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Occupy The World – OWS Goes Global

Protests at least loosely affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement were conducted around the globe yesterday; with the glaring exception of Rome, they were mostly peaceful.

NYT (“Buoyed by Wall St. Protests, Rallies Sweep the Globe“):

Buoyed by the longevity of the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Manhattan, a wave of protests swept across Asia, the Americas and Europe on Saturday, with hundreds and in some cases thousands of people expressing discontent with the economic tides in marches, rallies and occasional clashes with the police.

In Rome, a rally thick with tension spread over several miles. Small groups of restive young people turned a largely peaceful protest into a riot, setting fire to at least one building and a police van and clashing with police officers, who responded with water cannons and tear gas. The police estimated that dozens of protesters had been injured, along with 26 law enforcement officials; 12 people were arrested.

[…]

Other than Rome’s, the demonstrations across Europe were largely peaceful, with thousands of people marching past ancient monuments and gathering in front of capitalist symbols like the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Similar scenes unfolded across cities on several continents, including in Sydney, Australia; Tokyo; Hong Kong; Toronto; Chicago; and Los Angeles, where several thousand people marched to City Hall as passing drivers honked their support.

But just as the rallies in New York have represented a variety of messages — signs have been held in opposition to President Obama yards away from signs in support of him — so did Saturday’s protests contain a grab bag of sentiments, opposing nuclear power, political corruption and the privatization of water.

Yet despite the difference in language, landscape and scale, the protests were united in frustration with the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

“I have no problem with capitalism,” Herbert Haberl, 51, said in Berlin. “But I find the way the financial system is functioning deeply unethical . We shouldn’t bail out the banks. We should bail out the people.”

Regular OTB commenter Michael Reynolds took his family to the San Francisco rally and reports a respectful, poorly organized affair:

I have no idea how many people were there. It seems like a lot when you’re in the middle of a crowd but I couldn’t get a perspective.

The crowd was about what you’d expect for SF — for the real SF, not the parody. The crowd struck me as about 40% 20-somethings, another 40% 30-somethings, the rest older. I supplied the only two kids I saw. Mostly white, some African-Americans and Asians.

The dress was Gap/Timberland/Eddie Bauer. Not fashionable but clean. Maybe 5% were your basic dreadlocked hippie street people.

The mood was not angry in the least. The chanting came and went and was basically pretty unimaginative. The signs were probably 75% on-topic with the rest being a grab-bag of nonsense. My favorite: “I’ll believe Corporations are People When Texas Executes One.”

They marched from the bottom of Market to Union Square (where we joined) and down Market to City Hall. At that point, unfortunately, the speeches started and I was trapped in a group of seated protesters. The PA system was crap so the audience tried repeating what was said aloud, phrase by increasingly tedious phrase.

Some guy in suspenders and the obligatory unfortunate facial hair who I didn’t catch much of — I was playing thumb war with my daughter. Followed by some idiot of a middle-aged woman talking utter nonsense ranging from something to do with slaves and Native Americans then on to free rivers and from there to assorted other silliness. By this point the crowd had thinned. No one was paying much attention.

When the woman finally shut up we all leapt to our feet — quite a few of us were too old to be sitting on concrete — and my family and I made off.

The mood throughout was good-natured, elaborately polite, kind, and often witty and humorous.

The local ABC affiliate interviewed my wife — probably on grounds that she was wearing an eye-catching blue shirt, and then my son, probably because he was the only high school kid there.

The police were professional, the demonstrators were in no way violent or provocative.

Getting European youth into the street to protest government austerity or, well, just about anything isn’t that hard. It’s pretty routine and, unfortunately, too often violent. But this seems like something beyond the usual suspects. Nick Kristof, who continues to draw analogies with the Arab Awakening, tries to explain:

There’s a parallel sense that the political/economic system is tilted against the 99 percent. Al Gore, who supports the Wall Street protests, described them perfectly as a “primal scream of democracy.”

The frustration in America isn’t so much with inequality in the political and legal worlds, as it was in Arab countries, although those are concerns too. Here the critical issue is economic inequity. According to the C.I.A.’s own ranking of countries by income inequality, the United States is more unequal a society than either Tunisia or Egypt.

Three factoids underscore that inequality:

¶The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.

¶The top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

¶In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent.

