Occupy Economics Debate – Occupiers Respond

 

The New Putney Debate’s session on social banking and Andy Haldane’s speech in particular have ignited intense discussions amongst Occupy supporters. Here are a selection of voices and opinions responding to ideas provoked by the debate…

 

“We need a day of action against debt and for real democracy in my opinion. Something that works nationally and crucially Europe-wide but also that could go global. [...] Cancel the debts, tax the banks and bring in a new (and democratic) economic and political system.”

 

“There’s a lot that one could quibble about here – Occupy as poster child for reformism? Financial reformation presented as radical change? Morality as the core of the problem? But considering the origin of these quotes (Bank of England), this is absolutely [expletive] awesome.”

 

“This still feels like Bank of England PR – with him suggesting Lloyds and Barclays are going to return to their Quaker roots and what, all of a sudden become ethical banks again? Still, not bad PR for us. At least now we can affirmatively respond to anyone who asks what it is that we have actually achieved, that we are credited by a BoE director as stirring the reform of finance.”

 

“Challenge them to do more then hang themselves from us. The first follow-up now would surely be, What section of which statement will they be tackling first? Is it the one about people before profit, the one calling for democracy? Make them stand by their words, or show them for the liars they would appear to be.”

 

“Paraphrase to: ‘Bank of England says anti-capitalism morally and intellectually right.’ I’m rather liking the Telegraph’s insistence and persistence in calling Occupy anti-capitalist in this context, despite all attempts to dissuade them from doing so… it makes this headline so much sweeter. (Of course, it’s all flannel; like greenwash, only Occupy-wash, but it’s still sweet.)”

 

“This week on a weekday, an action I would love to see is a news stand with Occupy Was Right says Bank of England on the sandwich board. Complete with megaphone toting vendor, “READ ALL ABOUT IT”, and  a stand with copies of the Little Book of Ideas, loads of initial statement leaflets and the OT. And of course the Occupy banner. We need alternatives, this is where we work towards them.”

 

“The crowd seemed confident. Hands were up all the time. It’s a funny dynamic, them using us to push vacuous reforms, us using them to challenge the nature of the institutions pushing the reforms. It’s worth thinking about how to promote our critique of the system through this event. What is our message?”

 

“What I got out of it. People in the panel and the big and diverse audience saying:”Occupy you were right, but the forces that will oppose change are so strong so please keep on fighting! We need you!” Let’s be conscious about the support we have, understand the resources we can work from…and focus on what are our strengths and potentials in creating this change. Very proud of Occupy tonight, but even more conscious of what powers we are up against, and a bit suspicious about all this positive media and attention.”

 

“What was significant about Haldane’s speech tonight was not his remarks on bank reform.  Mood music-wise, his emphasis was more optimistic (“complacent”) than previous speeches – i.e. he didn’t this time pointedly suggest the ring-fence was insufficient (but it doesn’t matter, he has lots of other times), nor say how we need to break up the banks to a fifteenth of their current size (but again, he’s already done that).

What was significant was in linking inequality to the debt crisis – not only as effect but cause.  That macro-context is something he can less directly have an impact upon in his role as regulator.  But it was a significant statement, given his authority in saying it, and in linking it explicitly to our own themes and arguments.”

 

“What remedial action is coming? Bankers and execs to face prison terms? The banking Corporations to be banned from partaking in the market because of their abuse? A lift on the pay freeze for public sector workers? A re-instatement of jobs that were cut to pay for the criminal activity? Sacking government? Re-instating the benefit system? What’s the fella offering? Just wondered. A ban on high frequency trading and re-pontification of debt, credit and assets? Just wondered.”

 

“It doesn’t mean its all over because they have acknowledged we were right. Think all along, people have been looking for answers and we have been saying we are the platform. Wouldn’t it be great if we actually publicly provided the platform to the pros with some proper ”solution-type” alternatives, seeing as they have opened dialogue – actually give concrete proposals, which were democratically selected – or which people understood? Or have a real say in the new regulating bodies which have been created in place of the FSA?

When Enron collapsed, the regulators said it was because of the current system and greedy executives and their bonuses….then they created the new model – IFRS – which we know now to have been the same system in disguise?”

 

“It is up to us; the 99% as a WHOLE!, that needs to change things! That was what I felt as he was saying it but when the questions started, yes a lot of them were crap, but some made him visibly squirm. Spoke to him after the though. Genuine, down to earth bloke that I think will listen and engage with conversation. However, will he have any support or job in his industry.”

 

“Having done the ‘yeah, he said we’re right!’ victory dance, remember that we knew all along that we’re right; we don’t need validating by the very Establishment responsible for the mess we’re in… Don’t be charmed! Charm and smarm is what they’re good at. They’ll use Occupy, they’ll suffocate us in a huge bearhug. Let’s not be conned into thinking they love us, they will squeeze us to death then stuff us and put Occupy on the mantlepiece as a colourful trophy. 

