Occupy Wall St is the Kid in the Fairy Tale – The Emperor Has No Clothes


As Tom Friedman recently wrote in the NYT, “There’s Something Happening Here”. There sure is. The market system that has delivered so much to the world over the last century – brought great technology, alleviated so much poverty, produced a better life for billions – is now destroying itself.

Some say this process is now inevitable. That like an empire in decline, the system is deluded by its grandeur and historical power and thus fails to see its weaknesses – so is unable to respond.  I disagree. The crisis is certainly inevitable, indeed that is well underway. The ecosystem is breaking down, and the economy is in hot pursuit in the collapse stakes. But the path into and through this crisis is a choice we get to make. The future doesn’t just happen, we create it.

But who gets to make these choices? Some argue it’s “the 1%” and that the victims of their decisions are “the 99%” – that the rich beneficiaries of the current system control it, and do so in their own interests. This analysis says that’s why we have low taxes, bailouts of wealthy investment banks, lack of action against those who caused the financial crisis and a failure to deal with climate change – because the rich 1% want it that way. But is that correct? And if so, are they making the right decision even for themselves?

The data that “the 1%” are the beneficiaries of the current approach is certainly strong, as the chart below shows, based on numbers from the US Congressional Budget office. The rich have got richer, and spectacularly so, taking nearly all the new economic wealth created in the past 30 years. The rest – and the rest is nearly everyone – have stayed the same. In share of societal wealth, most have gone dramatically backwards.

mother jones graph


From Mother Jones: Original here.

The actual numbers make it more human. In the US, the top 1% have an average annual household income of over $1 million while the bottom 90% of households average a little over $30,000. So much for a “middle” class. If you want to dive into the data and see how comprehensive this problem is, take a look at the range of charts here at Business Insider. People will debate different analyses, but it is now so extreme the details don’t change the conclusions. That’s why so many prominent economic commentators are supporting many of the Occupy movement’s arguments.

But these problems haven’t just arrived, so why the public focus now? Partly it’s the strategic brilliance of Occupy Wall St. I have run and observed activist campaigns for 35 years, and this is a very smart campaign. For a start the lack of leaders and the lack of clear demands is not disorganisation, it’s a brilliant strategy. Anyone can join, as long as you’re part of the 99% and feel the system has let you down and isn’t fair. Given the numbers above, that makes the “target market” pretty much everyone.  It’s not exclusionary by supporting particularly political positions and its lack of clear leaders, means the many contradictions inherent in such a broad coalition can’t easily be confronted. This is modern, distributed and resilient campaigning at it’s best. My hats off to them.

But the underpinning driver behind this movement is the context. And it’s this context that should frame our understanding of the emerging crisis and how we manage it and move through it.

The world is an integrated system. So when we look at individual issues – these protests, the debt crisis, inequality, resource constraint, food prices, the recession, money’s influence in politics or accelerating climate chaos – we mistakenly see them in isolation. In fact it’s the system, our system, in the painful process of breaking down. Our system – of economic growth, of ineffective democracy, of overloading planet earth – is eating itself alive.

Occupy Wall St is simply the kid in the fairy tale, saying what everyone knows but has, until now, been afraid to say – the emperor has no clothes – we have system failure. They’ve given focus to what people were already seeing and feeling; that our problem is not just debt, or inequality, or a recession, or corporate influence or ecological damage. It’s the whole package – the system is profoundly broken and beyond incremental reform.

Think about the promise of global market capitalism – the unspoken contract with the people. If we let the system work, if we let the rich get richer, if we let corporations focus on profit, if we let pollution go unpriced and unchecked, then we will all be better off.  It may not be equally distributed but the poor will get less poor, those who work hard will get jobs, those who study hard will get better jobs and we’ll have enough wealth to fix our environmental and resource challenges. And the result will be better lives – for us and our children.

What we now have – most extremely in the United States but in many countries – is the mother of all broken promises.

Yes, the rich are getting richer and the corporations are making profits – with their executives richly rewarded. But meanwhile most people in the US are worse off, drowning in housing debt and-or tuition debt. Many who worked hard are unemployed, many who studied hard are unable to get good work and environmental damage now threatens system collapse. To top if off, people are realizing their kids will be worse off than they are.

