Originally published at Truthout.org
Perhaps the most significant accomplishment for #OWS to date is that the occupiers have managed to poke a hole in the legitimacy of neoliberal capitalism and its central claim that unregulated markets provide opportunity and freedom. They have accomplish this feat in a surprising way, with their persistent presence, and with home made signs, signs that say things like, “If I had a lobbyist, I wouldn’t need this sign.” Occupy Wall St. has poked this hole by having the audacity simply to gather in public, in bold defiance of the police and to demonstrate, by their solidarity and cooperation, that a different world is possible.
Phil Rockstroh puts it this way: “the walls of the neoliberal prison are cracking…We are no longer isolated, enclosed in our alienation, imprisoned by a concretized sense of powerlessness; daylight is beginning to pierce the darkness of our desolate cells.”
At the core of this neoliberal ideology is a simple assertion – economic exchanges promote freedom because they are voluntary, and thus they only occur if both parties believe they will benefit. Unregulated market exchanges thus allow individuals to engage with others in complex social arrangements without coercion, without impinging on individual liberty. Government is needed, but only to define and enforce property rights, and to create and regulate the currency individuals need to undertake market exchanges.
Liberals, who argue for expanding government in order to regulate or oversee individual exchange, necessarily interrupt these free and voluntary agreements and therefore undermine individual liberty. This view of markets underlies Reagan’s famous dictum: “Government is not the solution to the problem; Government is the problem.” In this extreme libertarian view, capitalism is the champion of democracy, the champion of freedom.
The flaw in this neoliberal reasoning is not hard to see. Ownership of wealth obviously confers power; it gives some individuals an upper hand in the ‘voluntary’ exchanges they make with others. Lacking the means otherwise to support ourselves, most of us must hire out our ability to do work in exchange for wages. We might do quite well if we are educated and talented, lucky or white, but even so, we ultimately produce more value than we are paid – that is, after all, the reason we are hired. Wealth ownership thus gives an upper hand to employers in these voluntary exchanges. The extra value we create flows steadily into the hands of wealth holders, and we don’t have a say over what it is used for.
This upper hand in these so-called voluntary exchanges provides an ongoing and increasing source of wealth accumulation that is self-reinforcing. Money begets money. That is after all what capital is, money advanced for the purpose of making more money. Excluding people from having a say over what happens to the wealth we create is the first, and the most fundamental, way that any capitalist system undermines democracy. We are fundamentally disenfranchised in the places we work. Wealth owners control the levers of investment and thus the “needs” of capital trump those of workers when it comes to making decisions about what gets produced, how and for whom.
Beyond this, neoliberal capitalism goes further – it uses the value you and I create to enforce a virtual dictatorship-by-wealth in the political sphere. The most obvious manifestation of this dictatorship-by-wealth is the unlimited corporate financing of our elected representatives. But this financing is only the tip of the iceberg. Not only must candidates pander to corporate interests to successfully raise the funds needed to run for office, once they are in office they are plied and courted with unrelenting advances designed to ensure that they do not do lose their focus and begin to think about something other that promoting a favorable business climate.
Even deeper in the subsoil of this treasonous takeover of our democracy is the ownership and influence over the main vehicle of public discourse, the news media. The manufacture of consent is accomplished by narrowing the acceptable range of debate to the question of how best to support economic growth (read profits) and American imperialism (read war). Where do the millions, or billions, that candidates raise end up? Primarily this money ends up in the coffers of the corporate media – campaign advertising is the single most important source of revenue for the corporate media.
So it is an odd fact of American life, that capitalism is equated with democracy while at the same time acting as democracy’s most corrosive force. But think about it, if capitalism really supported democracy, if it really welcomed open, honest, wide-ranging debate about the values and practices of corporations and their elected representatives, why would they be sending their police in with bats and pepper spray to prevent the free open exchange of ideas? Why would they not be handing out microphones, providing open access to the airwaves, organizing televised debates? If capitalism really were the champion of democracy, the Occupiers and their many allies would be celebrated. Instead we are disdained.
The corporate elites fear and resist any questioning of their core beliefs because their ideas do not hold up to scrutiny and reasoned debate. That’s how we all know – capitalism is the enemy of democracy.
