Occupy the Nation

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Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

from The Second Coming , by William Butler Yeats

“If there is a poem for this moment,” argues Rana Foroohar in “A New Era of Volatility,” the lead article in Time Magazine’s “Special Money Issue” (October 10, 2011), “it is surely W.B. Yeats’ dark classic ‘The Second Coming'”:

Written in 1919, it evokes the darkness and uncertainty of Europe in the aftermath of a horrific war. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” Yeats writes. “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world/… The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

It’s hard to imagine a more eloquent description of our own bearish age. The middle class is shrinking, the markets are flailing, U.S. presidential candidates are bickering, and European policymakers are fiddling while Rome (and Athens and London) burns.  A global double-dip recession, implausible in spring, is now a distinct possibility come autumn. [1]

Foroohar is surely right about the aptness of the metaphor: Wall Street is the desert “shape with lion body and the head of a man,” and the “Other 99%” protesters are “indignant desert birds,”  casting their shadows  annoyingly on the stoney, immovable Sphinx as it inexorably destroys us.

I have to pinch myself:  They represent us, all of us.  And while the worst among us worship the Sphinx, the best among us struggle to discover and explain its secrets.

Many of us are now tapping into Spiritus Mundi,  the great “cosmic consciousness,” [2]  scanning the internet and feeding off one another’s thoughts.  Thus, I can feel the truth in my bones when I read the words of Chris Hedges:

If the stocks of ExxonMobil or the coal industry or Goldman Sachs are high, life is good.  * * *  They have their fangs deep into your necks. If you do not shake them off very, very soon they will kill you. And they will kill the ecosystem, dooming your children and your children’s children. They are too stupid and too blind to see that they will perish with the rest of us. So either you rise up and supplant them, either you dismantle the corporate state, for a world of sanity, a world where we no longer kneel before the absurd idea that the demands of financial markets should govern human behavior, or we are frog-marched toward self-annihilation. 

Those on the streets around Wall Street are the physical embodiment of hope. They know that hope has a cost, that it is not easy or comfortable, that it requires self-sacrifice and discomfort and finally faith. * * * They have tasted fear, been beaten, gone to jail, been blinded by pepper spray, cried, hugged each other, laughed, sung, talked too long in general assemblies, seen their chants drift upward to the office towers above them, wondered if it is worth it, if anyone cares, if they will win.

But as long as they remain steadfast they point the way out of the corporate labyrinth. This is what it means to be alive. They are the best among us. [3]

Spiritus Mundi is now giving voice to an increasingly urgent command: “Break away.  Create new institutions. Find a new path, and new leaders with new worldviews, because the old order is doomed.”  That is, survival of the bottom 99% — Occupy Wall Street’s ubiquitous “Other 99%” (almost everyone) — is doomed under the old order, and of course the top 1% will come crashing down upon it, as Hedges points out.  Which is why a few god-like falcons and vultures are already beginning to leave the protection of the Sphinx to wheel nervously above the frantic, chaotic flock of desert birds, urging them on.

Protests are springing up around the country, including New York’s Capital District.  [4]  I have to keep reminding myself, because it all seems so far-fetched:  They represent and fight for us, for all of us. What Occupy Wall Street has started must not stop.  I have rebelled against this kind of pessimistic, nihilistic thinking before, but I say this now with confidence and conviction.

As the sign in the above photo implies, America must save itself, and for that to happen the American people must be saved from themselves.  So each of us must stay connected, and fight off ignorance and misunderstanding.  We are fighting amongst ourselves, and those internal conflicts must be quieted before the Sphinx can be conquered.

The old order has already passed.  Now, the treasured images of my youth of American righteousness, wisdom, and exceptionalism are shimmering mirages, fading in the desert air.  The unmistakable, irrefutable evidence is in, but it’s still only dimly perceived as it hangs in the gathering cloud of the approaching storm.

It’s time to peer deeply into the cloud and discover its secrets.  For only the truth can set us free.

Today I must go to the hospital for a long-scheduled operation.  But for that, I would be on a bus to New York City to join the October 5 assembly of Occupy Wall Street.  I regret missing that chance, and as I fall under the spell of anesthesia I will be thinking of you.  When I come back, I will peer again into the cloud.

Parting Thoughts, for Now

The scene of the crime is littered with more and more evidence all the time.  The economy will not respond to low interest rates, and more and more economists are concluding that there simply is not enough money in the domestic economy of the bottom 99%.  As Robert Reich keeps saying, the well is dry. 

If we are looking at the budget problem properly, it is easy to see that the problem is not “too much government spending.”  The problem is too much Wall Street hoarding (something like $3.5 trillion of bank reserves and retained earnings so far, as I understand it).  So small businesses keep failing and governments keep trimming their budgets.  People keep losing their jobs and their homes.  And the young and newly educated keep losing their futures.  We keep moving in the wrong direction.

Here is the salient fact of our predicament:  the obscene and continuing growth of inequality of incomes and wealth.  The exportation of capital and labor to other failing countries around the world is a serious drain that must be corrected, but that’s only part of the answer.  The other, in my view larger, part of the answer must be the return of the proper role of government in our economy. 

We will need a major increase in government spending in America.  Reversing the evaporation of the middle class, and halting the growth of poverty and America’s forced march into depression, will require a major transfusion of money, stopping the drain of incomes and jobs which is already well out of hand.

We will have to re-regulate.  A fundamental structural problem that needs far more substantive attention is the banking crisis.   Any system that is “too big to fail” cannot properly be allowed to dominate.  The answer is not too hard to grasp, though only a few (e.g., Ellen Brown) have emphasized the point:  The banks, and the money supply, must belong to all the people.  We need a public banking and monetary system. 

Under the current system, the interest on our federal debt is like a private tax on the money supply.  In fact, the view from 5,000 feet might suggest that the entire economy is rented to the bottom 99% by the top 1%.  But why should they have that unrestrained privilege?  When we oppose their unfettered control, we’re told we’re “socialists,” engaged in “class warfare,” and the Sphinx worshipers quickly draw together to condemn us.

Can we now see how absurd this is? 

Everyone involved with Occupy Wall Street believes this, I think.  We’re on the right track, but we still have much to learn.  Of course we want a free market, and the questions are real, not semantic ones: You can call it what you want, but “of the people, by the people, for the people” works for me.  If, because it involves substantial government involvement in the economy, you 1%-ers feel you must call it “socialism,” then so be it.  And what, then, may we call an unconstrained government run by you 1%-ers, you bankers, you too-big-to-fail Wall Streeters?  Well, that’s easy: The word for that has always been “fascism.”

So hang in there, Occupy Wall Street.  The time has come for Occupy the Nation.

JMH – 10/5/11

_____

[1] A New Era of Volatility, by Rana Foroohar, Time Magazine, October 10, 2011. (Emphasis added.)

[2] I have felt the presence of Spiritus Mundi before, as when I opened Keynes’ “General Theory” a few months ago for the first time in forty years, and back at Michigan Law School forty years ago, too, when my seminar paper on the compatibility of price stability and full employment was guest-reviewed by the great Gardner Ackley, an honor I will never forget.

[3] The Best Among Us, by Chris Hedges, Nation of Change, Op-ed, October 1, 2001.

[4] Wall Street protest group takes root in Albany, by Larry Rulison Business writer, Updated 08:02 a.m., October 4, 2011.

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