#OWS Economics: Ron Paul on Wealth and Privileges

4. Government may not redistribute private wealth or grant special privileges to any individual or group.

–from The Ten Principles of a Free Society

Continuing my gradual critique of Ron Paul’s Ten Principles, the next in line is relevant to what I’ve been talking a lot about these past few weeks, the great impetus behind #OccupyWallStreet: income inequality.

It’s significant that the godfather of the Tea Party movement (the original form of it, anyway) includes wealth redistribution in his principles of liberty. It points up an area where these two movements can either come together or get driven apart.  There’s no question about where #ows stands on this point. Income inequality is a key symptom of the disease #0ws arose in response to, and one of its goals, I would argue,  is to force a correction of what it views this to be: a moral wrong. If Paul is any indication (and I’m sure he is), the Tea Party is not so much troubled by this gap as it is by the idea that government should try to close it. Continue reading

#OWS Economics: Who’s to Blame?

Here’s an interesting video from a Texas-based libertarian, John Barksdale (my spelling may be incorrect), who calls himself order9066. I’m impressed with the research he put into this subject, and I take his point very well that it was not just Republicans who were responsible for throwing out the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which prohibited financial holding companies insured by the FDIC from owning other companies engaged in financial speculation such as Wall Street investment firms or insurance companies, with the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act of 1999.

While this video does serve as a corrective for the idea that Democrats share little or no blame in the gutting of New Deal protections that set-up the disaster of 2008, it goes overboard in pushing Republicans into the background of the blame picture. After all, the three authors and main sponsors of the bill were all Republicans, and both houses of Congress were, in fact, controlled by the GOP.  But it does highlight two main points: The fingerprints of “Third Way” Democrats in Clinton’s White House (including Clinton himself, of course) are as much in evidence on the financial deregulation of the late 1990s as the Republicans’ are; and Congressional Democrats were ineffective, at best, in preventing (and, at worst, complicit in bringing on) Glass-Steagall’s demise. Continue reading

Unleash the Entrepreneurs?

US Chamber of Commerce's major contribution to jobs creation dialog: A giant banner taunting the White House across Pennsylvania Avenue.

What’s wrong with this rosy picture of entrepreneurship painted by the Manhattan Institute’s Edward L. Glaeser in his article “Unleash the Entrepreneurs” at City Journal?:

Three years have passed since the financial crisis of 2008, and unemployment rates remain painfully high. As of August 2011, America employed 6.6 million fewer workers than it did four years earlier. To try to fix the problem, the Obama administration has pursued a variety of Keynesian measures—above all, the huge stimulus package of 2009, which included not only direct government spending but also such features as tax credits for home buyers and temporary tax cuts for most Americans.

Such policies ignore a simple but vital truth: job growth comes from entrepreneurs—and public spending projects are as likely to crowd out entrepreneurship as to encourage it. By putting a bit more cash in consumers’ pockets, the tax cuts in the stimulus package may have induced a bit more car- and home-buying, but the next Steve Jobs is not being held back by too little domestic consumer spending. Tax credits for home buyers and the infamous program Cash for Clunkers encourage spending on old industries, not the development of the new products that are likelier to bring America jobs and prosperity.

Unemployment represents a crisis of imagination, a failure to figure out how to make potential workers productive in the modern economy. The people who make creative leaps to solve that problem are entrepreneurs. If we want to bring America’s jobs back, our governments—federal, state, and local—need to tear down barriers to entrepreneurship, create a fertile field for start-up businesses, and unleash the risk-taking innovators who have always been at the heart of our economic growth.

Isn’t the default position of American economic policy precisely what Glaeser is selling as the solution to the nation’s economic problems? It looks to me like advocating hitting oneself in the head with a baseball bat to prevent injuries caused by hitting oneself in the head with a hammer.  Glaeser and all “free marketers” are slaves to the notion that entrepreneurship in itself is a panacea for all economic and social ills. What they seem to ignore is that some entrepreneurship can cause economic and social ills. As an example, consider the many franchise-based companies (think food-service) that pay their employees unlivable wages with flimsy benefits packages, forcing many  to supplement their incomes with public services like food stamps or to use emergency rooms as primary doctors offices. Continue reading

#OWS Economics: Neofeudal Reality and the Free Market Myth

A little follow up to the last post about Damon Vrabel and his critique of neoclassical economics.

After concluding the Renaissance 2.0 series of lectures, Vrabel wrote a farewell on his blog at his Council for Spiritual, Psychological and Economic Renewal, explaining why he was no longer going to keep posting on the world situation. Among his reasons:

As I said in previous articles, IF we participate in the system, I’m not opposed to it at all. How could I be? I’d be a tyrant if I wanted to force hundreds of millions of people to change their behavior. And the fact is, that “IF” was answered long ago. We Americans have chosen the material benefits of being managed by the financial system for generations. We like demand-side freedom, i.e. choosing between Coke and Pepsi, but don’t want supply-side freedom. We like the supply-side to be taken care of for us. We love the benefits that come from it being imperially run—the credit card always works, the gas station is always open, our water faucets and light switches do what they’re supposed to do, the markets keep going up (oops…maybe not). All of our economic needs are outsourced to others, so we have the luxury of spending our time pursuing wants. And if these types of benefits are good for us, they’re good for the rest of the world. We have no moral authority to stand opposed just because we’re now going to lose our privileged position—a rather childlike perspective.

Do I detect some sarcasm? Many of the items Vrabel ticked off as buying our disinterest in changing the imperial system are, of course, threatening to stop working in the near-long term, if they haven’t already stopped working for many of us, which is why, I suspect,  #OWS has resonated so deeply so fast.