But is there any alternative? It is tempting to think that if we can only regulate capitalism effectively, we can harness its virtues and contain its vices. In fact, there is some evidence to support this view. The 99% were much better served in the post-war era in the United States and they continue to benefit from efforts to reign in capitalism’s excesses in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. But these efforts to regulate are under constant attack, and a return to regulations is ultimately a brief inconvenience to the corporate elites.
As Richard Wolff and others have noted, as long as the value you and I create is credited to the owners of capital, these owners have both the means and, given their distorted values, the incentive to undermine and neutralize any effective regulation and oversight we attempt to impose. Capital will continue to corrode democracy, as certainly as oxygen corrodes iron, as long as a few hold sway over investment and jobs and are committed to using the wealth that we generate to undermine the will of the people. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “You can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, or you can have democracy; you cannot have both.”
Fortunately, a proven alternative to corporate capitalism already exists. For over fifty years it has provided a practical example of how we can extend democracy to the workplace as a means of preserving democracy in our political lives. The basic idea of this experiment is to address the root of the problem, to uncover the means by which capitalism undermines democracy, and to provide new institutional rules governing how we organize our economic lives.
Over fifty years ago, the Mondragon Cooperatives in northern Spain developed their poverty-stricken regional economy by developing worker-owned and managed cooperatives. Co-ops place the ownership of wealth and the decisions concerning how wealth is invested in the hands of the people who produce the wealth. These institutions recognize that the wealth generated by an enterprise is the result of the collective efforts of all, and that those most affected by the decisions of the enterprise, workers and community members, ought to have the principle say in what happens to the wealth, how it is distributed and the purposes to which it is put.
Many people argue that co-ops are impractical but this simple democratic principle rests at the heart of this highly successful, internationally competitive, stable and flourishing regional economy. It is an economy based on democratic management, worker ownership and democratic oversight and it faces its own challenges, yes, but has certainly proven the lie that there is no alternative to corporate capitalism. It shows that people, acting together, can use democratic principles to imbue their economic lives and their political lives with agency and meaning.
And this effort is spreading to America’s heartland. The Evergreen cooperatives in Cleveland have successfully applied the principles of the Mondragon experiment to develop a successful urban development project. As Gar Alperovitz argues, the linking of large anchor institutions with worker-owned enterprises offers a practical economic development strategy that is politically feasible in the context of our current economic crisis.
Many people are uncomfortable with the idea that working people can do without their corporate bosses. Quite a bit of time and energy has been spent trying to convince us that the idea that workers can manage themselves is preposterous.
Occupy Wall St. has provided the opening for us to consider, debate and discuss what has previously been off the table. Economic democracy is not only possible, it is essential if we are to realize that peculiar American Dream of a government of, by and for the people.
So let’s not overlook the significance of what Occupy Wall St. is doing. We need to step through the hole they have opened in the shiny façade of our glad-handled, Madison Avenue, faux democracy and take up the challenge of creating the real thing, right here and now, in this unlikely place we call America, as a means of reclaiming our own dignity, our own liberty and a livable world for those who come next.
The government interferes with free enterprise by creating red tape, wasting hard-earned tax- payer money and undermining market incentives. The solution is to shrink government. Fortunately we have managed to elect a number of representatives to Congress to ensure that we get the government off our backs. It is important to support their efforts in order to achieve maximum prosperity. Here are three reasons to support their efforts and what you can do to help.
First, we must keep in mind that there are two ways to make money. One is by building new and better products that meet real social needs and generate much needed work for citizens. The other is by taking advantage of people by developing financial instruments that generate wealth through speculation and the drain resources and eliminate jobs in the those parts of our economy that are productive. Lately the latter types of investments have been much more profitable. Eliminating government oversight makes it much easier to develop fraudulent financial instruments and to generate the fast money associated with speculative investment.
Second, all production generates waste and stresses the environment. Profits are enhanced when the social costs of production are borne by others and the private gains are concentrated in the hands of a few. Government oversight of the environmental impact of business makes it much more difficult to avoid paying the social costs associated with production. By shrinking the EPA and by gutting State and local environmental regulations, we can more easily pass off the environmental cost of production while enhancing the corporate bottom line.
