Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Revolution May Indeed be Coming: Why the student protests and "Occupy Wall Street" must be taken seriously

The anti-establishment protests, for example, "Occupy Wall Street" has pushed me over the edge into believing it's more likely than not that, within the decade, "The Revolution" will indeed come. There just are too many forces moving America in that direction:
  • Demographics. Because of differential birth rates and immigration, an ever higher proportion of the population will be left-leaning.
  • The U.S. economy is in deep trouble, with many more people underemployed than the government's statistics indicate.
  • The gap between rich and poor is increasing. The middle class is shrinking.
  • Society's main mind molders--the schools, colleges, and media--are ever bolder in making their messages leftist rather than truly "fair and balanced."
  • The recent precedent set by the overseas protests--the "Arab Spring," riots in France and England, etc.
  • Our short memory. Memories of the liabilities of living in, for example, Communist Russia and Eastern Europe, are fading.
And as time passes, each of those forces is likely to gain in strength.

Of course, there are countervailing forces:
  • Except among hard leftists, ardor for The Revolution is tempered by the collapse of the Greek economy, the tottering of other socialist countries, and Scandinavia's, Germany's, and France's now questioning the wisdom of a generous cradle-to-grave welfare policy.
  • The American citzenry's long-standing valuing of capitalism.
  • The already leftward movement of our government,. Of course, the 2010 election was a pivot rightward but I believe that a fair-minded look at U.S. policy over the last 100 years demonstrates a clear leftward trend. What the media and politicians call "conservative" today is more leftist than would have been considered "conservative" just a half-century ago. For example, no conservative politician today would dare argue even against such redistributive "justice" programs as No Child Left Behind, in which the vast majority of educational effort is redistributed from those with the greatest potential for excellence to the lowest achieving students. The government's move leftward reduces the need for revolution to what may well be soon done without the pain of revolution.
I believe the forces moving us toward The Revolution are far stronger and getting ever stronger while the Rightward ones are weaker and getting more so.

Going yet further out on the limb, I predict that within a decade of The Revolution, a move back rightward will begin. Logically, to me at least, the core principle of The Revolution dooms America in the medium to long-term, to, net, more misery. The Revolution's core principle is Marx's exhortation to redistribute from those with the most to those with the least, without regard to the people's merit, their previous or likely contribution to society. Viscerally that's appealing, especially because the media has conditioned us to picture that redistribution as mansion/yacht owners giving up much of their ill-begotten wealth to honest, oppressed people living in squalor.

The problem with socialism and its even more radical cousin Communism is that the pool of wealthy individuals and corporations is simply smarter, yes smarter, than the pool of the poor. Society's "Haves," may have some ill-begotten wealth but compared with the poor, they, on average, I stress, on average, are more likely to have created jobs, cured diseases, not to mention invented, manufactured and distributed critical products at a price that even low-income people can afford, everything from an aspirin to a refrigerator, a telephone to Google.

Another terrible liability of redistributing wealth is that it reduces people's incentive to, and in turn, desire to work, or at least to work beyond a minimum. As was learned not only in the former Soviet Union but in many cradle-to-grave countries, many people in socialist or Communist countries, with the need to accomplish diminished by the social welfare system, many people work as little as possible or not at all.

Finally, as Margaret Thatcher said, "The problem with socialism is the ultimately you run out of other people's money."

Of course, I cannot be certain of my predictions; too many forces can affect America. For example, just one vial of mutated biovirus released in a U.S. international airport lobby could change everything, in unpredictable ways. But I believe that as we do our strategic planning, as individuals, companies, and government, we'd be wise to at least consider the possibility that The Revolution indeed may be nigh.


Anonymous said...

"media--are ever bolder in making their messages leftist rather than truly "fair and balanced."

Why is it then that only the McClatchy papers asked the hard questions during the run-up to the Iraq war and one of the most important changes in US military doctrine? The New York Times and the Washington Post were completely coopted. The Times went the extra mile by putting Top Secret Judy Miller at the lead of their reporting on Iraq and suppressing their coverage of warrantless domestic surveillance until after the 2004 election.

The US is a center-right country and continues to be so.

Richard Nixon stood far to the left of the current administration on almost every domestic policy. Or have you forgotten the wage and price controls he tried?

The politics since have, two steps forward and one step back, moved inexorably in the direction of reversing FDR.

We now have had two Presidents who condone virtually complete NSA surveillance of our civilian communications traffic (see the coverage of the Drake case, and NSA historian James Bamford's recent work;) and one who orders assassination of US citizens and publically applauds the outcome of those orders, this following his defense of the new military policy on the occasion of his being awarded the Nobel honors for not being the prior president.

Marty Nemko said...

Those are cherry-picked outliers. Look dispassionately at the messages presented by the media outlets with the greatest mindshare of America: ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, New York Times, LA Times, PBS/NPR, Time, Newsweek/Daily Beast, The Atlantic, Harper's, Huffington Post, Slate, Salon, Daily Kos, The New Yorker, MSNBC (Olbermann and now Maddow join Chris Matthews, Lawrence O'Donnell, etc.). Fox News gets but a tiny mindshare, especially of the intelligensia that have great impact on policy.