To put a human face on what this feels like, at least in the United States, take a good slow look at the stories on the “We Are The 99%” website. Remember as you do that this is not “the poor”, this is life for hundreds of millions of Americans. It’s a sobering insight. It’s not just the environmentalists, or the poor, or the unemployed. It’s most people, including the middle class, who are feeling the failure of the system. And with parallel ecological and resource constraints making endless economic growth impossible, we can now clearly see the potential for system wide collapse.

This particular round of protests may build or may not, but what will not go away is the broad coalition of those who feel the system’s failure has been exposed – the emperor has no clothes. As a banner at the Occupy protests said: “Dear 1%. We fell asleep for a while, just woke up. Sincerely, the 99%”. In this regard, the Occupy Wall St protests have already won – the big issue, the system, is firmly on the agenda.

So is the answer some kind of utopian socialism? No it’s not. In my book I have a chapter called “Ineffective Inequality” where I argue that inequality can be a powerful driver of good things. I refer to the military or universities where the top leaders get 15  – 20 times as much as their lowest paid members. They attract and motivate great leaders and this inequality is “effective” – it drives people to work hard, to study hard, to be entrepreneurial, to improve the lives of themselves and their family. But when inequality gets too far out of control as it has in the US, where the average CEO earns hundreds of times as much as the average worker, then inequality is no longer effective but rather a cancer that eats at the soul of the system.

So what’s the answer? Are we right to attack the 1% as “the enemy”, the cause of all our problems?

While it’s comforting to be able to divide the world into the righteous vs the sinners, life’s rarely quite like that.  What I call “righteous campaigning”, of which I’ve done plenty in my time, is very effective. That’s why enemies are demonised in wars and painted as inconceivably horrible. Some, like Hitler or Gadhafi, make that easy by being that way.  In present day U.S. politics there are certainly some of the rich who are clearly abusing their wealth and power to manipulate the political process for personal gain. The best example are the Koch brothers, who are the corporate bad guys from central casting.

Mostly however, righteous campaigning is a beat up – a tactic proponents for change on all sides of politics use to mobilise people and keep their base emotionally engaged.  And besides the way forward is not likely to be a revolution with the 99% marching into New York and beheading the 1% or, perhaps worse, exiling them to a Scandinavian social democracy….

But are “the 1%” really acting in their own interests? Can they secure even their own future this way? In reality, we now live in a globalised and highly connected world and there are no castles for the rich to hide in. While it sounds plausible and makes good rhetoric to paint a picture of the rich hiding away in their gated communities with private security, this is not practically sustainable. Consider the lessons of various leaders in the Middle East who recently had their castles plundered and their militaries turn against them.

Besides we now know that extreme inequality doesn’t work for anybody. There’s plenty of evidence that highly unequal societies are not good places to live, even for the rich. They are more likely to elect extreme governments and they are less safe, less healthy and less stable.

So it’s time for “the 1%” to engage. Ironically, if they listen carefully, they might even find in Occupy Wall St the movement that saves capitalism from itself. Markets when properly constructed and guided by governments who are acting for the collective good are a powerful way to bring many positive things to society. But uncontrolled markets, where greed takes over and social benefit takes a back seat, are more than capable of causing systemic collapse. Then we will all lose and there’ll be nowhere for anyone to hide.

We can choose this moment of crisis as the time to ask and answer the big questions. To build a different kind of society that behaves like it plans on staying around. In New York and now all over the world, groups of smart, young, highly educated activists have gone to the heart of the problem, the centre of the current system, and held up a giant mirror. The emperors of capital need to take a long hard look in that mirror and ask themselves what kind of world they want to live in, because there is only one.

Remember, when things are unsustainable, they stop. So change is coming. The only question is how it comes and where it takes us. Choices we get to make. The clock is ticking.



42 thoughts on “Occupy Wall St is the Kid in the Fairy Tale – The Emperor Has No Clothes

  1. Glad to see you are noticing the same things.

    A couple of things I would like to add.

    1. We need to teach our people that this pendulum between business (greed) and people (humanity) has been swinging for generations. I bring this up because I was not aware of it, and after 9 years of studying at Keep America At Work I can say that it happened in ben franklins time, again in the 30’s and now and it appears to be about 70 years in the making (35 towards greed and 35 towards humanity) and what we are witnessing is the extreme end when the pendulum begins to swing back.
    2. We need to teach our people that we expect our government all the way from the local school board, etc. to the federal level (community, county, state and federal) to be (A) the facilitator that will wisely utilize our tax revenue to take us into the future and (B) the mediator that is strong enough to provide the balance between the business community and the people of our communities.

