A new book forgives the protestors their lack of ideasby Stephanie Flanders / May 24, 2012 / Leave a comment
Zuccotti Park, September 2011. Photo: David Shankbone
They say accepting you have a problem is the biggest step towards solving it. That might be true for alcoholics. I’m not sure it’s true of entire societies. Ask anyone what they think about “Occupy Wall Street,” they are quite likely to tell you they agree with it. They will then tell you they don’t know exactly what it’s trying to achieve.
Welcome to the world of the 99 per cent. When you say you stand for nearly everybody, I guess you can expect nearly everybody to sympathise. What you can’t expect is a lot of agreement on what to do. The Occupy Handbook (Back Bay, £12.99) is not, strictly, a guide to the pop-up protests that appeared in more than 1,000 cities around the world in the autumn of 2011 (some of which have returned, now, with the sun). I would bet that most of the 50-plus contributors—among them distinguished economists and thinkers like Paul Krugman, Martin Wolf and Paul Volcker—have spent little time at St Paul’s or Zuccotti Park. If any.
But taken together, the articles in this dense and wide-ranging book do help explain why, to quote the introduction, Occupy Wall Street “has the rare distinction of being a protest movement that even the objects of its attack can find little fault with.”
Spectrem Group, a consulting firm for rich people, claims that 68 per cent of millionaires favour raising taxes on millionaires. Though that might simply be because they’ve miscalculated. Other research suggests that half of the top one per cent mistakenly believe they’re in the lower 99.?The writer Michael Lewis has some fun with this in a short, typically acerbic contribution, a “strategy memo” addressed to the top percentile. “That any human being can earn 344 grand a year without having the sense to identify which side in a class war he is on suggests that we should limit membership to actual rich people.”
Faced with any campaign for change, defenders of the status quo usually resort to the standard trope: the proposals are either too modest to make a difference, or too ambitious to ever be feasible. The Occupy movement has so far escaped this standard attack, only because it has largely failed to produce concrete proposals of any kind. Is this a problem? Many commentators have tended to think so. But contributors to this volume offer…