Wednesday, November 9, 2011

#OWS, pop culture, and Populism

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. 
First, it was a threat to the Greek people, who with their protests over 18 months have turned Greece into an ungovernable country. Papandreou was telling them that unless they accepted the new catastrophic measures they would be condemned to leave the eurozone and suffer a further collapse of living standards. Second, it was addressed to backbench Pasok MPs, stirring in response to popular pressure and the disastrous opinion polls. They were asked to give a vote of confidence to Papandreou last Friday, under the James Callaghan principle that "turkeys do not vote for an early Christmas". 
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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