I’d been meaning to write about the Occupy Wall Street movement, but now I’m intimidated, having just read Mohammed el-Erian’s eloquent take on the movement. Although el-Erian, as CEO of the PIMCO investment behemoth, is about as high up the 1% tree as one can be, he is more than sympathetic to the movement. Sympathy is easy. It’s also easy to criticize the movement for its lack of unity and seeming cacophony of voices. But El-Erian, unlike many observers, sees beyond the surface and makes out a powerful, “peaceful drive for social justice,” not unlike the protests in Tunisia and his home country of Egypt:
OWS may pale in comparison to these country examples. Yet it would be both foolish and arrogant to dismiss three important similarities:
First, the desire for greater social justice is a natural consequence of a system shown to be blatantly unfair in its operation and, to make things worse, incapable of subsequently holding accountable people and institutions.
In the US, it is about a system that privatized massive gains and then socialized huge losses; allowed bailed-out banks to resume past behavior with seemingly little regulatory and legal consequences; and is paralyzed when it comes to alleviating the suffering of victims, including millions of unemployed (too many of whom are becoming long-term unemployed, slipping into poverty, and losing access to safety nets). The result is a visible and growing gap between the haves and the have-nots in today’s America.
Second, OWS’s followers will grow as our economy continues to experience sluggish growth, persistently high joblessness, and budgetary pressures that curtail spending on basic social services (such as education and health). Other internal and external realities will also play a role.
At home, our elected representatives seem incapable as a group to respond properly to severe economic and social challenges. Continuous (and increasingly nasty) political bickering undermines the required trio of common purpose, joint vision, and acceptance of shared short-term sacrifices for generalized long-term benefits.
Internationally, Europe’s deepening debt crisis amplifies headwinds undermining an already sluggish American economy that, in the absence of better policy responses, is on the brink of another recession, Should the economy slip from treading to taking on water, the social implications would be profound given that we already have high unemployment, a large fiscal deficit and, with policy interest rates already floored at zero, little policy flexibility.
Third, advances in social media help overcome communication and coordination problems that quickly derailed similar protests in the more distant past.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. I can only hope that el-Erian will speak out forcefully for better government policies, namely the type of wholesale changes that we need to tackle these huge problems that he identifies.