    It is all about balance in my opinion which is why I have written the following letter titled “Who are the leaders in your community, business or organization?” and I’m doing what I can to get it in front of everybody in Texas in my bid to run for Senate.


    I’m doing this because as you say, we control our future and we can either be part of the solution, or part of the problem.

    Virgil Bierschwale
    Bierschwale for Senate 2012
    Keep America At Work

  2. Paul, great commentary. The thing is the movement MUST have a plan.

    I dont know yet in history when one big civilisation wave (pre wave – hunter gatherer/prehistory; first wave agricultural civilisation; second wave – industrial age; third wave – ICT) has moved to the new peacefully. They have all been ushered in by violent conflict – sometimes global.

    Now, this could be different. If 99% started making real changes where they lived and stopped supporting the systems, that may be the first time we have a chance for change over peacefully. A PASSIVE RESISTANCE approach driven personally right from home…

    I really enjoy your commentary.

  3. OWS definitely will continue to grow. As economic and environmental conditions worsen this movement will empower more people to speak and to act. It is a great awakening to the inequities, corruption and unsustainable nature of the system as presently arranged. Now that bread is becoming in short supply the circuses will no longer be enough to pacify the citizenry.

  4. You may be right Paul. I am not sure, but I do have great sympathy with your arguments. What is happening at Qantas? Is this the same issue? A corporation so arrogant that they take on government, passengers, unions, and everyone else who gets in their way? A CEO who can wreak havoc and still be paid more in a year than the 99% will have at the end of their working life?

  5. Large corporations are making a mockery of democracies and repbulics around the world. With trade and finacial barriers removed, private interest can punish a government by moving. Long term public policy around an environmental issue or some human rights labor issue just gets transferred to some other nation that is willing to be short sighted or leaders whom desire to become a part of the 1%. Trade agreements preempt the national laws thus leaving Wall Street and its agenda running our world. Free markets are a myth and oligopolies rule our world. People are serving economies as opposed to economies serving people. Finally we have come to this blessed crisis…questions being ask….a new time is ahead…a better world.

  6. Many thanks for this post and all the links Paul.

    What do you think of Derrick Jensen’s ‘Endgame’, Vols 1 & 2?

    As someone wedded/addicted to a pacifist approach for over 50 years, I’m finding that Volume 1 has given me a whole new insight into the kind/s of environmental and social activism we need.

  7. Yes, great insight Paul. And it heartens me to feel that it resonates with the strategy the Sloth Club promoted with the morinokoe campaign to protect Tasmania’s forests that highlighted the big corporations involved in the destructive trade, but also looked at individual (paper use) choices and our enduring, profound, personal interconnection with primordial forests. Finally we come to this – it is about heart after all…

  8. Thanks again for clear concise thinking on this Paul. The major opposition I see to the OWS projects is the way in which governments, sensitive to the criticism and in support of the SPIVS who started the tumble, are out and ready to knock down the protest after allowing a lip service acceptance for a few days to show they are democratic. See Melbourne, Sydney and Oakdale. The 99% will have to work hard to convince governments to put away the jack boots and tear gas, if democracy is still worth anything at all in the movement to save us all from ourselves.

  9. A variety of factors have brought us to the critical mass of system reinvention now required. However, let’s not overthink it. As Don Henley, the singer-songwriter, wrote years ago, “a man with a brief case can steal more than a man with a gun.” If America, at least, can pass fundamental campaign finance reform, our political system, at least, will be liberated to enact the updated legal framework the society needs to respond to the more sophisticated financial crimes now being committed. In addition, such a reform will restore our democracy to its rightful owners, “We The People”, to restore fairness and national self-interest to its rightful place in our economy. Dylan Rattigan’s got it right.

  10. Thank you Paul.
    I just completed reading your book The Great Disruption which summarized my thinking since I was 15 (now 63)
    I could never understand why we had to have continual economic growth when the world we live in is finite.
    Over this past weekend with the Qantas problems and the dramas in Europe I also have been thinking are all these things connected and after reading the above it is hard to believe that they are not.
    I am in complete agreement with your position.


    Brian Dwyer

  11. Paul

    May I suggest a slightly different analysis.

    What if both the ecological overshoot of the planet’s carrying capacity and the ever growing gap between rich and poor is the inevitable structural outcome of the fractional reserve financial system?

