Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ship of State: Too Big to Sail?

The mainstream media likes to diss the Occupy movement's efforts to rally the population to the cause of financial reform, to steer the ship of state away from the reefs of financial greed and corruption. Oddly enough, polls tell us that a majority of Americans feel some degree of sympathy (guilt?) for the movement, albeit while remaining comfortably settled in their well-padded couches, remote in hand for when the press of every individual's culpability gets to be too much.

But one economist's clear-eyed analysis of the reason financial problems facing the global (and our) economy have not found, and likely will not find, resolution contends that it's our fault, that democracy is a two-sided coin, and without a well-organized public outcry, the majority of citizens stand to lose the coin toss. He writes:

"While democracy may, according to Olson contain the seeds of economic decline, it seems that democracy itself is currently under threat, with powerful interests capturing governments and shaping policy-making in most of the world’s rich nations.

More troubling still, the legacy we are collectively creating is a very dangerous one. It is a legacy of immense instability and systemic risk: the risk of hugely disruptive climate change; the risk of deep financial instability with potentially disastrous effects on the real economy; finally, the risk of nuclear catastrophe.

The supply of key “public goods” – containment of climate change, financial stability, and nuclear security – is being undermined by a failure of collective action on an unprecedented scale. One of the most troubling aspects of this situation is that the required international policy cooperation – or the appropriate domestic policy responses – to address the complex but immensely important question of the provision of these global public goods seems more elusive than ever.

The paradox is that the more international cooperation and domestic policy responses are needed, the more elusive they become. The drama of Europe’s crisis and European elites’ woefully inadequate policy response to the crisis over the past two years are a case in point of the extreme fragility and deep contradictions of the West’s societal mode of organization.

Thus, far more than an economic crisis, what may be happening to the West in the wake of its post-industrial, financial revolution is something much more profound – the gradual realization, in its collective psyche, that it is on course to suffer the consequences of one the biggest collective action failures in history."

While comedians like Stewart and Colbert keep us laughing at the absurdity of it all, and we're grateful for the laughs, it's no laughing matter. We can, none of us, call ourselves true citizens of a democracy if we're not willing to, at the very least, make the conscious choice to stop participating in the mass co-optation of our free labor (explained here, and a real eye opener), without which the whole corrupt system would fail. For example, I never thought of spending time on youtube as a consumer activity because it's "free", no? – although I had a sneaking suspicion it was somehow exploitative of what could be my productive time, a greater benefit to me, perhaps to society–but now I see that seemingly innocent activity is anything but. It's a subtle form of complicity in my own disenfranchisement. Again, choices we don't want to make because it's fun, like getting high was fun. It's all so insidious, isn't it? The author explains further:

"But although a bifurcation [lord - serf/vassal] is occurring in jobs, the opposite is occurring in consumption. Granted those on the lower rungs spend more of their income on the consumption ofreal goods than do those on the top rungs. And the share of income on goods that by nature are in limited supply, like land, wine and art, even social status, is obviously greater for the top rungs than for the lower. But for both, consumption is increasingly oriented toward virtual goods– consuming YouTube videos, tweets and social networks, games and reality TV shows. These take little in terms of labor – or for that matter, capital – to produce. And the labor that is required is largely supplied by us as the consumers. Another instance of outsourcing."

(My bolds and italics)

This guy's explanation on the true nature of outsourcing today is a revelation.

"Though we are not as unemployed as we might think. We just are not being paid for our work. Much of what we enjoy from our technological progress is a new sort of outsourcing. How much time do you spend on things that are made easier and that you now do for yourself with the help of computers?

The jobs are moving from the producer to the consumer side of the ledger. And some of that work comes as the guise of entertainment. How much of your work is being done as you do your e-mails and surf the web, keep yourselves busy with your apps as you commute to work? So it is not only that computers are replacing workers, they are turning consumers into unpaid workers."

Here's a little ditty that affirms the essence of the Occupy zeitgeist,

"Even Gangster countries have better income distribution than the United States."
Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, former Reagan administration

And the video below captures the mood in song rather nicely as well.

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