Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party compared

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in The New York Times Syndicate/Guardian of London on 7 October 2011

As America swells with Occupy Wall Street protests, pundits and politicians are still pretending to be confused by the whole thing. But the movement is as coherent an articulation of our economic problem as any I have seen in my lifetime. Unlike the Tea Party, who see themselves as the customers of government, people in the Occupy Wall Street movement understand that we are the government. Stated most simply, we are trying to run a 21st-century society on a 13th-century economic operating system. It just doesn’t work.

So, here in America, we’ve got ourselves in a situation where we produce well more than everything we need without even employing all our people. Our banks are demolishing foreclosed homes and our agriculture is destroying food in order to keep market prices high. We don’t need jobs because there’s work to be done; we need jobs so that we have a rationale for distributing the goods that are already in abundance.

Of course, creating such unnecessary jobs and surplus productivity just depletes the environment that much faster, increases our stress, and distracts us from the possibility of meaningful living. Meanwhile, the cash and commodities we use are manipulated by trading algorithms operating beyond any human being’s comprehension, whose sole purpose is to extract value from human beings and redirect it to the wealthiest classes of passive investors.

This may have been the original intention of the aristocracy that put the centralised corporate banking monopoly in place back in the 12th century, but even they never imagined this system working so completely. Those in the thrall of the system see it as nature. To call attention to its design flaws is confusing and threatening to those who see markets as pre-existing conditions of nature rather than playing fields designed by people.

The participants of Occupy Wall Street are modelling not just a new form of open-ended, patient activism (in the face of a Tea Party that grasps for answers before it has even articulated any questions), but also a post-market, collaborative approach to creating and exchanging value.

This is the thing that will replace what we now think of as the economy – one way or the other.