    The design of financial system is such that money comes into existence as interest bearing debt and money supply has been growing exponentially for some 3 centuries now. This exponentially growing money supply is a structural phenomenon.

    Money is not wealth but a claim on wealth. In the main wealth is made from natural capital ( stuff from nature). Exponentially growing claims on wealth are realised by liquidating natural capital, hence the ecological and climate change crisis.

    The ever growing gap between rich and poor can be explained by those people who borrow and invest using this system to live (as opposed to living by their labour). Investors can grow their claims on wealth exponentially and garner an ever growing share of the pie.

    Also, because the financial system is essentially a pyramid scheeme (or Ponzi scheme) it must grow exponentiaay or collapse. This is why there is a growth imperative! Finally, when the exponential growth can’t be sustained the result will be a GFC (still coming).

    If this analysis is valid then the 1% are not there because they are greedy (though some may be) but because they and those before them have had the privilege of investing. Irrespective, there will be a 1% as a structural outcome of this system.

    Again, if this analysis is valid then structural reform of the financial system is required. In this regard ecological economist Herman Daly recommends a shift to a 100% reserve financial system.

    A further consideration arises from the reality of 150% ecological overshoot – resources are absolutely scarce. Markets can only efficiently allocate relatively scarce resources – indeed price is a ratio of relative scarcities. This raises the question of how resources should be allocated?

    This suggests to me that much deeper systemic transformtion is required. Perhaps the mistake humanity made was to cling to this mode of social organisation for too long?

  12. Thank you for your calming and rational commentary. In recent months I have been becoming increasingly angry with the 1% and have been thinking in terms of a forced redistribution of their 20% of global wealth. But as you point out, while some of those super-rich are actively subverting the economy for their own selfish ends, the majority are probably reasonable people who will respond to the argument, if it is well made, that it is in everyone’s best interest, including the 1% to restructure the economy towards an ecologically sustainable model so that we can all survive the coming wave of crises without descending into barbarism. For every Koch there’s a Buffet.
    At the same time, I believe that our politicians, especially the conservatives need to be shown the glint of a ‘bit of steel’ waiting for those who choose to ignore the Occupy Wall Street movement and the tremendous upwelling of discontent that it presages among the 99%. If I were part of the 1% I’d be worried.

  13. As computer driven automation got going (years ago. I am old) I can remember thinking. “This is going to move power from those it is replacing to those who benefit from it”. The big social battle will be for a “fair” distribution of the benefits. I was right of course. It could not be any other way.
    It is also obvious that consumption growth cannot coninie on a finite planet. The limit point at which change simply must occur looks like it is here.
    I also think that the young need to be in this protest to retain their sanity. I am not very good at lying down and accepting that things are stuffed. I dont expect young people to be able to do that either. If more people identify and get active about what is needed then their future will hold meaning and I suspect that escape from the pain through youth suicide and drug use would decline. Hope and well considered purpose shared with others is the perfect cure. Even if it means you go down fighting.

  14. Yeah, very interesting how pirates and bandits are the good guys in popular culture now. Seems like when the pendulum swings too far towards inequality the human response is to tear up the rule book rather than do the hard yards to create and impose fairer regulations. Australia is relatively stable but even here our politics and currently polarised between Labour, who generally take the more rational approach and Tony Abbot, leader of the opposition who is playing very successfully to the pirate mindset – life’s unfair, everything is justified, lets have a total free-for-all. The challenge is to rebuilt something better while you dismantle the old system. The Arab Spring is an interesting metaphor for the problem facing the world – when angry uprising is the only sane response, how do you conduct an orderly revolution?

  15. G’day Paul (& Folks),

    It’s been a while…but I have still been reading the good ol’ Chronicles.

    The thing that waved the reddest flag in my mind as I was reading this article was ‘highly educated’.

    Why? I’ll use this statement as a focal point – “The world is an integrated system.” In an apparently collapsing world, literally brimming with more ‘highly educated’ people than ever before, have you not wondered why you and so many others have needed to spend so many years and resources trying to point this simple and glaringly obvious, yet notably inconvenient truth, to those very same people?

    Like you Paul (in regard to the 1%), I am not speaking in absolutes. There are some ‘highly educated’ people that do understand that “The world is an integrated system.”

