Monday, 17 October 2011

Can we at least TRY and have an intelligent debate about Occupy protests?

First things first: I'm with the Occupy groups in spirit. I'm not there in person because I have other commitments but I am ever thankful that there are those who put themselves out on my behalf and on the behalf of others to further their cause. So yes, I wholeheartedly support the protests.

I could of course, just leave it there and assume that people will understand that it doesn't mean I want to overthrow the government. It doesn't mean I want the banks to fail. It doesn't mean I want an end to capitalism in all it's forms. Unfortunately, it's clear I can't do that at all because many people, particularly right wing people, have it in their heads that anyone at the Occupy protests is an ultra left anti capitalist anarchist. That simply isn't true. No doubt there are some there and most likely they will be some of the most vocal and high profile amongst the protests but they are not the majority so lets not pretend otherwise please.

Some detractors have quite astonishingly dismissed the protests as a serious movement in their entirety because of the signs claiming that those taking part represent the 99% of the population that are suffering the effects of the recession. They say such claims are nonsense.

Of course it's nonsense. Those writing the signs know it's nonsense because anyone that can legibly write knows that no group, however large & diverse properly represents 99% of the population. But that's not the point. An effective sign doesn't really work if you have to include disclaimers along the lines of "we do not claim to accurately reflect the wide spectrum of political opinion found amongst 99% of the population. We do however represent a cross section of society within that 99% that feel unable to effect a better form of demonstration than direct protest".

Others have pointed to the supposed hypocritical actions of anti capitalist protesters queuing to get a coffee from Starbucks. They ignore the fact that this isn't an anti capitalist protest and those queuing most likely do not claim to represent true/pure anti capitalism. But even if they were anti capitalists, there's nothing wrong with making use of the current system whilst campaigning for a new one. Ironically, capitalists see no issue with using socialised healthcare while calling for it's destruction.

The really nasty ones opposed to the protests reel out tired old clichés about protesters - they should get a wash/job, they're benefit scroungers, they don't live in the real world. The idiocy of such claims is of course that we are in the grips of crippling unemployment. Heating and Fuel is, for many, approaching (or already is at) a prohibitive level. Benefits are being cut and those claiming them demonised by society at large. As for the real world? It's easily argued that those who have found themselves driven to protest by a lack of any other options are the ones living in the real world and those who have kept their jobs and benefited from low interest rates are the ones living their existence in a fantasy.

There is, at least on this topic, a middle ground to be found. We need banks and we need bankers. Our economy relies on profit making businesses and so obviously it's not in anyone's interests to destroy those businesses that still return healthy profits. The flip side of that is that people & small businesses are desperately struggling to stay afloat and it's not a particularly fair or even moral society that allows a tiny section of society to continue to amass enormous wealth, especially when it is often at the expense of those who can least afford it.

That doesn't mean we must throw out capitalism entirely and adopt a pure socialist way of governance but it does mean we must look to find a better balance. That's the conversation that has to be had and that's what the protests are trying to instigate. It would be nice if, just for once, those in power paid attention and didn't go straight on the defensive.

3 comments:

  1. The problems with the current "capitalist" system are only problems because we don't have a capitalist system but already suffer from a "balanced one".

    In a true capitalist system the price of money (Interest rates) would be set by the market and not politicians trying to "manage" the economy. The financial bubble that started the recession would never have got off the ground.

    In a true capitalist system, failed businesses and bankers go broke and lose everything. They are not bailed out by a state trying to "manage the economy"

    In a true capitalist system people have the benefits and health care they can actually afford, they are not promised the "moon on a stick" by politicians who are paying with other people's money.

    We don't need more socialism to balance the negative impact of capitalism, we need less socialism to allow capitalism to work properly.

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  2. "In a true capitalist system people have the benefits and health care they can actually afford"

    I'm not entirely sure I want to live in a society that only provides benefits & healthcare based on the ability to pay for them.

    Actually, I'm entirely sure I don't want to.

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  3. "The financial bubble that started the recession would never have got off the ground."

    I don't know where you get this from. The financial bubble which caused this whole recession was caused by government de-regulation.

    "In a true capitalist system, failed businesses and bankers go broke and lose everything. They are not bailed out by a state trying to "manage the economy"

    Problematically, the capitalist system that we live in has allowed the banks to grow so huge and has allowed the financial system to become so complex that when banks collapse the whole system is at risk of falling down like a deck of cards.

    "In a true capitalist system people have the benefits and health care they can actually afford, they are not promised the "moon on a stick" by politicians who are paying with other people's money."

    Healthcare isnt a commodity. No-one demands to be sick. You do not choose to consume it. We have the resources to cure sick people. If you were a 'true' capitalist you would realise that the whole objective of a 'neoclassical' economic model is to maximise utility. Refusing to tax the wealthy in society so that they can afford another luxury holiday whilst at the same time denying people healthcare because they cannot afford it takes away more 'utility' from our society than it adds. So even if you were a heartless and calculating capitalist pig then basic maths should tell you that a true capitalist system doesnt maximise well being.

    We don't need more socialism to balance the negative impact of capitalism, we need less socialism to allow capitalism to work properly.

    Capitalism has never worked properly and it never will. It is based on an incorrect assumption that we are all self serving rational actors who have perfect knowledge and operate in a perfectly competitive market. Companies do not experience decreasing returns to scale but quite the opposite. For this reason the market must be controlled.

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