Wednesday, December 14, 2011

So Time Magazine's Person of the Year is "The Protester"

Yep. See it for yourself. Well, at least it's not Zuckerberg again. Or Paul Ryan, which was apparently a serious possibility.

Sure, it's logical enough. The Arab Spring changed the middle east, the Occupiers changed the American discourse on wealth, and a lot of expectations about the utility of protest were upended. The biggest thing that seemed to jump out of these protests is that having a dedicated structure and organization almost seems like a liability; if there are no faces, there's no way to muck about and find ways to discredit them.

That's the whole "Anonymous" lesson that people keep on forgetting. The whole reason they were able to take on the Church of Scientology was because their structure made it damned hard for the CoS to try to respond. The Occupiers picked this up from Anonymous—witness all the Anonymous masks at the protests—and that's helped them remain relevant. There's been attempts to try to discredit them by attacking their "leaders", but it just doesn't stick. The only thing that's come even close to working is just straight-up violence.

The violence is the part that Time doesn't talk about, by the by. One of the odder bits in the piece was the claim that Occupiers didn't stand to get "beat up or shot" like their middle-eastern counterparts. The "shot" part, I'll grant, though I'd wager that that has more to do with the general peaceability of occupiers than anything else, but stating that they haven't been beaten is just ludicrous. They have. Often. Quite savagely at times, and that's not even getting into just how bad pepper-spraying really is. Were the Time editors unaware of this? Or did they just not really care, since it was their countrymen doing the spraying and beating?

Still, I think that they've missed the real story here. The real story is about the tension between the public and the elites. That's what the 99% vs. 1% thing is really about: it's not about wealth, per se, but about a relatively small elite that call the shots without even pausing to consider the wishes or interests of the rest of the population. As Lawrence Lessig pointed out on The Daily Show last night, that 1% thing is a bit misleading: it's actually only about 0.05% of the public that have access to lawmakers—that really have any say at all.

And the elites are fighting back. Nevermind the cops being sent to beat up protesters. Look at Europe. Look at what's happened in Italy and Greece. Look at the appointed economic "experts" that have been brought in to supposedly "fix" things by gutting the public service and social services. They're taking money from the 99% to pay off debts owed to the 1%. They won't even consider anything that might increase aggregate demand by putting money in the hands of the vast majority of people who would really use it. They believe in price stability over all else, and are willing to drive unemployment into the ground in order to do it, even though all the pressures right now are DEFLATIONARY pressures. And they weren't even elected. They were imposed.

Look what's going on with this supposed deal to save the Euro. As Paul Krugman, Felix Salmon, and loads of others keep on pointing out, this whole thing is profoundly misguided. They're pretending that a balance-of-trade problem is somehow a sovereign debt problem. Countries like Ireland and Spain weren't awash in sovereign debt before the crisis. Quite the opposite.  Yet instead of solving the real problem, the Eurozone is going to put straightjackets on member governments attempting enact counter-cyclical policies and get their economies back on track.  Unemployment in every Euro country whose name doesn't end in "many" will keep going up, social spending will keep going down, and the lives of the 99% will become more and more nightmarish.

What are people supposed to do in that case? They have no access, because access costs money. They have no votes; Italy, Greece, and the new move towards fiscal unity prove that policy is now imposed from above, instead of elected from below. They have no say. The elites are calling the shots, despite the elites' bungling incompetence being proven over, and over, and over, and OVER again throughout the last half-decade.

They find themselves with only two choices: take to the streets, or take to the hills. They're choosing the former. Good on 'em. But I don't think we should ever, ever forget that in this cold war between the public and the elites, they can always decide to choose the latter.

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