Ongoing Developments in Occupy Wall Street and Their Implications

Financial Times is reporting that Pres. Obama has offered more support for the Occupy Wall Street protests, “but has called on them not to ‘demonize’ those who worked on Wall Street”. Obama: “Dr. [Martin Luther] King would want us to challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing those who work there.”

Across the political aisle, House majority leader Eric Cantor has modified his earlier critique of the Occupy Wall Street from being “angry mobs”. Cantor: “More important than my use of the word [mobs] is that there is a growing frustration out there across the country and it is warranted. Too many people are out of work.”

Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting that China’s foreign ministry has said that the issues behind the Occupy Wall Street movement are worth considering. Liu Weimin, a foreign ministry spokesman said, “We feel that there are issues here that are worth pondering.” Liu continued, “We have also noticed that in the media there has been a lot of commentary, discussion and reflection. But we think that all of these reflections should be conducive to maintaining the sound and steady development of the world economy.”

Speaking of thought-provoking, in perhaps the boldest move yet by protesters of the Occupy Wall Street movement, protesters are now looking to “occupy the courts“. Lawyers representing arrested Occupy Wall Street protesters demand that prosecutors drop the charges lest the protesters refuse to make deals and insist that the disputes go to trial — thereby flooding Manhattan criminal courts. defence lawyer Martin Stolar: “I’d like to suggest to the [District Attorney’s] office the appropriate way to deal with these cases is outright dismissal. The leverage is, we take them all to trial.”

In response to the prospect of overloading the courts, “prosecutors say they will have little trouble absorbing the extra work load”. However, courts spokesman David Bookstaver conceded, “Is it a strain on the system? Yes. But the reality is the judges will deal with it.”

While the Occupy Wall Street movement marks its one month anniversary, current headlines portend an uncertain future for an uncertain cultural/political movement with uncertain aims. Hopefully, all of us shall know more about the goals and future of the movement by the time winter comes.

In some ways, I believe the prospect of Occupy Wall Street protesters’ possibly overloading the courts sheds light on a socio-political questions of what is to become of Occupy Wall Street. Where many protesters are speaking out against economic inequality and perceived injustices in the financial system, conservative commentators choose to paint the picture that the movement is simply a ragtag bunch of bored, spoiled youngsters acting like hippies. Some conservative commentators have compared and contrasted the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party movement.

Even so, to say the least, the cat is out of the bag. I have written previously regarding the Occupy Wall Street early on that “this beast may have teeth“. I wrote, “The Sept. 17 Wall Street protests could prove to be a mere spark or a wildfire.” Given the spread of the Occupy Wall Street movement to foreign nations, it is beginning to appear that the movement is going to be more of a wildfire spreading across the planet.

At this point, if the Occupy Wall Street mysteriously disappeared one day, it is not that the movement itself will have disappeared, but only its members. In this way, the question would then not be “Why did the Occupy Wall Street movement die,” but rather “Where exactly is the Occupy Wall Street movement hiding now”. In this light, politicians and commentators may prefer to keep the protests as they are in order to keep an eye on them. In short, the cat is out of the bag.

Yes, the beast is on the loose, and not only is it on the loose, but it’s branching out and spreading across the globe in various parallel “Occupy” protests in locations as far and wide as Sydney, Australia to Seoul, South Korea to Cape Town, South Africa. Occupy Wall Street is now a global phenomenon.

Nevertheless, at some point in time the rubber is going to have to meet the road and Occupy Wall Street will have to be able to articulate, specify, and argue in support of any possible policy changes. Even if we concede that Occupy Wall Street will have to one day present policy suggestions, I think the power of the Occupy Wall Street movement is more about a show of force and solidarity.

Despite criticism of a lack of direction or substantive policy suggestions, Occupy Wall Street is not about mere lick-and-a-swipe policy changes or substantive changes in law; Occupy Wall Street is about causing a change in systemic problems. I don’t think one or two executive orders or acts of Congress would be satisfactory for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The movement is thus drawing attention to deeper, more systemic problems in the global economy.

Occupy Wall Street does not seem to be simply about policy; the movement is making a statement regarding our culture and society. And so, this is the real bite behind the claim that Occupy Wall Street protesters will clog up the courts; the Occupy Wall Street movement is forcing the government and the greater society to come face-to-face with the movement. And it is not going to be a movement that the law or the public can simply brush aside as a temporary fad. The cat is out of the bag, and it is not going anywhere.

