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Occupying Wall Street

There seems to be a growing global protest movement against the current economic system we have all had inflicted on us. There have been sporadic outbreaks of this unrest for years but now it seems to be gaining real momentum, even in the US which is the home of the model which people are gradually realising doesn’t actually work.

The Occupy Wall Street movement shows that even people in the US now understand that things cannot go on the way they are, even though that country has managed quite well until recently. When large corporations pay no tax and are still rescued when they fail at the same time as wage earners pay 30% tax and have their houses taken by those same banks they have just bailed out you are going to get resentment. All I can ask is: why has it taken so long?

The corrupt model I’m talking about is of course, my old favourite, neo-liberalism. The primary dogma of this movement is that we should all be free of excessive government control, that private enterprise should be given free rein, and that free markets will solve all of our economic problems.

With all that use of the word “free” it’s hard to argue with the idea, isn’t it? And that’s the problem: on the surface the ideology of neo-liberalism seems not only reasonable but entirely fair and maybe even the best system possible. After all, who doesn’t want more freedom?

The problem is that the reality doesn’t live up to the rhetoric. Freedom from government control inevitably leads to greater control by big corporations and other organisations. Giving private enterprise greater freedom leads to lower wages, inferior work conditions, and unemployment. Letting markets rule leads to monopolistic problems, outsourcing to virtual slave economies, and a huge and ever increasing gap between the top and bottom of the income scales.

So in fact the promise of greater freedom really only applies to the top earning one percent and the rest inevitably lose. If anyone can look at the world today and not see that this is exactly what has happened then they must be blind. And many people actually are blinded by propaganda from those who win in this system because they own the media, and in many cases they own the politicians too.

The problem with demands for change – like those form the Wall Street protestors – is that it’s not clear what they suggest as an alternative. It seems to be that they don’t know what they want – at least as a group – because these are people who see the current system as flawed and they either have no idea what they want instead (they just know that something needs to change) or they hold a wide variety of alternative views which cover a wide gamut of plausibility, from quite benign to totally outrageous.

The protest movement has no obvious leaders because it seems to be organised (if that is the right word) from the bottom up and as a group rather than as a reaction to action demanded from a central figure. And that is entirely appropriate considering that a large part of their message is that we can’t trust our leaders.

In the US commentators have pointed out that the protests might be damaging the current president who the protestors would theoretically support. But Obama has failed miserably to make any real change as he promised during his campaigning. Sure, he’s a lot better than the alternatives but he’s still really bad. The political system in the US only gives the illusion of freedom and control because no matter who Americans vote for they lose. The land of the free? What a joke!

By comparison we have a relatively moderate government here in New Zealand, even though they are nominally right wing. But even they have made it clear that they intend to swing more towards the exact neo-liberal policies which have failed, not only in other countries but also here in the past, if they are re-elected at the election (and that seems likely given the current low popularity of the opposition).

The only good news is that the real right wing nutters, Act, seem to be sinking into oblivion. I can only hope that they do disappear from New Zealand politics. I usually prefer a wide range of ideas to be on offer, but if Act’s new leader, the genuinely dangerous and immoral Don Brash, ever gets any control here then we’ll be heading the same way as other failed economies around the world.

So if National do win the election and they start selling off our assets again then maybe we’ll see an escalation of the small protest movement which has already started here. But it would be preferable to keep them out of power instead. People need to ignore personalities and frivolous electioneering and look at the philosophies behind the different options. Neo-liberalism doesn’t work and it never will work, and any party following its dictates is one all voters should avoid.

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  1. October 15, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Short reply kiwi…”you hit the nail on the head”

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