they're somehow different, or work more honestly, than those above them. A form of reverse snobbery. Is your surgeon working class? How about your math teacher? What about a salesman on the road 200 days a year? There is no baseline for "working class." It's whatever the user wants it to be, which robs it of any useful meaning. The only thing the term can really be said to describe is "those at the lower end of the income spectrum." And if there's one truth to those at the lower end of the income spectrum, it's that as soon as they are able to break out of that "community," they develop middle class values, and if lucky enough to vault to wealth, quickly develop the tastes and behaviors of aristocracy. People only hold an allegiance to a lower class, and its values, to the extent they're unable to escape it.
To argue humans aren't pathologically ambitious, and social climbers with exceedingly short memories, is to declare one has spent very little time around humans.
You on the other hand seem so incapable of looking at the world from a communal perspective that you conflate offering solutions with the narcissist genre of'self help'. You see society as purely economic relations mediated only by negative rights and individual values. Each should play the system and cash out as early as possible. In order to assuage your conscience you convince yourself that helping is pointless and social Darwinism, poverty and wage slavery the norm.
I see reality. And history, anthropology, and biology make my case beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no issue of conscience here. There is simply seeing the figures and the facts for what they are, or not doing so. I believe change can be achieved, and that we can treat each other better. But I also understand the capacity to do is limited.
And as I noted above, if you think "communal" perspectives are better, take a look at how populations have fared under Communist or Socialist regimes. There will always be someone in charge. That someone may be crony capitalists, which strangle us here, or Party leaders, which strangle the Venezuelans, Cubans, and North Koreans. In every system of government, a certain select group of opportunists will try to take control of everything around them. I think true capitalism is the system which best allows the rest of the population to keep these types of sociopaths in check.
Your championing of Steve Jobs, Christopher Hitchens, and Vaclav Havel as 'dissidents' is telling. All of them can be easily incorporated into a post Cold War free market mindset because none has anything remotely interesting to say about the type of monopoly capitalism that we live in.
You've mixed two things here. There was the free market, which is true Capitalism. And then there's what Capitalism has morphed into - what we have today - what you accurately describe as "Monopoly Capitalism." Both are Capitalism, as I described in detail in "Capitalistas!" (where I argue that anything accruing more capital for itself is a capitalist venture, including Occupy Wall Street). But I do agree with the proposition that what you've described as Monopoly Capitalism is a malignant variant.
What this has to do with Hitchens, Havel, or Jobs being dissidents, however, escapes me. Is one not allowed to be a dissident unless he attacks, or at least comments on, the free market? These men can't be dissidents in their limited areas of influence? That's a puzzling conclusion.
What about the numerous radical thinkers (e.g. Hyman Minsky, John Gray, Nassim Taleb, Giovanni Arrighi, Paul Mason) who either predicted the crash or have written about workable alternatives to the current model?
Do you know how much I've written about Taleb's observations on randomness? I am a firm believer narratives are a flawed, emotional way of coping with an empirically random world, and largely fail as both history and predictive data because reality simply doesn't unfold in the linear sequence we present in stories. In many cases, narrative may as well be religion. It's organizing into something we can understand a set of utterly disconnected events. One such narrative is the belief "the rich" or "the government" are exclusively responsible for the global economic collapse. Or that the 1% are villains, and 99% victims. Or that the Tea Party follows the principles of the Founding Fathers. Or that we're seeing revolutions in the Arab world, as opposed to mere replacement of dictators.
Regarding Minsky, is there any doubt we had a Minsky Moment?
Moving on from that, I assume you cite Minsky and Gray for the proposition we need more regulation. I'd agree we need smarter, nimble regulation. Merely "more" of it, which is all our incompetent Congress seems able to provide, prolongs the malaise.
But generally speaking, both men's theories on financial markets failing to regulate themselves adequately, and driving toward excess in periods where ample capital is available, are correct. The boom/bust cycle isn't the bedrock of most predictive models by accident. Man reaches, man deludes himself, man crashes. It follows through in almost every aspect of life where people (almost always, males), their egos, and their natural ambitions control the trajectory of circumstances.