As my Times colleague Catherine Rampell noted a few days ago, in 1981, the average salary in the securities industry in New York City was twice the average in other private sector jobs. At last count, in 2010, it was 5.5 times as much. (In case you want to gnash your teeth, the average is now $361,330.)

More broadly, there’s a growing sense that lopsided outcomes are a result of tycoons’ manipulating the system, lobbying for loopholes and getting away with murder. Of the 100 highest-paid chief executives in the United States in 2010, 25 took home more paythan their company paid in federal corporate income taxes, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.

Living under Communism in China made me a fervent enthusiast of capitalism. I believe that over the last couple of centuries banks have enormously raised living standards in the West by allocating capital to more efficient uses. But anyone who believes in markets should be outraged that banks rig the system so that they enjoy profits in good years and bailouts in bad years.

Now, I think Kristof and others overstate the coherence of the movement; most of those occupying Wall Street or whatever street don’t know those statistics. But there is a frustration, not just in America but throughout the developed world, that ordinary folks are being squeezed by the rich–and particularly the barons of the financial system. Not only did their excesses help wreck the global economy but taxpayers were expected to bail them out–and then endure cuts in their safety nets as austerity measures were put in place to pay for the bailouts and the decreased revenue streams caused by the recession.

Interestingly, though, most of those other countries have powerful parties of the left and even their conservative parties embrace a far higher degree of socialism than do our Democrats, who would be radically conservative in most of the world. Nor do those countries have the same sort of expensive election campaigns as the United States, which make it easy for wealthy donors to rig the game. And, of course, they have radically higher taxes and much less income inequality.

So, the Europeans, Japanese, and Australians–who have systems that would be politically unthinkable in the United States–have essentially the same complaints about the system as the protestors here. This reinforces both my sense that this movement is something real and that there’s not a whole hell of a lot that can be done to address the frustrations that have spawned it.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    What I like about the Kristof piece are the numbers. Heh, I guess that’s my usual mode. But still, those bullet points should matter. Something like this, even ignoring right and wrong for a moment, seems outlandish:

    In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent.

    Why the heck would 65 percent of a nation’s economic gains, be so concentrated?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  2. G.A.Phillips says:

    And Beck told you so……

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  3. anjin-san says:

    In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent.

    What was it Bush once said? Oh yes, “The haves, and the have mores. My base.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. Joerg says:

    “Getting European youth into the street to protest government austerity or, well, just about anything isn’t that hard. It’s pretty routine and, unfortunately, too often violent.”

    Strikes me as a bit of an exaggeration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. john personna says:

    @anjin-san:

    Conservatives of the era certainly thought the expansion was good … but I think the system had to be in place before Bush for it to work out that way.

    Do you remember the poll, about a year ago, where they asked people to guess American inequality, and then showed them the real one? We center and left thought it was really significant, that people thought they lived in a more distributed society than they do.

    I think this 65% number is like that. If you ask people, especially people of the small business entrepreneurial class which form the core of the right, how much of new wealth goes to the top 1%, I bet they’d guess something like 20% at most. That would be a recognition that the rich get richer, but it wouldn’t be crazy.

    65% is crazy. It means that those hard working middle class entrepreneurs are only collecting a minority of new wealth. That’s probably not where they think they are living.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  6. steve says:

    I hope that this stays focused upon the financial sector. That is the source of our current crisis, and the source of a lot of our long term problems. I also have some (minimal) hopes that something good comes out of the libertarian involvement in these protests. I think that the left and the libertarians both understand that it is at the nexus of business and government that we have big problems.

    Libertarians want to handle this by making government smaller. The left by making government stronger. Perhaps they can both take a step back and agree on measures that weaken the influence of the extremely wealthy. If you believe in markets, surely you understand the inherent problem with concentrating too much of the market’s decision making into the hands of too few people.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    The financial system is collapsing under it’s own weight of greed and incompetence. OWS may speed up the inevitable by making it more difficult for anymore bailouts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  8. Terrye says:

    I hear the American Nazi party has joined onto the cause.

    People wanting something for nothing. Needless to say, it is a universal desire. Gimme Gimme Gimme.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 16

  9. Terrye says:

    @Ron Beasley: What about the greed of the protestors? Is there some God given right to free stuff? Right now in this country..about 48.5% of the population gets some kind of support from the federal government and that government gets most of its money from the much despised wealth creating class.

