Monday, 17 October 2011

The 99-99-99 Issue

While my sympathies lie with the Occupy Some Street protests happening world wide, I ain't entirely behind them either.

I do agree that the growing wealth divide in the West, including Canada, is an issue. I also do not have a problem with the lack of a coherent voice out of the movement. Criticisms that it doesn't have a coherent point are offside as far as I am concerned. More on that later...

I have also read some criticism that the '99%s' are partly responsible for the current debt crunch because they chose to overextend themselves with bad credit decisions. That argument has merit EXCEPT WHEN BANK EXECS APPROVED SHITLOADS OF BAD LOANS, DAMN NEAR BURIED EVERY MAJOR BANK IN THE WESTERN WORLD, GOT TAXPAYER BAILOUTS AND THEN PAID THEMSELVES MASSIVE BONUSES. Holy Flea Bitten Goats! If we have to take responsibility for the consequences of our own actions, why by all the rules of fairness and accountability did the bank execs not have to take the same level of responsibility? Come on!  Responsibility for consequences has to be universal, otherwise fuck off when telling me I have to take responsibility for my actions. I argued earlier when this whole crises was unfolding that if consumer debt failures were causing the crises then bailout the homeowners, not the banks holding the loans. As far as I'm concerned, with the way the banks took the money and ran, I was proven right with that idea. (And to her credit Hillary Clinton was on-board with that idea too.)

So the bank bailouts, more than anything else, is fuelling the fire of the current protests (In my opinion). From that the anger has boiled over to other aspects of our daily lives, and this is where the inspiration for the title of my post came from. Currently it feels like 99% of us are affected by 99 problems that are each needing 99 solutions. With that much going on, it is impossible for one single message to dominate these protests.  (Yeah the title is also a smack-down of the stupid simplistic nonsense coming from Herman Cain).

People are angry, and I get that, I get pretty pissed myself at times. In fact, I feel like I've been in a permanent pissed off state for the last 8 years or so. So why am I not right down there with the protesters? Because I feel at this moment their solutions are too simplistic for the problems we are facing.

Part of my problem is I am living proof that none-union employees are doing OK. For 12 years running my employers (often to my surprise) have kept my raises above the cost of living. Our family has finally, after 15 long years, crested that hill of financial stability. We made sacrifices, worked hard and we're making it.  We're a success.

We have also had an unfair amount of damned good luck too. I'll take it, but I admit a lot of our success was due to luck and unforeseen good timing.

That's why I do not buy into the "it's your own damned fault you're not successful." Success takes hard work and good luck, hell, there are people where luck is entirely the source of their success (Kim Kardashian anyone?) Even for us, it wouldn't take much bad luck to push us back down the wrong side of that hill.  To claim hard work alone will grant you success is the ultimate lie we tell ourselves.

We in the West have unparalleled levels of wealth, even in the stressed out over extended middle class. Multiple cars, multiple PCs, TVs, large houses, multiple appliances, video game systems, etc. etc. Part of me wishes this 99% debate would re-evaluate what it is to be wealthy (there's probably some back-to-the-stone-age type thinkers in the mix I do not doubt). There's a dark jealousy aspect that bothers me. That being said, the way the top 1% are accumulating wealth at an unimaginable rate is just nauseating. And the numbers back up the notion that everyone else's income levels are not growing at the same rate.

There have been some interesting suggestions around wealth distribution policies (higher VATs, guaranteed supplemented base income are two), I think those are serious policy options that need to be fleshed out and debated/implemented.  But there's a lot of shouting going on right now that drowns out these incremental measures to get us back on the right track. Fix things now! seems to be the message out there, and that just ain't gonna happen.

But what holds me back the most; I have this very strong innate doubt that the Western capitalist model is sustainable.  There are just not enough resources to go around.  To abuse the Titanic metaphor, we're not just rearranging the deck chairs, there are also just not enough life boats to go around.

Economy, civil rights, environment. Each has multiple seemingly insurmountable issues.  When faced with problems that are complex we are told to break them down into manageable components and deal with them one at a time.  But doesn't it feel that these issues are too intertwined, the effects are compounding quickly and we just don't have the time to deal with them all?

Maybe our only option is a collective expression of disgust of where we are and where we are going.  So no, I'm not saying stop protesting.  Use your voices, try to make a difference, because in the end something does have to change.

I just wish I could put my finger exactly on what that change needs to be.


M@ said...

I don't think there's any point on which I disagree with you, here. But as for finding solutions, I'll point you to Lemony Snicket's view:

It is not always the job of people shouting outside impressive buildings to solve problems. It is often the job of the people inside, who have paper, pens, desks, and an impressive view.

I think one of the reasons the problems seem so difficult and intractable is that the people with the impressive buildings and views have yet to acknowledge that the problems even exist, much less that they are a necessary part of any solution.

Catelli said...

Not entirely. I think some/most acknowledge that problems exist, just can't agree on the priority or importance of the problems.

Or they are just as overwhelmed as the rest of us....

Same result either way. I'm not sure which is worse. Needing to convince them there is a problem, or seeking clarity on how to deal with them.

Damn I'm in a pessimistic state about all this. GlassIsEmpty