    What I am saying is that by taking a global observation, would it not be reasonable to consider that in general the ‘highly educated’ could be argued to be ‘part of the problem’ having greatly contributed to the very ‘dilemmae’ we face? e.g. ‘We cannot solve problems with the mindsets that created them’, or that good ol’ definition for insanity – ‘Doing the same things over and over expecting the results to change’….

    This observation may be biased by my recent experience. I went back to University this year (as a 50 year old). Though I have had contact with Universities often over the years, it is some 20+ years since I have studied as a full-time student.

    Maybe it’s my age and experience, but I have to tell you that I am gravely disappointed at how little attitudes have actually changed and how much the quality of teaching has devolved (usually argued to be due to a lack of funding), and how much the ‘status quo’ remains the contextual undercurrent. It is my view that increasingly, Universities are behaving like giant Registered Training Organisations. Their modus operandi is increasingly more tied to the acquisition of funding, which is in turn tied to the certification of work-place ready, bums on seats. A very sad affair. Call me a romantic, but to me a University is a place of learning…not of box-ticking and qualifying for the sake of funding.

    I think that when, what we call ‘systems in nature’ behave to the detriment of those around them, then changes occur (no, not corrections, changes). Not to restore some human conceived notion of ‘balance’ (which we seem to embody in our machines). I don’t think that ‘balance’ is either relevant or possible (save as a conjectural reference point. But even then it should be considered to be dynamic at best). We are part of nature…still. It is how it is…we can either enjoy what we have, or we can continue to struggle to control it, and fear a loss of control that we never had.

    I’m with you Paul. We made it up…we can make it up again…and we aren’t dead yet. Is it not from ‘the 99%’ (here meaning ‘the not so highly educated’), that compassion, common-sense and civility has ever sprung? Apparently our word ‘Education’ comes from the Latin -‘Edu-catus’ – meaning, to draw from within. One does not need a degree in engineering to have, comprehend and express human feelings…nor does one need a degree in Psychology to make those feelings valid or their insights real or true. We only need listen and respect. And we don’t need a degree in Law, Theology or Ethics to do that. Oh contrare…

    We need degrees to refine the expression of what we draw from within. But we are in great danger when those with degrees become the self-ordained source of our expressions. Ring any bells?…

    Thanks again Paul…great article, great discussion, great time to be alive…


    Stephen G

  16. (my previous attempt at a reply vanished half finished into the cosmos)
    Dear Paul: ‘Socialism’ and ‘Scandinavian Social Democracy’ are not bad words for me. And I cannot see how they are for you. You believe in a measure of social (ie governmental) control over industry – ie what it makes and how it makes it; you believe in control of the income gap – probably through steeply progressive taxation. I suspect you believe in public education and a public health system.

    I suspect also that you (as I) believe in a measure of world government via the UN. Preferably through the volountary surrender of powers over – say – atomic power, or batty exercises in geoengineering. Or perhaps over the world wide inspection and control of carbon fuels.

    The point I wish to make here is we now need immediate and very well focussed action. Carbon emissions are increasing with very substantial momentum, and ‘growth’ continues to be the basic premise of our economies. As you know, land ice and sea ice melting is accelerating, and with the addition of thermal expansion, we are going to see very dangerous inundations. (think the Bangladesh coast, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Kolcatta, Cambridge. A very sizable slice of Northwestern Europe is underwater if a 1 meter rise combines with a springtide and a storm surge.)

    I realise that you know this stuff. Extreme weather events, from Italy to Thailand to Queensland to Texas and Russia, are killing people (146,000 in Myanmar, who knows how many in Pakistan and Cambodia?) Cropping is disrupted, and the population climbs inexorably to ten billion.

    What I miss is the sense of urgency. If we – as a world – were to act so as to reduce emissions by 80% within a decade (and by 90% by 2100) we would be able to limit these consequences (although even then, substantial, even catastrophic consequences would still be in the pipeline)

    So let me ask a question that you may recognise. ‘What is to be done? Do we follow a path of cardigan-wearing polite gradualism? Or unfucussed placard waving? Or do we start screaming a clear set of demands?

