Like many people around the world, I’ve found the nascent Occupy Wall Street (OWS) action attention-grabbing and thought-provoking. The link in the previous sentence is to their own site run out of that park in lower Manhattan.
Way back in the same week that I launched this blog, I argued that the chief virtue of Democracy isn’t that the population can be trusted to pick the right policies (we can’t) nor even to pick the right people (check out recent history). But the general public can reliably be trusted to detect the condition where they are being badly ruled: Oppressed, robbed, cheated, or otherwise abused. In a democracy, when the people notice this, they can discard their current government without having to shed blood. With this alone, you have most of democracy’s upside; without it, you have nothing.
The standard critique of OWS is that they haven’t offered a clearly-written program of action. I think this may be a virtue, actually. I think OWS is a symptom of a fairly-widespread perception that:
A large number of people in the finance business enriched themselves to the tune of billions in a manner that feels essentially like bald-faced theft. Nobody has been punished. Very few of these people even experienced much in the way of financial setbacks, because they were bailed out with other people’s money. As in, yours & mine.
The general degree of inequality, whether measured in money or power, seems unreasonable.
The political system seems structurally unable to take any action which runs counter to the interests of the finance-industry elite.
I think those perceptions are broadly correct, and I think it’s reasonable to be angry about them, and to engage in political action: This is what politics is for.
Street protesters’ demands work best when they’re simple enough to fit in a short declarative sentence, for example “Mubarak must go”. In this case the appropriate courses of corrective action aren’t like that, involving things like a financial-transaction tax, separation-of-concerns regulation, and eliminating institutions which are “too big to fail”.
So, it isn’t OWS’ job to make the proposals, anyhow; that’s what professional politicians are for. Their job is to express popular anger in a way that convinces the pros that taking immediate strong action is in their own best interests.
Looks like they’ve made a good start.