Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

“We’re the 99 per cent”

In A.Graham on January 3, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Why the “occupy” movement is taking action

Capitalism has failed us. Particularly the finance capitalism of the big banking corporations that has ruled the global economy in recent decades. There must be another, better, way – a way that we can equate with Socialism.

That, basically, is the message of those who have involved themselves in the “Occupy” movement, which kicked off in September with the camp city erected near Wall Street – America’s financial centre.

It soon spread to other cities in the USA, and then crossed the Atlantic to protest camps set up outside St. Paul’s in the City of London and sites in other cities in Britain, including College Green in Bristol.

The slogan of the protesters is based on the fact that the top financial elite make up (roughly) one per cent of the population. By their manipulation of the money markets, their actions affect the lives of the rest of us – the remaining 99 per cent of the world population.

The message of the movement was reinforced in October, with the news that top directors in the UK had given themselves a pay rise of 49 per cent – at a time when others in the population were suffering cuts in their standards of living and their pensions – or being thrown out of work. The gap between rich and poor in this country has been growing for some time – and it’s been growing particularly since the present government came to power.

MAKING MONEY:

But what do the financiers in the City actually produce? Is it anything useful, like food, houses, railways, or the stuff of engineering or technology? No, it’s money – money made on the backs of those who do produce the goods and services that the rest of us need to carry on our lives.

No doubt a bank or investment trust would claim that they provide the capital that allows those who work on the farms, build the homes, etc., etc., to do their bit in the social structure. Up to a point – but it’s largely other people’s money they’re investing, and at the end of the day its not altruism that guides their actions – it’s profit. And all too often their actions wreak havoc with other people’s lives.

THE TERRIBLE COST:

This drive for profit at all costs can have terrible consequences – as happened with the financial collapse of 2007-08 when toxic investments (largely in the housing markets) spread like a man-made plague throughout the world’s financial system. The banks who’d gambled with our money were bailed out – but the rest of us had to pick up the tab.

We can trace the roots of this financial disaster back at least to Thatcher’s de-regulation of the banking system in the 1980s and ’90s. Or we could go back to the grim thirties for another object lesson. Indeed, there have been many times when the system that gambled with money entrusted to them by other people had played havoc with the economy – and people’s lives. Of course we don’t have to go back to the financial collapse of 1929. There are those who’ll recall the dark days of the early 1990s when shares tumbled and panic in the City nearly brought about another disintegration in the markets.

SYMPATHY:

It’s significant that the “Occupy” movement has gained a level of sympathy amongst many, and the authorities in the USA and Britain seemed at first reluctant to move against them. since 2008, it’s been difficult, even for supporters of capitalism, to defend the bankers and the system that they uphold.

Of course the right-wing press has done its best to belittle the camp communities. But it wasn’t until November that the authorities in America moved in with riot police to evict forcibly the camps that had sprung up in New York and elsewhere in the USA. Over here, the Corporation of the City of London finally decided to take action.

“ROBIN HOOD” TAX:

And whilst the authorities may be successful in dispersing the protesters, they haven’t quelled the ideas of those who set up the camps in the first place. More and more people are backing the idea of a “Robin Hood” Tax (roughly based on the proposal for a “Tobin Tax” put forward by the economist of that name) – for a modest tax on financial transactions which could be used to ward off the impact of any further collapse.

The City as a whole, of course, is against it. After all, why should they be expected pay for their greed? But many, more thoughtful, economists and businessmen have given their backing, and so has the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The camps HAVE made an impact. They have created debate, and wrong-footed even the most ardent supporters of finance capitalism. Whatever happens next (and with winter approaching and a tougher libe being proposed by the authorities it may be that they won’t be able to sustain themselves), the debate that they have provoked will no doubt carry on for some time.

ALISTAIR GRAHAM

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