    In Europe, people get even more free stuff. Greece is not going down because a few people were greedy, Greece is collapsing because the entire country wanted something for nothing.

    What about that kind of greed? What part does it play in this global temper tantrum?

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 17

  10. anjin-san says:

    wealth creating class.

    Is your thinking really this simple? Are you really so happy to repeat Fox talking points?

    Some rich people create a lot of jobs. My boss is one of them. Others are just living off the fat of their trust funds.

    I have a couple of hispanic guys working out in the yard today. They work pretty damn hard, and every time they put in a 12 hour day, they create a little tiny bit of wealth. Add up the work of millions and millions of workers like them, and you are engaging in some pretty respectable wealth creation.

    When will the average folks on the right realize that kissing the asses of the rich is not going to get them any love?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  11. anjin-san says:

    Tell me Terrye, is Angelo Mozilo one of your “wealth creators”? How about Kerry Killinger? Do you even know who they are? Wealth destroyers is more like it, though they both walked away from the disasters they created very flush indeed.

    The heard instinct on the right to grovel before wealth never ceases to amaze me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  12. Nikki says:

    When will the average folks on the right realize that kissing the asses of the rich is not going to get them any love?

    When the rioting begins and they finally realize that they aren’t on the list of the protected “wealth creators.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. john personna says:

    @Terrye:

    Right now in this country..about 48.5% of the population gets some kind of support from the federal government and that government gets most of its money from the much despised wealth creating class.

    I’m pretty sure that 100% of the population gets some kind of support. We all eat subsidized food, right? I don’t know about you, but my house runs on subsidized nuclear energy, in part.

    I know you like that 48.5% number, but someone is narrowing things down there … and if this is your data, you aren’t really reporting it right:

    Nearly Half of U.S. Lives in Household Receiving Government Benefit

    If say a family has a kid getting a free school lunch then that family is in the 48.5%

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  14. ponce says:

    about 48.5% of the population gets some kind of support from the federal government and that government gets most of its money from the much despised wealth creating class.

    Terrye,

    Since 2008, your laughably named “wealth creating class” has received far more welfare from the government than the rest of us have.

    When will the average folks on the right realize that kissing the asses of the rich is not going to get them any love?

    The right wing lower classes can’t help themselves, they are natural born peasants.

    Their addiction to prostrating themselves before their betters is in their genes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  15. john personna says:

    @Terrye:

    Right now in this country..about 48.5% of the population gets some kind of support from the federal government and that government gets most of its money from the much despised wealth creating class.

    Oh, and let’s definitely look at that “creating wealth” think in terms of the 65% I discuss above. Even if they are totally responsible for the “creation” (unlikely), they sure are keeping it. They collect 65% of new wealth in the 1%, and only 35% of it flows to the 99%.

    You want trickle-down? Just 35% of the new wealth made it out of the 1%, and that third had to be shared between 99% of the population.

    What did the median income earner snare of that new wealth? Nothing. Their net income declined.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  16. bandit says:

    But there is a frustration, not just in America but throughout the developed world, that ordinary folks are being squeezed by the rich

    Maybe so but OWS and kindred protesters ust want more handouts and the chance to live in perpetual adolescence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 13

  17. ponce says:

    Maybe so but OWS and kindred protesters ust want more handouts and the chance to live in perpetual adolescence.

    I see the fringe right pushing that Koch-developed meme, but it doesn’t seem to be sticking anywhere but the usual wingnut cesspools.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  18. john personna says:

    @bandit:

    Maybe so but OWS and kindred protesters ust want more handouts and the chance to live in perpetual adolescence.

    Would, say, limiting corporate lobbying and increasing the top tax rate (while keeping it below historic highs) really be the same as “perpetual adolescence?”

    I think the problem for the 1% is that that dog won’t hunt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  19. James Joyner says:

    @Joerg: Not in much of southern Europe. Greece, Spain, and Italy, in particular seem to have semi-regular rioting. And France and the UK get massive protests all the time, even when relatively benign and obvious policies are enacted.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. Trumwill says:

    The protests finally hit the “city” near where I live. It’s actually a bit surprising that it took this long consider it’s hard-left economic bent. I’ve been kind of waiting for it to happen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. ponce says:

    The financial system is collapsing under it’s own weight of greed and incompetence.