Anonymous said...


Okay, can you name three instances of comparable magnitude where the mainstream media has actually engaged seriously in questioning Bush/Obama policies from the left?

I can remember a small discussion of national single payer healthcare. That was at a time when even Obama's aides were unaware that the idea had been taken off the table by White House negotiations.

Virtually none of the mainstream media seriously criticized or questioned the Bush/Obama financial sector subsidies, the Bush/Obama war doctrine, the Bush/Obama rollbacks of environmental regulations.

Or, can you come up with three important domestic policies where Obama is to the left of Nixon? To refresh your memory here, the tax rates under Nixon were far higher in the upper tiers; Nixon favored cash payments to the poor, rather than food stamps and rent subsidies paying private companies on behalf of the poor; Nixon established the EPA; Nixon knew that one role of government was to articulate a strong industrial policy, hence the wage and price controls; Nixon favored universal health care, but not quite in a manner sufficient to please Ted Kennedy, who walked away from a deal; Nixon wanted to establish on-demand inpatient drug addiction treatment, knowing that the opportunities to help addicts depend on those addicts' clocks, not a government clock; Nixon maintained a (granted, easily gamable) military draft to put everyone's children at risk if the nation went to war.

I think you're focusing on what liberal commentators find appealing in Campaign Obama, rather than what the government actually does, frequently with the assent of whoever the president happens to be.

Nymousanon said...

"Another terrible liability of redistributing wealth is that it reduces people's incentive to, and in turn, desire to work, or at least to work beyond a minimum"

Another reason for this, especially among men, is that married life is often a zero-sum gain (your post "It's NOT a man's world, was excellent, by the way).
Women want huge expensive weddings, divorce is easy with courts heavily favoring women, kids almost always side with mom, husbands work their rears off and they'll still be no good, men are likely to die first thus he may never enjoy his money at the twilight of his life. There's more, but I can't think of any. For many guys, it's cheaper to just go your own way.
Deep inside, young men realize this but won't publicly say anything out of fear of being told ot "man up" or labeled a misogynist.
The thing is though, is that the vast, vast majority of the Occupy Wall Street people are extremely feminist.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the scariest things I've seen you write. But it isn't without precedent.

I wonder if perhaps, like in the 1930s, war will be the end game. Witness the rise of Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, Stalin, and Mao from the Great Depression. As resources become scarce and more expensive, evil people emerge out of a sense of deprivation, or more apt, a sense of victimization (the Jews, the bourgeoisie, etc. caused this), and desperate people are more likely to listen and follow them.

These evil people then take resources from others by force until they meet serious resistance.

This time around, there are weapons of mass destruction in the, just as Britain's centuries of world domination ended with WW2, WW3 could literally spell the end of the US.

Thought-provoking stuff!

Greg said...

Right on, Marty. As someone who is very fond of individual responsibility, liberty, and property rights, I initially had high hopes for the Occupy Wall Street movement, but it seems that unfortunately most of the people there want redistribution of wealth and increased regulation, i.e. more socialist policies. In the long run, this can only spell more suffering for Americans. The movement just seems to be a hotbed of anger, frustration, and a (misguided) longing for social justice with many different factions seeking many different objectives. Without unity and a clearly defined purpose, there may well be riots but I can't see how much good will come of it in the short run.

Ross Wolfe said...

One of the most glaring problems with the supporters of Occupy Wall Street and its copycat successors is that they suffer from a woefully inadequate understanding of the capitalist social formation — its dynamics, its (spatial) globality, its (temporal) modernity. They equate anti-capitalism with simple anti-Americanism, and ignore the international basis of the capitalist world economy. To some extent, they have even reified its spatial metonym in the NYSE on Wall Street. Capitalism is an inherently global phenomenon; it does not admit of localization to any single nation, city, or financial district.

Moreover, many of the more moderate protestors hold on to the erroneous belief that capitalism can be “controlled” or “corrected” through Keynesian-administrative measures: steeper taxes on the rich, more bureaucratic regulation and oversight of business practices, broader government social programs (welfare, Social Security), and projects of rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Moderate “progressives” dream of a return to the Clinton boom years, or better yet, a Rooseveltian new “New Deal.” All this amounts to petty reformism, which only serves to perpetuate the global capitalist order rather than to overcome it. They fail to see the same thing that the libertarians in the Tea Party are blind to: laissez-faire economics is not essential to capitalism. State-interventionist capitalism is just as capitalist as free-market capitalism.

Nevertheless, though Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy [insert location here] in general still contains many problematic aspects, it nevertheless presents an opportunity for the Left to engage with some of the nascent anti-capitalist sentiment taking shape there. So far it has been successful in enlisting the support of a number of leftish celebrities, prominent unions, and young activists, and has received a lot of media coverage. Hopefully, the demonstrations will lead to a general radicalization of the participants’ politics, and a commitment to the longer-term project of social emancipation.

To this end, I have written up a rather pointed Marxist analysis of the OWS movement so far that you might find interesting:

“Reflections on Occupy Wall Street: What It Represents, Its Prospects, and Its Deficiencies”


Anonymous said...