Watch their actions, not their words.

Some of us may’ve turned up at St Paul’s hoping to help the bankers reform banking a little bit. Most of us wanted to change a whole lot more than that.”

 

“Reminds me of the positive noises that emanated from the hallowed arches of st Pauls and look how they stuffed us in court… All he’s really said is ‘yeah you’re right unequal access to resources results in inequality…”

 

“Pretty certain that despite the rejoicing at rare favourable press – none of us is stupid enough to imagine that this is anything other than a marker on our road – still a long way to go. Smiling at a headline does make a glorious change though.”

 

Although he’s undoubtedly a reformist, my impression from reading some of his previous speeches, hearing the speech last night, judging the WAY he responded to questions, and also listening in on the one-to-one questioning after the event finished, is that he really wants to stir things up in the financial system, but is probably coming up against immense resistance from the Bank of England, the Banks themselves, and the politicians, and so is trying to use Occupy as a lever to help him overcome some of that resistance. By getting ‘people power’ moving he has more hope of instigating change. At the same time he can’t overplay his hand, as if he goes too far he’ll simply get the sack. He’s in a very delicate position, but I definitely think he’s ‘on’ side with Occupy.

Also don’t forget, he was under no obligation to accept our invitation, he was under no obligation to praise us, but in doing so has pushed Occupy right back up into the public consciousness, and not just as a bunch of protesters, but as people with a very serious political message. He’s done us immense benefit.

 

“Is Haldane is going to be the moderate, whilst we are painted the radicals? The gods forbid. We will have to up the ante. I propose that we use the rest of the Occupy London funds to build a guillotine in front of the Royal Exchange.”

 

“That the full speech has been published in a full-letterhead PDF on the Bank of England website would suggest that his speech was made with the blessing of the BoE PR:”

 

“Some people are aghast at the apparent re-positioning of Occupy as reformist:

“…we are in the early stages of a reformation of finance, a reformation that Occupy has helped to stir”.

I’m screaming at this bit – “You have helped win the debate” – as though it’s won! ffs, that is like saying ‘you can all stop worrying and protesting now, everything’s going to be fine, go back to sleep’ which is horribly untrue and dangerous.

And these bits – “Policy makers like me will need your support…”  “Barclays and Lloyds… are returning to their Quaker roots.” Here I’m seeing attempted co-option of both Occupy and Quakers (and the co-operative movement, not in this speech but in others recently), as institutions try to depict themselves as caring and sharing – but it’s all superficial, it’s all still based on profit and growth, and is therefore totally unsustainable and continues to exploit people and resources. Did we come together to ‘support’ the bankers and policy-makers?

I thought we came together to get right down to the roots of what’s wrong – that includes banking, economics, politics, corporations, environmental crisis, justice, values, work, community, ownership, and more – and to work towards creating something new.”

 

“I came to Occupy without prejudice and open to learning/sharing with any who would exchange. We are passing through an imperfect world and this (for me) is about steps to getting it right and those steps will bring us into places and alongside people we do not agree with …but to fight them or ignore them – without attempting to engage them – is ugly and (for me) not my path. We were all born equal – just innocent babies before life circumstance scribbled its shape all over us.

This paragraph made me smile: “Haldane said. “They’ve been successful because they’ve been right”… and here was the sucker punch: they’ve been right both “morally” and “analytically”. You might have expected a sharp intake of breath from the room – here was a powerful cog in the machine (Haldane has served at the Bank for more than 20 years), appearing to say not only that the movement had “touched a moral nerve”, but that it was correct in it’s analysis. Occupy was right. Didn’t that mean the Bank of England was… wrong?”

 

“A year ago, if Andy Haldane approached us on the steps of St Paul’s to address the community, we’d have turned him away. He had nothing to say. The occupation was attempting to ask real questions, questions to the root of issues. We were far more keen to listen to people willing to engage in these ideas. We hosted people like David Harvey and John Holloway. But more importantly we listened to each other. Even if Andy had fought his way to a microphone, wrestling it from one of the facilitation team, the speech he gave yesterday would have been greeted with scorn. To simultaneously claim validity of our message, while engaging with none of it is appalling. A pander of the lowest level. This was the Bank of England’s news cycle, and they mastered it brilliantly.

We currently have a situation within our species, we are making our own destruction. The catastrophe of compound growth isn’t just a mathematical calculation. It is the motivation for military bases in countries where previously the most advanced weapon was a plough. There are farmers in India killing themselves because Monsanto owns the very blueprints of life. Children can’t breath in their classroom because Glencore need Cobalt so we can have smartphones. But Andy didn’t talk about any of that, because he works for the people that make it happen.