    I would not condemn our entire financial industry.

    My credit union is outstanding, as is my insurance company.

    My current bank(*cough* US Bank*cough*), however, is about to lose my business after 35 years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. bandit says:

    ” We want free college”

    “We want forgiveness of all student debt”

    “We want a social wage (livelong welfare)”

    “We want a living wage for all work (not that we’re ever going to do any)”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

  23. Tlaloc says:

    Maybe so but OWS and kindred protesters ust want more handouts and the chance to live in perpetual adolescence.

    I find it amusing that the right’s position seems to be “nobody knows what OWS wants because they don’t know” AND “Obviously the OWS demands are all about getting free handouts.”

    Here’s a clue guys- if you want to set a narrative, don’t pick two conflicting ones.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  24. anjin-san says:

    Well Bandit, you may have a future as a “conservative”. Everything you just said was complete and total BS. Keep up the good work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  25. Ben Wolf says:

    @bandit

    Actually OWS wants to stop having its wages taken and given to profits.

    It wants to end a system which extends trillions of dollars to ensure the wealthy stay that way.

    It wants to outlaw the derivatives trade, where debt is bought and sold so many times no amount of productive growth can ever service it.

    It wants a return to the grant-based system for education and an end to the debt-based system we enacted so that banks could make greater profits.

    It wants an end to the criminogenic environment on Wall Street which incentivizes activities harmful to the country.

    And it wants money out of politics, something the Tea Party stood for until it became a platform for billionaires who want more money flooding the system.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  26. So, the Europeans, Japanese, and Australians–who have systems that would be politically unthinkable in the United States–have essentially the same complaints about the system as the protestors here.

    Yes, James, but the European protests are a response to the austerity measures taken by most European governments over the past several years. It’s precisely those austerity measures that conservatives in the U.S. have been praising and holding up as proof that European-style social democracy has failed and is terribly, terribly unpopular.

    I’m not necessarily including you among that group of U.S. conservatives — I don’t know one way or the other if you share that view. But I think you surely must be aware of it. So it doesn’t make much sense to say that Europeans are engaging in the same protests when their social and economic policies are so much farther to the left than ours, when it’s the very fact that European governments are moving AWAY from those policies that is causing the unrest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  27. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @steve: I think you are wrong about the libertarians. My sense is that libertarians care very little about economic inequality and are mostly driven by objectivist philosophical agendas where their concerns about society at large are overshadowed by their concerns for themselves. This self-centeredness is common among all of us, but it is particularly apparent among libertarians I know. Once they can toke up freely, drive as fast as they want to, and get their taxes lowered, the world will have met their expectations. If others are still poor and struggling to survive, well that is unfortunate, but as Rand said, our actions cannot affect the conditions of others, we can only affect ourselves.

    Being concerned about others will only diminish our own success.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  28. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @bandit: Interesting comment about living wages. Adam Smith assumed that all wages were living level wages as workers would not willingly work for less than subsistence. It’s taken 350 or so years, but we’ve finally beaten that expectation out of people. Good Call there!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  29. jan says:

    @ponce:

    The right wing lower classes can’t help themselves, they are natural born peasants.Their addiction to prostrating themselves before their betters is in their genes.

    And, from that comment, some of the left wing must be addicted to the practice of condescension. Every once in a while a few of you show your real colors. And, it’s not attractive. A couple slips have occurred today, alone, dropping the mask of social progressives for what some really are — an unsufferable superiority complex over others.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

  30. ponce says:

    an unsufferable superiority complex

    I hadn’t thought of it that way, Jan.

    But now that you mention it, the Republican Kapos who sell their neighbors out to a corrupt aristocracy in the mistaken belief that get some reward for their treason are pretty lousy people.

    It’s why the Tea Party is so despised by normal Americans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  31. David M says:

    @Terrye: 48.5% gets some support from the federal government…seems quite low.

    Social Security?
    Medicare?
    Medicaid?
    401k / IRA tax deduction?
    Home mortgage tax deduction?
    Charitable donation tax deduction?
    Employer / self employed health insurance tax deduction?
    FDIC insurance?