In any case, perhaps responding to the Arab spring and certainly responding to questions from viewers of Renaissance 2.0, Vrabel returned to YouTube with a new series titled “Debunking Money.” Again, I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to understand how the world really works and why we, the people (or the peasantry, as the case may be), are experiencing a diminution of our liberties. In this series, Vrabel makes explicit his rejection of various ideas from the left and right, including Austrian school economics and Milton Friedman’s neoliberalism.

The lesson below is particularly interesting as it debunks the notion, popular among Libertarians and popularized by Ron Paul, that “ending the Fed” is a viable solution to the problem. Vrabel says the American people would be “cutting their own throat.” If you have difficulty following this, I strongly suggest starting from the first video and hanging on his every word, if possible. Not to say this is the ultimate truth, of course, but it is certainly much closer to the truth than anything you will be hearing from Republicans or Democrats:

Debt Society in Need of a Revolution

A couple of nights ago, as I was following links deeper into the blogosphere in search of a possible explanation for why #occupyWallStreet has sprung at this moment and where it might go, I came upon a series of videos by Damon Vrabel, a self-described “post-neoclassical economic philosopher”, for a “course” he calls Renaissance 2.0 that purports to explain money in a way it isn’t usually thought about by philosophers on the left or right. I’m not particularly clever with money or economics myself, so I was curious to see if Vrabel, whom I’d just watched in a very interesting interview with Max Keiser (it’s in three parts, with part 2 here and part 3 here), could help me get a handle on it. I recommend the whole series.

Here is the first part:

Continue reading

Revolution Inchoate: Political vs. Civil Disobedience at #OWS

Mic check: A revolution needs a revolutionary communication system

Bernard Harcourt has an essay in the New York Times‘ The Stone blog in which he proposes a syntagm, as the continental philosophers would call it, standing for the unique mode of resistance energizing #occupationWallStreet and its sister occupations around the world:

Occupy Wall Street is best understood, I would suggest, as a new form of what could be called “political disobedience,” as opposed to civil disobedience, that fundamentally rejects the political and ideological landscape that we inherited from the Cold War.

Civil disobedience accepted the legitimacy of political institutions, but resisted the moral authority of resulting laws. Political disobedience, by contrast, resists the very way in which we are governed: it resists the structure of partisan politics, the demand for policy reforms, the call for party identification, and the very ideologies that dominated the post-War period.

Occupy Wall Street, which identifies itself as a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many … political persuasions,” is politically disobedient precisely in refusing to articulate policy demands or to embrace old ideologies. Those who incessantly want to impose demands on the movement may show good will and generosity, but fail to understand that the resistance movement is precisely about disobeying that kind of political maneuver. Similarly, those who want to push an ideology onto these new forms of political disobedience, like Slavoj Zizek or Raymond Lotta, are missing the point of the resistance. Continue reading

This Is What #Democracy Looks Like: John Lewis and #OccupyAtlanta

"They really didn't deny me," Lewis said.

One thing The New Republic, in its dismissal of the #OccupyWallStreet movement, misled its readers about regarding the John Lewis incident at Occupy Atlanta, and one thing anyone who doesn’t watch the video, painful as it may be, will miss: The General Assembly did not “groupthink” Lewis away, which would imply that the decision was, like the Washington crowd’s bullheaded decision to go to war in Iraq, assumed by everyone present to be a reasonable fait accompli. On the contrary, there was a strong pro-Lewis contingent among the Assembly–so strong that after the facilitator ruled that no consensus had been reached, a chant of “Let him speak!” rose up.

You can see for yourself if you watch the video below, which I recommend, especially to anyone prejudiced into a negative opinion about the Atlanta occupation’s impoliteness. You may draw the same conclusion, but it’s important to be accurate about what really happened there: An agenda had been previously agreed to, Lewis was requesting to interrupt it, and, according to the agreed upon Assembly rules, changing the agenda required “consensus,” which the Assembly was unable to reach.Therefore, the previously agreed to agenda remained in effect and Lewis was unable to interrupt. Lewis himself humbly accepted the Assembly’s decision. Continue reading

Liberals Are Terrified of #OccupyWallStreet

TNR: Liberals should be nervous

Picking up where we left off yesterday, The New Republic has now offered its official two cents on the protests on Wall Street and, as one would expect of the stuffy self-appointed organ of the liberal power elite inside the Beltway, it disapproves.

[T]o draw on the old cliché, the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend. Just because liberals are frustrated with Wall Street does not mean that we should automatically find common cause with a group of people who are protesting Wall Street. Indeed, one of the first obligations of liberalism is skepticism—of governments, of arguments, and of movements. And so it is important to look at what Occupy Wall Street actually believes and then to ask two, related questions: Is their rhetoric liberal, or at least a close cousin of liberalism? And is this movement helpful to the achievement of liberal aims?

This task is made especially difficult by the fact that there is no single leader who is speaking for the crowds, no book of demands that has been put forward by the movement. Like all such gatherings, it undoubtedly includes a broad range of views. But the volume of interviews, speeches, and online declarations associated with the protests does make it possible to arrive at some broad generalizations about what Occupy Wall Street stands for. And these, in turn, suggest a few reasons for liberals to be nervous about the movement.

The Editors responsible for the unsigned editorial then go on to outline the differences between #ows’s radicalism and TNR’s proper liberalism (the former is dreamy, “group-thinky” and utopian, the latter skeptical, pragmatic and pro-capitalist) , before urging liberals to stay the hell away. Continue reading

#TeaParty Terrified of #OccupyWallStreet’s New American Revolution

Dress-up rebel doing the bidding of the corporate class.

James Oliphant of the Los Angeles Times quotes prominent self-anointed leaders of the Tea Party movement on their reaction to the recent sprouting of Occupy America encampments in dozens of cities across North America from Boston and New York to Seattle and L.A. Clearly the Tea Party bosses don’t get it Continue reading