Occupy Wall Street and Economic Justice

May 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

This month’s meeting on May 31 will address the question: “If Occupy is the answer, what was the question?”   Joining us as special guests whose life experiences and training have given them unique insight into real world economic issues:  Brandon Everest, sociology professor at NMC;  Morgan Burke-Beyers and Matt Szymanski, members of Occupy TC; and Carey Waldie, pastor, pilot, and author of several books, including Pursuing the Best : The How’s and Why’s of Living Life to the Fullest.

In preparation for the meeting I will be posting links to articles and stories relevant to the topic of economics.  This week, I am providing an overview of the Occupy Movement, a number of links both pro and con, and several articles addressing economic questions of morality and justice.

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OVERVIEW:

 From Wikipedia: 

Occupy Wall Street is a protest that began on September 17, 2011 in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City’sWall Street financial district. The protest was initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters and has led to Occupy protests and movements around the world. The main issues are social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government—particularly from the financial services sector. The OWS slogan, We are the 99%, addresses the growing income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. To achieve their goals protesters act on consensus-based decision-through what OWS calls a “general assembly”-to affect “direct action” instead of petitioning authorities for redress.

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PRO

The home page of the movement: occupywallstreet.org.

 ”Occupy Wall Street is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to fight back against the richest 1% of people that are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.”

The home page of occupy together.org.

“What does #occupy want?  To end the monetized relationship between corrupt politicians and corporate criminals. To end profit-driven policies. We believe our grievances are connected and rooted in corrosive corporate influences. We want a system that operates in the interest of the people.”

From The Guardian: “The Call to Occupy Wall Street Resonates Around the World.”

“There is a shared feeling on the streets around the world that the global economy is a Ponzi scheme run by and for Big Finance. People everywhere are waking up to the realisation that there is something fundamentally wrong with [the] system…”

The Huffington Post also has a page dedicated to the Occupy  movement.

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CON

From Reason Magazine“What Occupy Wall Street Gets Wrong.”

“The conviction among OWS activists is that the rich have improved their lot by taking money from the not so rich—that wealth has been cruelly redistributed upward. What they overlook is that the real gains come from the creation of new wealth.”

From The Washington Times:“Occupy Wall Street – The Problem is Government.”

“The occupiers are right to be angry at the system that has let them down, and in some cases kept them down, but they incorrectly lay the blame with capitalism and the free-market.”

From the LA Times: “Three Inconvenient Truths for Occupy Wall Street.”

“The Occupiers are right about American incomes: They’ve definitely grown more unequal. But this fact presents three inconvenient truths for the Occupy Wall Street movement.”

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PRO/CON DEBATE

From “The Debate Room” at businessweek.com: “Occupy Wall Street: The Right Focus?”

“Occupy Wall Street protesters are wise to focus on unequal income distribution-such as the outsize gains reaped by financial-industry companies. Pro or con?”

From “black/white,” a website looking to give the pro/con on issues.  Their topic here is: “Pro/con: Is Occupy Wall Street Effective?”

“Occupy Wall Street’s mid-September protests In New York City’s Financial District gained momentum and inspired numerous “Occupy” movements. The groups operate under the mantra, “We are the 99 percent.” Members of the grassroots movements have camped out in parks and public areas in over 1,500 cities around the world. They strive to lower corporate influence in the democratic process and combat the inequality that leaves the richest one percent with more net worth than the rest of the population combined. Many Americans have questioned, however, whether these movements bring about real change.”

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ETHICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL DISCUSSION OF THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT

Interesting article by a philosopher and an ethics professor concerning what the Occupy movement reveals about cultural shifts: “Kids Today: Occupy Wall Street is part of a major shift in ethical behavior among young people.

From the National Review: “What’s Wrong With Economic Justice?”

“At a minimum, they seem to be demanding a universal entitlement to ‘affordable’ housing, medical care, higher education, jobs that pay a “living wage,” and a comfortable, early retirement. If people have a “right” to these goods and services, it follows that other people must have an obligation to provide them. That would be the rich — the 1 percent who are being demonized as undeserving, greedy, and selfish.”

From Michael Sandel in The Guardian: “Towards a Just Society.”

” One of the most striking tendencies of our time is the expansion of markets and market-orientated reasoning into spheres of life traditionally governed by non-market norms. Consider the outsourcing of war to private contractors; the rise of commercial surrogate pregnancy; the growing use of market incentives to motivate students and teachers; the advent of for-profit prisons. These questions are not only about utility and consent. They are also about the right ways of valuing key social practices – military service, child-bearing, teaching and learning, criminal punishment, and so on. As marketising social practices may corrupt or degrade the norms that define them, we need to ask what non-market norms we want to protect from market intrusion. We need public debate about the moral limits of markets.”

 

What Money Can’t Buy

May 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

Michael Sandel, a very popular Harvard ethicist whose class on Justice has been broadcast on BBC and PBS,  is speaking at the Opera House tonight (thanks, National Writers Series).  If you have not read What Money Can’t Buy, I highly recommend it.  This month’s etcetera meeting involves issues surrounding economic justice in America; if you have a chance to read his book or hear him tonight, I’m sure Mr. Sandel will give us a lot to think and talk about on the 31st.

What follows is an excerpt from  an article in the Daily Beast about both Sandel and his latest book:

“It’s true that he cuts an unprepossessing figure: a slight, trim man who wears a suit and tie when he teaches. Yet he’s a quick and creative thinker—as president of his high-school class in California, he got then-governor Ronald Reagan to address the school by sending him a six-pound bag of jelly beans, Reagan’s favorite candy.

In a small irony, Sandel’s jelly-bean gesture is a form of incentive, one of the things he challenges in his new
book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. The book takes on what Sandel calls the “imperialism” of economic ideas. He thinks we’re in thrall to markets and use them to answer questions that markets aren’t meant to answer. “We are in the grip of a way of looking at the world and social life and even personal relations that is dominated by economic ways of thinking. That’s an impoverished way of looking at the world,” he says.

One would expect Wall Street to figure prominently in this book, but What Money Can’t Buy says almost nothing about it. Instead, he challenges all of us to look at how we’ve allowed markets to pervade our public life. He argues that the spread of market philosophy has created what he calls “a consumerist idea of freedom,” in which we think our highest freedom is what we consume. Our obsession with consumption limits our freedom to engage in a full civic life.”