    Seems like it’s more likely than not basically everyone receives federal support of some kind, so I’m not sure your post really proved very much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. Gerry W. says:

    @Just nutha ig’rant cracker:

    So maybe you support an oligarchy. Maybe you don’t care about people losing jobs to 2 billion cheap laborers. Seems like that is what the right says all the time, including the Tea Party. I have never seen such an arrogant and ignorant bunch on the right. What kind of country do you want?

    Yes, it is unfortunate for those that are poor and struggling to survive. Thanks for putting nothing on the plate. And that goes for the rest of the idiots running for office.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  33. A voice from another precinct says:

    @Gerry W.: Cracker is sorry that you don’t recognize snark when you see it. Cracker will try to do better next time. In the meantime, thanks for seeing his point!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  34. Davebo says:

    Not in much of southern Europe. Greece, Spain, and Italy, in particular seem to have semi-regular rioting. And France and the UK get massive protests all the time, even when relatively benign and obvious policies are enacted.

    Interesting James.. When was the last time you were in Western Europe?

    Atlantic Council indeed… “I’ve been to Atlanta,,,,?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  35. Brainster says:

    Kristof wrote: “As my Times colleague Catherine Rampell noted a few days ago, in 1981, the average salary in the securities industry in New York City was twice the average in other private sector jobs. At last count, in 2010, it was 5.5 times as much.”

    Anybody who knows anything about statistics knows that you don’t average salaries; rather you take the median.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. john personna says:

    @Brainster:

    A median would add to the discussion, but for year over year change, average works. It shows the change in total income captured by the group.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. Bob says:

    Those of us old enought to remember the 1960s as thinking adults ( not recent college grads ) remember the Days of Rage initiated by the Weather Undeground. OWS is a misnomer, the real name of what is happening id DAYS OF RAGE, check out the web site and see the cast of characters. Notice the same symbol as in the Weather Underground. Ayers and Dorn and the other revolutionaries of the 1960s never stopped planning and organizing.

    This is a real Maerxist revolution trying to reach critical mass. Just as we saw in Egypt, the public face is not threatening. Then the real revolutionaries took over behind the scenes. This is going to get bloody, listen to the words of those speaking, not the useful fools sent out to be the public face of the demonstration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  38. Ben Wolf says:

    This is a real Maerxist revolution trying to reach critical mass.

    Let me guess: you used your super-powers to read the minds of everyone there and found their secret stash of Das Kapital. Gee, however did the world survive this long without you, Mega Man?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  39. bandit says:

    “Obviously the OWS demands are all about getting free handouts.”

    “Everything you just said was complete and total BS.”

    Those are from the signs at Occupy Boston.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  40. Nikki says:

    Of course it’s going to get bloody. The promise is there every time the police rachet up an event to try to provoke a response on which they can crack down. The oligarchs have already paid for the NYPD to do their bidding. It’s just a matter of time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. john personna says:

    @Bob:

    Nobody is a Marxist anymore.

    That said, what would it take to make you one? Right now it says the richest 400 Americans have as much wealth as the bottom 150 million (with an ‘m’). When they have as much as the bottom 200 million do you start to worry? Or do you wait for 300 million?

    Let’s remember that the theory of the market, and the invisible hand, is that it helps everybody.

    Something strange has already happened when a seemingly free market yields these disproportionate results. We need to understand and correct it, before the real Marxists do come back.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  42. Nikki says:

    Have you read the Marie Antoinette-type op-ed columns the NYT has been producing? These people are so tone deaf, it is astounding! Then they will have the gall to act all shocked when the pitchforks and torches come parading down their streets.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  43. Nikki says:

    Right now it says the richest 400 Americans have as much wealth as the bottom 150 million (with an ‘m’)

    This is actually incorrect. They hold more.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  44. john personna says:

    @Nikki:

    I don’t think those data sets are actually incompatible. There are about 115M households in the US, and so 400 is the top 0.0003%.

    Thanks for that link though. The Estimated and Actual charts at the top are important.

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  45. An Interested Party says:

    Something strange has already happened when a seemingly free market yields these disproportionate results. We need to understand and correct it, before the real Marxists do come back.

    That’s always been an argument in favor of FDR…that he saved the system before the real Marxists/Communists/etc. stepped in…how long do people think that the current economic imbalance in this country will last before large groups of people start to cause real damage…

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