Third. We all know competition is bad for business. When we compete for markets we inevitably drive prices down, bid up wages and are forced to innovate to create better products. All of this activity reduces profits. Our bottom line is enhanced when we can erect obstacles to prevent competitors from entering markets. Fortunately, once monopoly conditions are created, our monopolies create profits, profits that enable us to establish effective barriers to entry in industry, permitting us to gouge consumers and use the obscene profits to underwrite public relations, “think” tanks and journalists that celebrate the invisible hand of the market. Governments are the main means by which monopolies are undermined and so government efforts to destroy monopoly need to be nipped in the bud.
What can you do to support our efforts? Just keep buying the line that we are doing this for your benefit. Keep voting for congress people we are financing – representatives that will help us to disassemble and disable government oversight of business. After all, our interests are your interests, are they not? Let’s all work together to get the government off of our backs.
I’m not sure why the media are having such trouble figuring out the demands of Occupy Wall St. Recently, a seven-year-old girl, Celia Cooley, went down to Zuccotti Park and, posing as a reporter, she asked people why they were there (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x12iOQYY0w8). What they said was quite consistent and quite reasonable and quite comprehensible to this young girl. They said: We want our democracy back.
Anyone who is confused about what the protesters want has probably been listening to too much corporate news. Corporate news stations present themselves as trustworthy and unbiased, but they are owned by large multinational corporations like General Electric and Westinghouse, and these are the folks that are benefitting from the policies that the protesters decry.
These news outlets don’t want the message of Occupy Wall St. to be heard. They don’t want the protesters portrayed as ordinary Americans who have been bilked of their savings and booted out of the middle class and who are justifiably demanding that things change. If you’ve been watching corporate news and you are confused, the first thing to do is to broaden your sources of information. Go to the non-commercial news sites on the Internet and listen to the chorus of ordinary Americans who are saying very clearly what’s wrong and who are making sensible suggestions about how to go about fixing it.
Here is some of what you will learn.
The economic crisis did not start because suddenly poor people started taking out mortgages on homes they couldn’t afford to pay for. It didn’t start because of some corporate bad apples. Think about it. The job of a lender is to determine if a person is credit worthy. The reason loans were given to people who couldn’t afford them was simply that banks no longer had an incentive to find out if people were credit worthy. Why? Because banks were permitted to sell the mortgages to other companies for a profit, rather than waiting to collect on the loan. The big banks pushed loans on people because they were making profit, hand over fist, from selling these loans to investors.
Why were the investors buying bad mortgages? Because they were permitted to bundle them together with other loans to look like safe investments. Why did these investments look safe, because the folks in the rating agencies, who were supposed to rate these investments, were not sufficiently regulated and worked in cahoots with the big banks.
The problem, in short, was not individual behavior; the problem was that the system was jury-rigged. Corporate lobbyists took over Congress and rewrote the banking laws in their favor. As long as home prices went up, banks made a killing. When the music stopped, instead of taking their consequences, big banks got their insiders at the Fed and the Treasury Department in D.C. to bail them out. Then they got their friends their in corporate media affiliates to point their fingers at the borrowers ( the ones who are now homeless) and at big government (for wasting taxpayer money). Meanwhile, Wall St. banks go on their merry way, paying out bonus, rewarding failure, avoiding the consequences of their actions, and continuing to use our Congress as their personal playground.
That’s just wrong. That’s why folks are on the streets.
If you are in the Tea Party, you probably believe many of the same things that Occupy Wall St. supporters believe. People should play by the rules. People should be punished when they do something wrong. If you reward people for cheating, they are likely to continue to misbehave. Like supporters of OWS, you probably believe that our government should be accountable to us, we the people, and that the government should not collude with powerful elites to deprive people of the right to a livelihood, or to kick them out of their homes. You probably believe that government shouldn’t write laws that favor powerful interests in order to raise enough money to get re-elected.