Although I agree that capitalism provides more opportunities than socialism we have crony capitalism instead of real capitalism. The banks made bad investment decisions and were bailed out by the public sector because they were too big to fail. Yet the CEOs of these banks still got large bonuses. This is a perversion of true capitalism. I believe this is what the Occupy Wall Street protest is about.

Anonymous said...

If the media is so leftist, why did it take every major news station a month to cover the occupation? Why do liberals like Keith Olberman get fired from supposed leftist news stations, for being TOO liberal? Why does every major news station go to tea party movements but ignore anti-war movements?

Also you argue that schools are teaching students to be leftist, yet you say schools are money scams. If there should trying to scam students out of their money, why would they teach them that education should be free?

Also you need to understand that the revolution will happen because there are no jobs, NOT because we want social programs to support us while we do nothing all day. Most people I know just WANT TO WORK a WELL paying job, that they paid thousands of dollars in school to get.

You say you want people to be able to invent new things and better the world, but how can they when education is too expensive? How can they when big banks won't give out small loans to businesses?

If revolution is not the answer, what is?

Marlo said...

Americans are liberal in the sense that most of them reject what they perceive(rightly or wrongly)as repressive ideas and practices, and take great measures to stamp out such forces; often at the expense of drowning out more conservative, yet valid, points of view.

But in a fiscal sense, Americans are not really "liberal" in the sense that Europeans are "liberal". It takes a lot of blatant disregard for the middle and working classes to make Americans participate in movements of this nature. And even so, they don't demand much from the rich, only that they be held to the same standards as everyone else. I.e., the wall st. protesters could be passified fairly easily.

Nor do American liberals hate the rich. Take a look at how many bleeding hearts love Steve Jobs. If anything, they merely oppose socialism for financiers, which the right wing likes to think of as "job creation"(how?)

Anyway, there hasn't been an organized left in America since the 60s. I wish there was.

Anonymous said...

Fortune has had some interesting articles recently about OWS and the value of a college degree.

Occupation: From Wall Street to the university

What you (still) get with your college degree: A better shot at the 1%

Marty Nemko said...

A number of you have questioned my assertion that the most influential media (e.g., NY Times, CNN, the New Yorker, PBS, NPR, ABC, NBC, CBS) is contributing to America's move leftward. Rather than cherry-picking examples is some of the commenters have, I simply invite you to visit the websites of each of these and tally the number of top stories that would move opinion leftward from where the U.S. is today, the number that would move the U.S. rightward, and the number that is neutral.

Feel free to include Fox News if you wish. I think you'll find that it, on average, is more balanced than the rest of the media claims it is.

In any event, because Fox News has been so marginalized by the other media, by President Obama (which for a while refused to consider it a media outlet), and by the professoriate, which is so liberal-biased, FoxNews is only minimally influential among the intellectual public, let alone policymakers. And that is the criterion we're using here: Is the media influencing national policy leftward, rightward, or neutrally?

Marty Nemko said...

Dear Anonymous who referred us to a CNN article touting the old statistic that college grads earn more. It's invalid because:

a) It's retrospective.
-- In decades, past college grads earned a lot more than others because fewer attended. In 1970, only 40% went to college. Now it's 70%.
-- Employers today are offshoring, part-timing, and temping as many professional positions as possible, and can do so because so much work product can be sent over the Internet.

b) it confounds correlation with causation. Of course, college graduates earn more but it doesn't mean the cause is mainly the college degree. The pool of college students is brighter, more motivated, and with better connections than the pool of non-college attendees. You could lock them in a closet for four years and they'd earn more. In fact, logic suggests that they'd learn more while saving a fortune if instead of the $100,000 to $250,000 on a bachelors degree, they invested it in say, Amazon stock, and spent the time learning on their own and/or with cherry-picked great courses at multiple institutions, and did career preparation via an apprenticeship, for example, with a successful ethical entrepreneur, I'd predict that those folks would be better education and better employed, on average.

Harry Mauve said...

interesting post that i think misses the point of the frustration of the middle class, first with the Tea Party movement and now with OWS. (btw, if you follow the money you will find that TP is fueled by the billionnaire Kuch brothers who desire to retain the status quo of an oil-dominated energy economy.)

Left or Right is irrelevant, for both are unwitting conspirators in a rigged game to redistribute wealth from the middle class to the ultra wealthy. the other actors are politicians who are bought with ill gotten gains and the public itself who allows the money-backed media machine to spin them around such that they mistake whats really happening.

Finally lets not forgetto blame the elite econ and business schools who have twisted our economy from makers (who actually create something) to manipulators (who profer the fiction that understanding product is a distant priority to counting beans). see andy grove's article in business week some months back (founder of intel) for how badly the manipulators have undermined the makers.

I say again, follow the money. Some examples:
virtually all economic growth since 1980 has accrued to the top 1%; 70% of all US corporate profits accrue to financial services firms (the lubricant is not the economy!).

Personally, i do very well, and worked with the Financial sector for a decade (in tech). And i dont have an answer, but whatever it is must include a return to an honest days work that actually creates value, not one that rewards manipulators who take value from those who create it. Wall Street is a zero sum game.