We don’t need to engage with Andy, we don’t need to work with him. We need to be opening libraries. We should be rebuilding our communities. Capital will take everything on a long enough timescale, and we need to do something about it.”

 

“If Haldane had come to St Paul’s in the early days I don’t think we would have turned him away. I certainly would have been just as interested in his views as “on side” radical academics. I remember when the head guy from the City of London came and spoke at length. The City of London! We didn’t turn him away, we welcomed him.  We listened, observed and learnt. I have no love or interest for the bank of england. But i think your analysis of their PR strategy is a little to simple. You may be right about their masterful manipulations, but I don’t think so. Of course they will like anyone use whatever they can for their own interests. While we feel secure and purposeful we can give space for Haldane or the head of the City of London because we feel powerful. While we’re insecure we feel threatened by such people.”

 

“1. The ‘immense benefit’ I refer to is the huge surge in publicity and the inevitable increase in public support for us. How can you question whether that is a good thing?

2. Occupy hasn’t been repositioned as reformist. Haldane may be a reformist, and he may view Occupy as the same, but that doesn’t mean that’s what we are – we are diverse!!!

3. The fact that he says we’ve won the debate in no way means it’s over, nobody in Occupy thinks that, nor is that what he was actually saying. We said ‘the current system is crap’ ; he replied ‘you know what, you’ve been proved right’, so now we all roll our sleeves up and work out what needs to be changed and how to do it. This is just the beginning, not the end.

4. Your (and others) concern about co-option always frustrates me. If the establishment say ‘Occupy is wrong’  they’re the enemy, and if they say ‘Occupy is right’ they’re trying to co-opt us. What would you have them say?

5. You talk about victory dances and such as if some of us now believe we’ve won. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re pleased because we’ve taken a very positive step in the right direction, just as when we organise a good march or something we feel pleased, or when people take repossession of a library they’re pleased. That doesn’t mean we’re deluded about how far we still have to go, and we’re certainly not taking our foot off the gas anytime soon.

6. You broaden the debate into issues about the environment and such, and express disappointment at Haldane’s non-engagement with these issues. Of course all that’s vitally important, but we’ve got to be realistic. Andrew Haldane is the Director of Financial Stability at the Bank of England. He works on the banking system, that’s what he does. To expect him to go off talking about all the other issues that concern Occupy is just unrealistic. There are plenty of other people in power who deal with those things and it’s those people we need to hammer on those issues. We’ve got to focus our efforts where they will and can have most impact. Monday night was about the banking system.”

 

“All we can hope is everyone actually moves forwards instead of following the breadcrumbs every time…..It’s actually funny if you think about it! We went to the culprits FSA and was really nice to the beast – Hector Sants.   We were proud of our 5 mins on BBC news.

We had an event with Maurice Glasman and Steve Baker to talk about how wrong bankers bonuses were – RBS frenzy…..then the Bank of England are our friends outside the FSA without really pointing out their bloody faults and ensuring the new regulators don’t do the same thing….

Bank of England has a new set of regulators and starts the new system jumping on our bandwagon. Next the new ”Social bank” Tesco Grameen will be the way forward – Bank of England will think its a great idea and push that forward. Everyone will realise big society was the way to go after all.”

 

“The banks are still a loose cannon, out there on their own, getting away with what they are still capable of getting away with. Though the reality is that they have been admonished with the wagging of a strong little finger, there has been no substantial indication of change : as a friend pointed out about a colleague of his who currently works at Merrill Lynch, ‘ everyone he works with is out for themselves,each and everyone looking after number one – they’re just not very nice people’. He went on to describe a culture that in no serious way encourages the individual investors, or, to put it more appropriately,the ‘gamblers’, within the company, to work together: not only do their practices reinforce a yawning divide between the bank and the more empoverished world outside it, but as selfishly atomized individuals they’re all encouraged to make the biggest bucks they can, dog-eat-dog, each for their own. So, the real picture of the banking sector  might be nowhere near as promising as Mr Haldane endeavours to paint.”

 

“Ok, so Occupy was just kissed by the establishment. Some of us view this move as a step towards prostitution. Others look at it and see a fairytale marriage. The one point that everyone is united on, is in taking the moral high ground.

Personally, I’d like to ask all those knights in shiny armour crusading and fighting each other in an attempt to protect Occupy’s virginity and purity to back off. Stop acting like prudes and trust the woman to experiment and explore. There will be flings, there will be affairs and mistakes, good dates and bad.

If anything, I’d say we need to be even more promiscuous.”

“Can a compromise at least be to advise the use of prophylactic, in the interests of public health?”

“Absolutely must… What do you think – is the initial statement appropriately elastic as well as robust?”

“It’s been sitting in the purse for a while now, it might have perished.”

 

 

 

 
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