I support Occupy Wall St. You and I may have our differences, but I think we share a commitment to restoring the integrity of this democracy. I think we can agree that when a government no longer is responsive to the desires of the citizens, that it is the responsibility of citizens to act together. The government itself is not the problem; the problem is that the government has been taken over by wealthy elites who do not have our interests at heart. It is time for us to stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, Republican and Democrat, on the streets of this great country and take our democracy back.
Turn off the corporate news, talk to your fellow Americans, one by one, until you decide for yourself whether what I am saying is true. That’s what Celia is doing. There is no other test in a democracy but that of the ability of ideas to stand the test of evidence and reason. The values that our forbearers fought and died for are at stake. Nothing less.
submitted by Joe Detelj
Enter any institutional media outlet and you will be offered, gratis, a wealth of information engineered in private think tanks supporting the self-evident value of the free market and the evils of regulation. Common sense dictating my self interest and the pressure not to be isolated as an outcast, I have given studious consideration to the superiority of free market driven behavior over a collective regulatory environment and concluded that it is obvious that individuals and their parent corporations are not going to engage in a manner that is inconsistent with the public welfare because, quite simply, they are the public! This is axiomatic, logic only an ideologue would question.
Deregulating the undertakers of risk frees them up to create the wealth that precipitates the rolling tides that lift all the boats, yachts, and inner tubes in society at bay. Only the redundant, used up, and obsolete are washed away in the breath of fresh air that follows this tide. The latest, sexiest, and hippest survive and thrive. There is no more efficient organizational model this side of Utopia. Once the full import of this natural law becomes fully implanted in our brains it is outrageous that the policy implications are not are not more widely put into effect Just off the top of my head I can offer several modest proposals that would lead to a freer and therefore a more conducive economic development policy agenda.
Starting at the local level, it would be more than responsible to remove all traffic lights, stop signs, and speed limits. We ought to recognize them for the impediments to fast track progress that they inherently are. Once the pedestrian public becomes accustomed to their newfound freedom we can dispense with judges, lawyers, and police as the self-regulating invisible hand of self-interest guides us. For a moment, consider the enormous savings incurred as a result of the jettisoned penal colonies and their burdensome bureaucracies – abandoned to the junk heap of history. We would no longer be constrained by their non-productive hidden tax imposed on the undertakers of wealth creation and the liberated underlying population. We could expect to finally achieve a virtual free for all, and we can only imagine the vast potential for self-improvement that may be accomplished.
I cannot understate how overwhelmed I personally became once the full impact of this economic science became set in stone in my consciousness. I quickly realized the lost opportunities that I suffered as a consequence of misguided interference by misinformed cement heads. My life as a case study illustrates the folly of our ways. I am very handy with power tools. I own a Makita cordless drill and a full set of diamond tipped bits. Why, other than blind devotion to restrictive regulation, am I prohibited from setting up a dentistry practice? If a willing seller, myself, finds a willing buyer, an unfortunate patient in need of affordable care, and we come together, where does the government get off dictating prohibitive restrictions that curb our freedom to mutually satisfy each other? Anyone can see the job creation potential here. With some imagination, astute vertical integration, and a loaded compliment of power tools I could easily operate a production line performing amputations and minor organ removals. A Drill Baby Drill chain, and a Cut And Paste subsidiary are real possibilities if I were only able to liberate my capitalistic proclivities. As is readily apparent, there is no limit to the improvements and possibilities that await us once we end the class warfare obstructing our undertaking bent.
I am certain my readers could easily come up with dozens of their own examples of government interference with the free market that defies common sense. No aircraft pilot wants a catastrophe so why waste our hard earned money on air traffic controllers? Enough of these union mandated make work schemes. The childish requirement for curbs, sidewalks, and cross walks are just the ego driven handiwork of bureaucrats who can’t find a job in the private sector. If an occasional frog or mouse turns up in your prepackaged salad, isn’t that a really small price to pay in lieu of FDA intrusions. Worms and maggots in your soup can would be a treat for the famine stricken people in North Africa. They would welcome the protein and thank God for it, and so should we for our rich blessings. We are not nearly thankful enough for the freedom we own and those brave souls who maintain it for us. It is my fondest wish that after considering these modest proposals, which incidentally barely scratch the surface mind you, that you will be motivated to engage in the current battle valiantly being waged by our job creators to free the market and liberate our full potential as human beings.