Many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters have spoken out against student loans and costs of higher education. Issues with higher education and unemployment are excellent examples of how and why American society and the government are finding themselves in positions of having to bend owing to socio-economic problems. When an entire generation is saddled with thousands in student loan debt and is unable to find jobs once students graduate, there are going to be socio-economic problems.

In legal verbiage, the word “constructive” is used to refer to a legal fiction used for the sake of discussion in the operation of law. For instance, a person hunting a fox who is within three feet of the fox may not physically have the fox in his possession, but he might argue that he has “constructive possession” of the fox. Another example is with a key to a safe, a person with a key to a safe may not have physical possession of the safe, but one might say that the person in having the key has “constructive possession” of the safe. As the US government guarantees various student loans, it may find itself in a position to “constructively” subsidise college education.

While the federal government has taken over student loans, one might raise the question, “If the federal government is going to have to ‘constructively subsidise’ higher education anyhow, why not have a public system that uses tax funds & other revenue to subsidise higher education and allow students to attend college akin to the Nordic economic model?” Sooner or later, whether the establishment and American society like it or not, a possible student loan bailout may have to be a point of discussion.

Conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh or Mark Levin may contend that Occupy Wall Street protesters want “free this” and “free that”; all the protesters want everything “free” when there is no such thing as a free lunch. That being the case, whether the Occupy Wall Street protesters realise it or not, they appear to be advocating the Nordic economic model with high tax rates, a strong safety net, robust public works, free health care, and free education. Why then is the Nordic model not a regular topic of conversation regarding these protests? Let’s at least get the Nordic model of socio-economics into the national conversation.

While one could argue that Occupy Wall Street protesters are going beyond the Nordic model in advocating some form of radical socialism, while protesters tote their Apple laptops and iPods while putting videos up on YouTube via cell phones, it does not seem that protesters are 100% against the American way of life. Thus, the Nordic model with high taxes and a strong social safety net appears to fit squarely in the protesters’ contentions.

Why then are Occupy Wall Street protesters not openly advocating the Nordic model as used in countries like Sweden, Denmark, and Finland? Why not have signs that read, “We want to be like Sweden and Denmark!” In Nordic countries, the government is seen as an “employer of last resort”, and maybe Occupy Wall Street protesters want the federal government to act as such in this country. While the US has an unemployment rate of 9.1%, Sweden’s is 6.6%, Denmark’s is 4.2%, and Norway’s is 2.8%. Maybe the federal government should be permitted to act as an “employer of last resort” (and not simply in a military context) if no one else is willing to employ younger Americans.

Where some may contend that Occupy Wall Street is without concrete ideas or direction, I think the ideas are there — it simply goes back to the ongoing Kulturkampf in the US with respect to the role of government and the interplay of liberal and conservative elements of society. Or in the alternative, the ideas are there, but academia, higher education, legal scholars, public officials, parents, and politicians have done a poor job in effectively presenting and teaching viable philosophies, socio-political positions, and competing viewpoints in light of the actual ongoing “culture war” tied to differences in US demographics, e.g. there are substantial discrepancies arising in American society based on age, background and upbringing.

While the Occupy Wall Street movement evolves, the ideas will come over time. Those ideas may include a substantive effort driving American society towards a workable Nordic model, i.e. if only a Nordic model brought to fruition on a state level rather than a federal level.

A move towards the Nordic model on a state level in a state like Vermont or Massachusetts would speak in waves and would allow the laboratory of federalism to flex its muscles. And if states like Ohio or Delaware would prefer more laissez-faire options, then so be it; let the issue be resolved in the laboratory of federalism and the free marketplace of ideas rather than on a dysfunctional and all-or-nothing nationwide level. A bunch of people complaining in the streets cannot help but appear a bit non-productive — and non-productivity if left to fester can grow into counter-productivity.

If a lack of direction, ideas, or articulable policy demands is troubling the establishment and conservatives, they need not worry; the ideas and policy demands are coming. The issue then becomes a matter of to where the Occupy Wall Street movement will lead. Thus, the question is not whether or not the Occupy Wall Street movement is growing, but rather into what the Occupy Wall Street will grow. As such, protesters may want to heed Friedrich Nietzsche’s proverb: “Take care when you fight with monsters that you do not become one in the process”.

— Marco Rabinowitz

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