I protested last year not because I wanted to feel important about myself or because something was lacking in my life, but because I knew there were alternatives and that only direct action could snap the general population out of their apathy and hopelessness.
Laudable. And now it's time for those who thought like you to offer a solution - to convert the heat and passion into a set of workable demands. The world waits to hear from the United States' street. Most of it, however, expects more incoherence, betting the everyman here is too intellectually lazy, or the forces involved in OWS too disparate to reach consensus. Frankly, I expect it. I see little reason to think the angry and disenfranchised aren't easily bought off, or won't collapse into chaos as they did at the 1968 Democratic Convention. But I'd be happy to be proven wrong. I'd be happy to see dissidents emerge and clarify the desires of the crowds. Which is why I asked for them.
Your specific proposals regarding healthcare, unemployment and indebtedness might do something to alleviate the situation. But the fundamental problem is that the rich control the courts, the media, and both political parties, and until that ends the cycle of debt slavery and pauperization will continue.
That is never going to end. As I noted above, there will always be people with exceptional wealth, or political power, and they will always use it to their ends. Communism, Socialism, Capitalism, Authoritarianism... there's always somebody at the top of the pyramid. And below him, legions of supplicants playing the system for favors. You cannot seek to undo human nature. All you can do is seek to temper its negative excesses.
I agree with you that there is gross disequilibrium between capital and labor right now, and that capital is stupidly overplaying its leverage in an endgame that will leave us with a grossly depleted consumer class, which will cause slowdowns in emerging markets, which will inevitably wipe out tomorrow many of the gains the short-sighted managers of this capital are realizing today.
But I don't think this is a fault of the system. I think it's attributable to simple human stupidity, and short-termism. Nobody has cared about anything beyond next quarter's numbers in a very long time. People think if they make enough money now, they can protect it from the long term damage their solely-self-interested, short term business decisions create down the road. It doesn't always work that way, of course. In fact, it often achieves an exact opposite result. But at the outset, almost every man thinks he's the exception.
And this thinking persists because nobody persuasively criticizes it. Nobody stands up and says:
Hey, you - Wall Street! By encouraging every worker to look solely at the next earnings report, you're frequently screwing the companies in which you invest, and your own firm, over the long term. Maybe it's a better idea if you start thinking in terms of years, rather than quarters. It's irrefutable that if we stretch the timeline on which everyone in the system fixates, there will be more stability. There will be more time to think. There will be more time to fix a problem as we see it emerging. And if you don't want to do this on your own, for your own greater good, we'll have no choice but to pass rules to force you do so.
...And if it comes to that, things will have become so bad, populism will likely rule Washington. A cadre of finance-illiterate political hacks, bureaucrats, and redistributionist Robespierres, all officious, all armed with the enormous support of the envious masses, will contribute to, if not write entirely on their own, the New Regulations, which will destroy your industry.
Why does no one say this? Because to an individual on Wall Street, the only rational rule is, "I'll be gone, you'll be gone." To offer this criticism works against one's own interest. And few current politicians say it because, well, who would want to anger his wealthiest benefactors?
This leaves you, the disenchanted "working class" everyman - the would be, or already, protester - to say it, (among many other things that ought to be said on these subjects). And you could. But it can't be said with drums. It can't be said with gaudy, misleading slogans like, "We are the 99%." It needs to be articulated in the sort of fashion I just laid it out here. And you need to explain why the critique is not borne of envy, but of common sense. That Wall Street needs to re-evaluate itself to save itself. That "hogs get fat, pigs get slaughtered," and it may be facing a reckoning of epic proportions. These points needs to be offered crisply, lucidly, and through debate honed to a message simple enough to be understood by the common of society, yet comprehensive and reasoned enough to withstand sophistic attacks from those seeking to protect the status quo. This, my friend, is beyond the protester's skill set. This is where you need dissidents.
And with that, I'm done. It's been a pleasure.