The fetishism of the violence at the G20 summit has done its job, it has totally hidden the progressive agenda of the protesters from sight. The actions of hooligans, anarchists and probably agent provocateurs--police agitators--, coupled with sensationalist media coverage--with menacing music and replaying the same window being broken again and again--have done its job. I personally went to protest against the exploitation of human labour, and the Earth that is inherent within the current system, and the displacement of its debts on us from corporate bailouts--a cost in the United States that might top $24 trillion, or $80,000 per citizen--, the increasingly precarious effects of global warming, and the associated costs by the accumulation of massive sovereign debt. These debts will be paid by high regressive sales taxes, HST anyone? Spending cuts, and thus a reduction of access to social services like healthcare, education, etc., and making our labour more ‘flexible’, viz. a reduction in labour rights. All of this, plus the reduction of corporate tax rates, is being done in a vain attempt to attract capital investment, based on a failed supply-side, neoliberal model.
To put it in terms that many erstwhile citizens, now consumers, would better understand: this means less Starbucks fraps, LCD TV’s, and Puma shoes for you--unless you are wiling to pay for it in perpetuity with usurious interest rates, and secret fees; being only able to pay the minimum payment on your credit card, as per the intention of the credit card companies--, but more hours at work, stagnant real wages, and credit card debt just to get by with the benefit of that exploitation going to the very top. Do not let the veneer of name brand clothing that people wear obfuscate, as it’s supposed to do, their actual socio-economic position. Just because you own an expensive (insert inane product here) doesn’t mean you are rich, or even middle class. Chances are very likely that the person with the newest Michael Koors bag is living at home with their parents, because their jobs and wages cannot actually allow them actually live independently, and they probably bought the bag on credit and cannot afford to pay for it for months, years, if ever.
The reason why poverty is so obvious in third world countries and not here, to a large degree, is our access to credit that allows us to hide our true poverty. If you don’t believe me that our entire economy is increasingly premised on credit, read this from The Economist:
Like alcohol, a debt boom tends to induce euphoria. Traders and investors saw the asset-price rises it brought with it as proof of their brilliance; central banks and governments thought that rising markets and higher tax revenues attested to the soundness of their policies. The answer to all problems seemed to be more debt. Depressed? Use your credit card for a shopping spree “because you’re worth it”. Want to get rich quick? Work for a private-equity or hedge-fund firm, using borrowed money to enhance returns. Looking for faster growth for your company? Borrow money and make an acquisition
Sadly, this debt, in the long-run, makes us worse off. The effective poverty rate is higher than reported, because we do not take away from people’s income their credit payments, which reduces their effective, net income; consider the interest you pay as another, privatized tax. Thus, that expensive bag you bought will cost you a lot more than you’d ever imagine down the line--opportunity cost--, and that bag would, generally, not garner ANY return on investment!
In addition, inequality is still increasing, which supposedly is a good thing because it creates ‘incentives’ for people to work harder and rewards those who ‘deserve’ what they earn. But, as Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz argues,
Neoclassical economic theory, which has dominated in the West for a century, holds that each individual’s compensation reflects his marginal social contribution...But Borlaug [inventor of the Green Revolution] and our bankers refute that theory. If neoclassical theory were correct, Borlaug would have been among the wealthiest men in the world, while our bankers would have been lining up at soup kitchens
Indeed, if the neoclassical mode was right, crisis would not exist because resources would go, efficiently, to where it should go. Instead, we are now living in a world that has the highest level of inequality in history, and the economic system collapsed. Why? As inequality increases, aggregate demand decreases, which increases savings by capitalists, due to an associated lack of profitable investment opportunities--overaccumulation--that leads to higher unemployment that leads to lower real wages and a weakening of the labour movement with the creation of a “reserve army” of the unemployed. Sound too abstract? I will quote Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman:
Every year that goes by with extremely high unemployment increases the chance that many of the long-term unemployed will never come back to the work force, and become a permanent underclass. Every year that there are five times as many people seeking work as there are job openings means that hundreds of thousands of Americans graduating from school are denied the chance to get started on their working lives. And with each passing month we drift closer to a Japanese-style deflationary trap.
I know, “well that’s not me” syndrome is hitting, but you must realize you are replaceable, don’t you?
Therefore, congealed into a whole, this creates a feedback loop creating the same demand destruction that created the crisis in the first place. Thus, the ‘free market’ is a pro-cyclical institution, meaning that “rational” economic decisions, taken by individuals, may make sense to them (micro-level), but on a social level (macro-level) it is contradictory. The only way to effectively stop the cycle is for the state to come in and stop it, as it did in the Great Depression. How did we do it in the 1930s? Social movements, unions, and the spectre of a different world.
So, all of this directly affects you, this is not some abstract thing I am talking about, you are living through this and you know as well as I do that this is a shitty system. But you must retain hope that if you do follow the rules and work hard you can get ahead. However, to hold this belief you have to willfully ignore structures that prevent that from happening, en masse. Let me put it like this, the United States claims to adhere to the notion of the ‘American Dream’, which means that your children will be better off than you, they can move up the social latter if they just work hard enough.
Unfortunately, the reality is that Americans are among the most industrious people on Earth, but they face a cycle of poverty and debt, due to low wages that forces them to work more; massive inequality, due to the inability of their incomes to pay for their schooling, latent racism, and the accumulation of debt--credit, student, housing--that forces individuals to work at any job to avoid bankruptcy. Thus, the US is actually the country with the lowest level of social mobility among the OECD nations, viz. the ‘rich’ world. Which countries have the highest, well of course, the socialistic Nordic states.
These are only some of the reasons, and the most selfish of them at that, that you should have been protesting with us on Saturday. I saw elderly women on canes struggling to make it all the way back to Queen’s Park, I saw families, I saw recent immigrants, professors, professionals, hipsters, etc., all standing up for their rights as democratic citizens. So, what excuse did you have for not defending YOUR OWN RIGHTS? Slavoj Zizek seems to be right:
if as a consequence of our cynical pragmatism, we have lost the capacity to recognise the promise of emancipation, we in the West will have entered a post-democratic era, ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi
FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS!
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