The Siege of Wall Street

by THOMAS H. NAYLOR

The most compelling take away image from a visit to Zuccotti Park, home of the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement, is the almost unbelievable amount of global energy emanating from such a tiny plot of real estate.  How is it possible for the ideas of so few people camped out in a nondescript park in lower Manhattan to spread to hundreds of towns and cities in dozens of countries worldwide giving rise to an international revolt against Wall Street, Corporate America, and the American Empire in just one month?  What has happened there is truly amazing!

What is at stake is nothing less than the fate of two intertwined world class lies – the myth of American exceptionalism and the myth of global capitalism.

“We are the greatest nation in the world,” so say most Americans, “the home of the free and the land of the brave.”  But the message from Liberty Plaza is, “What about the materialism, the greed, the inequality, the unemployment, the poverty, the environmental degradation, the racism, the cronyism, the corruption, the militarism, and the violence?”

The Occupy Wall Street movement is the moral equivalent of the complete and utter denunciation of the myth of American exceptionalism.  The message is loud and clear, “The emperor truly has no clothes.”  It’s all a big lie!

That this message has gone viral on the Internet should come as a surprise to no one.  The only surprise is why it took so long to do so.

Not only is the American dream under attack by OWS but the entire American way of life as well.  America’s image abroad has taken a huge hit.  It was not by chance alone that President Barack Obama recently announced that all U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by yearend.

Also under siege by the OWS movement is the myth of globalization.  Globalization refers to the integrated international system of mass production, mass marketing, mass distribution, mass consumption, mega financial institutions, and global communications.  Such a network of markets, transnational companies, and information technologies effectively eliminates the need for national political boundaries, since money, capital, goods, services, and people flow freely across national borders.  Political and economic power are transferred from nation-states to transnational megacompanies accountable only to themselves.

Not surprisingly, Wall Street and Corporate America have declared that globalization is good.  Economists justify globalization on the basis of the so called “trickle down effect,” in which the benefits of global trade to the superwealthy are said to eventually trickle down to the poor.

To support globalization and to minimize public scrutiny, government regulation, and the possibility of prosecution Wall Street created a Frankenstein-like monster financial system.  It consists of a complex, ingenious, international network of hedge funds, derivative contracts, credit default swaps, and exchange-traded funds all based on sophisticated mathematical models.  This greed driven maze is supported by a network of interconnected financial institutions linking every country to every other country and everyone to everyone else.  So complex is this unwieldy behemoth that literally no one understands how the separate components fit together. So long as it worked and Wall Street was enjoying unprecedented prosperity, no one complained.  But once the system was broken, neither Wall Street, the Federal Reserve Bank, nor the Treasury knew how to fix it.  As the Federal Government began pumping hundreds of billions of dollars of bailout funds into the system, no one wanted to acknowledge that it was simply too big, too complex, too inflexible, and too conducive to mismanagement and fraud.

Wall Street protestors and their international collaborators have also figured out that the trickle down effect of globalization is a sham – a fantasy given academic legitimacy by University of Chicago economists and vigorously promoted by the last five U.S. presidents starting with Reagan.  The problem with this remarkably oversold, egregious system is that the rich get richer worldwide and the poor get poorer.  It also encourages the dehumanization of labor and Wal-Mart like race-to-the-bottom wages and fringe benefits.

By exposing the fraudulent nature of American exceptionalism and globalization and broadcasting it to the rest of the world, the Occupy Wall Street movement has taken on a life of its own.  Could it become the American equivalent of the Polish Solidarity movement or the Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution?

It is hardly surprising that the protestors have been denied access to Wall Street itself by the New York Police Department.  One can only imagine the international impact of several thousand demonstrators in front of the New York Stock Exchange, the icon of global capitalism.  Such an event has the potential to spawn the moral and political equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  Just as the collapse of the Berlin Wall signaled the end of communism, so too could a group of Wall Street demonstrators completely destabilize global markets sending a chilling effect through the entire international financial system by temporarily blocking the entrance to the New York Stock Exchange.  It would matter not that the Exchange has backup facilities elsewhere.  The symbolism would be truly monumental in scope.

What started with a bunch of scruffy, New York hippies sleeping in an obscure park and ridiculed by most of the media, has evolved into what could become a global game changing force.  OWS is no longer kid’s stuff, and no one understands this better than New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  The real question is what happens when the White House and the Congress figure this out too?

Thomas H. Naylor is Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of AffluenzaDownsizing the U.S.A., and The Search for Meaning.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal
Bill Yousman
The Fire This Time: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Scott Parkin
Katrina Plus Ten: Climate Justice in Action
Michael Welton
The Conversable World: Finding a Compass in Post-9/11 Times