Calling attention to the crises spawned by contemporary global capitalism, the Occupy movement provides an opportunity for more than mere response to the symptoms of that system. Just as doctors would be remiss to merely attend to symptoms on an ad hoc basis, we who are concerned with social and economic justice must set ourselves upon the underlying disease.
That disease is authority, the state’s introduction of coercion into social and economic relationships. Exploitation — an idea that many Occupy demonstrators have invoked to characterize the existing economic system — depends on what Herfried Münkler phrased “an imposition of asymmetrical exchange relations.”
“If force is introduced into the relationship,” Münkler continued, “it becomes asymmetrical and the two parties can no longer be considered equal.” The capitalism that the Occupy movement began to fulminate against is just such a system, one permeated by force and resulting in an arrangement of coercively managed deprivation.
Through an intermeshing web of legal tools, often implemented behind the pretext of protecting the “little people,” the power elite outlaws forms of competition that undermine oligopoly power. Absent the pressure of that competition, of a genuine free market, powerful institutions mulct exorbitant tolls from productive society.
Behind these barriers to market entry, behind contrived privileges and all manner of subsidies, big business exists in a world apart from true “market discipline.” As has often been noted, we have “socialism” for the rich and “capitalism” for the poor.
And it is indeed the working poor — much-maligned by an American Right that paints them as a group of slothful shirkers — who generally harbor all of the stereotypically right-wing attitudes about a hard day’s work, who don’t expect something for nothing.
The hated illegal immigrant, engaged in back-breaking hard labor for a mere pittance, knows a good deal more about “working for what you have” than the typical middle class xenophobe taking the Pat Buchanan/Lou Dobbs line on immigration. As with all things related to political rhetoric, the hypocrisy goes unremarked upon.
It is the largest, most entrenched corporations, held up as tireless and dynamic seedbeds of innovation, that in fact seek and expect handouts, that spend millions — those dollars themselves ill-gotten gains — to secure the privilege of not having to compete; it is they who most enjoy the spoils of a welfare system designed by and for the rich.
The conservative’s condescending contempt for the welfare beneficiary ought to be directed at corporate dominance, at the companies enjoying a catalog of state-granted and -enforced special “rights.”
The mainstream political colloquy, pitting the state against big business, takes for granted a kind of Robin Hood theory of intervention, suggesting that the primary function of the state is to hedge against “cutthroat competition” and provide a social safety net. But the actual role of the state in society is to allow a ruling elite to steal from the poor by restricting economic activity in ways that advantage established firms.
Talk radio blowhards insisting that the occupiers “go get a job,” that giant corporations accurately represent libertarian and free market principles, are just not paying attention — in the alternative, they’re deliberately misinforming their listeners.
But their motivations shouldn’t matter all that much to us; empirical facts should, and those are telling us that there really is something quite wrong with Wall Street and the statist economic model it represents. We can have law, order and real market exchange without the state, without masters and without tepid, state-centric plans for “reform.” The change we wanted is long overdue, and so too is the demise of the state.
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