Now Things Get Serious
by, 10th November 2011 at 08:14 AM (4258 Views)
In my last post, I indulged myself in a little harmless fun; at least that's what I said. In truth, there was a subtext to my borrowing the Occupy Wall Street metaphor and dressing it up in the issues of perfumista frustration in our own love-hate relationship with the purveyors of our favorite stuff.
The best way to put this is perhaps to say that in many aspects of our life, so many of which are affected by commercial interests, we encounter more and more frustration in a sense of powerlessness and the feeling that our money is being taken, and our consent taken, while our expressed desires are being ignored. We go unheard, unlistened-to, through the exercise of our limited scope of choice; and more: at every turn, the result of our concerns being subsumed to those of corporate power and subordinated to the will of those with the economic resources to manipulate public dialogue is that our voice has been outbid, and our speech outpurchased.
The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few, and their consequent control of most public media, vitiates the concept of dialog. We are no longer subjects acting in our own voice and will, but increasingly we have allowed ourselves to become objects to be used for the profit and power of those who already have too much of those things.
The New York Stock Exchange lost three percent of its value today in one day over fears of further sovereign debt default, now not of Greece, a relatively small player in the eurozone, but of Italy, the third largest of Europe's euro-based economies. Spain, number four, may be next, and now even France must pay more interest to investors to float its debt.
I have listened to some people say that the Occupy Wall Street movement is out to destroy capitalism and the free-market economy, but I really doubt that OWS, and even all the forms of Occupy movements across the globe, have the power to do that. Only capital and free-trade markets have the power to accomplish their own demise, and since 2008 and the mortgage default speculation bubble that almost laid waste the American economy, the markets have been doing a pretty good job of destroying themselves.
What Occupy movements have done is to raise the public's consciousness of the extent of the damage to the economy and to democratic institutions. Though the mass media studiously tried to ignore them, they became widespread and vocal enough to defy de facto censorship. The spin-doctors in the mainstream press (controlled by advertiser dollars) repeat their mantra that Occupy has no clear demands.
Yet anyone who watches the protests sees that Occupy's message repeatedly testifies first to the fact that corporate money (at least in the U. S.) has bought up public speech and even has the power, lately given to it by the Supreme Court, to buy elections now through unlimited campaign contributions. The clear prescription: Get corporate money out of politics.
Secondly, Occupy has pointed up how the deregulation of the banking sector has led to risky gambling on derivatives that exposes not only speculators, but the whole banking system to huge losses. These losses have been indemnified with taxpayer money and bailouts, in spite of the classical free-market dictum that investors are unsecured creditors, and are responsible for writing off their own losses. This is anything but classical capitalism. The speculation on credit defaults and other risky derivatives is bringing down not only investors and debtors. The creditors themselves are the big losers, through giving out bad loans, even apparently in the full knowledge that they would not be able to be repaid, whether by subprime mortgage borrowers or (now) by sovereign states.
All these loans, which should have gone toward creating new wealth, instead erased billions in investor savings and depleted the credit markets. By breaking down the barriers between commercial banks and investment banks, deregulation created a conflict of interest within the banking system, setting it at odds with itself. The solution: Re-regulate the banking sector, and tax speculative transactions to discourage risky speculation and to give governments themselves a hedge fund against the damages speculation can leave behind.
New revelations come to us steadily now. For me, one of the biggest is about ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), an organization that links state legislators in the U. S. with the big corporations that run the economy and fund their election campaigns. In this organization, the corporate side helps legislators develop “model legislation” that enshrines and enhances the interests of big business. There are various committees that want to change laws in areas from labor rights to health care, to privatization of schools and prisons, and so on down the line. Have a look for yourself by clicking here. Hundreds of state and local officials are on their list of members, along with every big corporation you can imagine.
In short, my little metaphor of “Occupy Perfume Counters” was a way to get two topics out there in the microcosm of the perfume fancy: first, big business's stifling of the public's voice; and second, its co-opting of the public interest. I hoped thus to open a wider dialog about all our lives as pawns in the hands of powerful commercial (and social) interests. Is the system working, or is it broken? And if it is broken, how does it disempower its own clients? And if it does truly disempower us, how can it be fixed?
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