Submitted by Charles Sackrey
In a recent letter to the local paper, one reader claims that, “Top scientists now agree that man has little or nothing to do with global warming…. “ He also suggests that that we are “destroying the oceans with greed and stupidity.” His claim about the “top” scientists is simply wrong, not worthy of detailed response. However, his second argument is insightful, and I would like to add to it.
My view is that Americans took a giant step toward “destroying our oceans” in 1980 when we elected Ronald Reagan, mainly because he initiated the now long-running war the Republican Party continues to fight against government regulation. They are winning this war, and the rest of us are losing, big time. The resulting fear, even hatred, of our government is a sadly oversimplified and self-destructive view of how our economy works, and I will try to explain why.
As I hope many readers will agree, the dead fish and ruined beaches along the Gulf Coast are mostly a result of an insufficiency of government regulation. This catastrophe is occurring because British Petroleum was powerful enough to use a drilling rig that was not adequately designed or tested; it had, indeed, come to a point where it hardly had to answer to anyone. BP was given a free reign because it could largely ignore its government overseer, the U.S. Mineral Management Service. One major officer of MMS came to it from BP, and its director has been fired because of the Agency’s incompetence and cozy relations which many of the firms it was supposed to regulate.
In other words, the BP disaster is not the consequence of big government trampling on our freedoms, but a government agency that had become more of its friend than its regulator. The problem in this case was too little government, not too much.
Deregulated big business is also the root cause of the current deep recession. In this case, a small cadre of unquenchably greedy financiers rewrote the rules to serve their needs only. Their trickery and thievery, and the world depression they ushered in for us, occurred because of the deregulation of the financial sector in the late 1990s. By then, Bill Clinton and the Democrats had joined the genuinely thoughtless “free market” choir. His chief economic advisers joined Alan Greenspan to suppress a study from the Securities and Exchange Commission warning of the great hazards of an unregulated derivatives market. As in the case of BP, unregulated capitalism raised its ugly head and is now biting us all.
It surely does not surprise me that powerful, multinational corporations would want to get rid of the rules of the game. What puzzles me is why so many people, not rich and powerful, have come to see “the government,” rather than these corporations, as the major impediment to what they consider as their freedom. In fact, the greatest threat to our democratic rights are the giant firms who will stop at nothing to increase their profits. Therefore, we need to stop them with strict rules for their behavior, including prison sentences rather than fines when they break the rules and damage the rest of us. The quicker we realize that, the better.
submitted by Joe Detelj
One can not venture too far afield today and not come across some feature article highlighting the health care problem of obesity. This is a crisis of epidemic proportions and attention at the local and national level has been in the main directed at raising awareness of the short term and future consequences to the individual and society in general. Medical experts, as well as Michelle Obama’s recent widely publicized initiative to address the issue offer the same homeopathic recommendations, more or less, that have become standard fare: get more exercise, have parents monitor their children’s diet, eat low fat processed food.
While no exception is taken to the recommendation of more exercise and less free market choices for the kids, most if not all the emphasis is targeted at the individual’s responsibility to “heal thyself”. What is blatantly left out of all the discussions is the reality of public policy. It has been a national policy that began in the Truman administration and continues on steroids to this day to convert a diverse, thriving, healthy and decentralized farm economy into a centralized, monocultural, corporate dominated agra-business. The mantra is, cheap food is good.
Well, we are reaping the harvest of that policy and it can not sustain a label of goodness. The sheer volume and availability of cheap processed food, the privatizing of school cafeterias, the nutrient deficiencies of today’s supermarket vegetables, the convenience of sugar, salt, and saturated fats, bio-engineered calories, all rest on a foundation of public subsidies, special tax treatment, and non-enforcement of existing anti trust laws.
So please, it is time we give equal if not greater focus on the root cause of this epidemic. The farmer, the obese child, more often than not from a home with a below average income level, are not the major culprits. We need to change the structural pillars upon which this problem rests and that is the board rooms and hollowed halls of Washington.