    What is the thing to do, now? Like, NOW

    Warm regards, Simon (Mond from Oz)

  17. Thanks, Paul. I love the way you’ve thought this through and handing the question to the 1% is perfect at this moment..
    My only stumbling-point was when you started referring to “the system”, its having failed, etc. Of course you’re right – seeing hugely complex social processes as “systems” reminds us to acknowledge their hugeness and complexity, but I found myself wanting some guidance on how to think creatively and constructively about such all-important systems.
    Do I unpick, one by one, some of the fundamental threads within it? (Richard Sanders’ fine comment on the fractional reserve system is in this mould) or do I look for a ‘spaghetti and meatballs’ systems diagram that seeks to encompass all the system’s main dynamics (Hmmm…never been a fan of these)?
    Since I fully expect you to solve this amd most other problems for me, Paul, I look to you to provide guidance on how we ‘up’ our way of thinking and talking about “the system” from here on, so that we don’t waste energy confusing one another by discussing it (however we define ‘it’) from multiple perspectives at once.
    Could you do this by Thursday?
    Best regards from Cape Town,

  18. Paul, as always excellent insight and urge to action. I for one am heartened by the notion of the 99% awakening. Though the truth is we have always had a say but have falsely convinced ourselves that “we are one voice and have no chance of being heard”. We can influence the election of governments, we can make consumer choices, we can decide our own footprint, and through our pension schemes we can exercise our rights as shareholders. Sadly we often don’t. The mechanisms exist, albeit not perfect, to bring more balance where it is increasingly needed. We also have the opportunity to engage those of the 1% who are prepared to engage and support the case for change. Life and the choices people make become automatic as the treadmill turns. We need the 100% to understand that they can make a difference with each and every daily choice they make – whether it is on the big or the small decisions. Cheers John

  19. We need a Vaclav Havel. After the Velvet Revolution he famously said to the people of Czechoslovakia: ‘I assume that you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you.’ He then went on to rehearse the full extent of the moral and economic mess of his country.

    In a contemporary political era stained by spin, cover-up and media-manipulation, I don’t yet see any politicians out there who can stand up and simply tell us the truth a la Havel.

  20. Paul, your use of The Emperor’s New Clothes pinpoints the invaluable service that Occupy Wall Street is performing. The capacity of the system to conceal its motives and consequences has been essential for its continuation. This concealment is maintained by the inertia that gathers behind a way of life that appears to be a “force of nature” rather than a human construction. The system wields tremendous power to maintain the dominant ideology by steering critical thought to the margins where it can be tolerated and contained.

    OWS took a different tack. The Occupy Movement is street theater, running continuously Off Broadway on Wall Streets across the world (“coming to a theater near you”). It is an act of bearing witness, shining light on what the system has long concealed. “The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

    While much is made these days of the role of communications technology in mobilizing people, organizing activities, and spreading a message, the essence of the protest lies in the most primitive of tactics – putting bodies in a place as close to the lion’s den as possible and refusing to move until justice is done. This intractability has accomplished that which the pundits and academics paved the way for, but were unable to do, i.e., to broaden the range of allowable discourse. It is remarkable how the fundamental issue of inequality has finally appeared on center stage, pushing aside the monologic preaching of the gospel of austerity.

    With the emperor now revealed in his nakedness, the people must examine their own garb, for we, too, have bought and worn the uniform of the order. Having tasted the forbidden fruit, our knowledge of the illegitimacy of the system unveils our own impoverishment and sets us free for the labor that lies ahead.

  21. This article such a clear and positive concept and points in the right direction.Your appreciation of the nature and tone of the Occupy Wall Street movers so right on.. I am so proud of our young and the way they have started this movement and continue in spite of bitter cold this weekend and snow. If you want to see real democracy at work you should attend one of their nightly General Assembly meetings. I am 83 years old and thrilled to know there are others coming up to carry on the fight and in such a unique and effective way..The occupation is the message and it has spread not only across America but world wide as well…

  22. Dear Paul.
    Thank you for your article. s you say , Climate change: environmental damage: Over population: Consumerism:Uneven distribution of Wealth, are all part of the same problem. It does also appear that, “occupying wall street”seems to wakened many people to the obserdity of the present financial system, but I feel that in the manny replies, there is a desperate lack of solutions.
    As you mentioned, some of the strength of the movement is it’s lack of focus. Where do we break into the vicious circle.
    Richard Saunders is the only person who seems to have any idea where to start.There are many things that can be done to start to tackle climate change like changing to renewable energy and banning fossel fuel production of energy and widespread use of biochar, but nothing is going to have any effect untill Human population and the economy have stopped growing.
    Stopping the creation of money as debt,and ballancing the supply by taxation authorities being able to spend it into existance and tax it out of existance as necessary (preferably as resource and pollution taxes) in combination with a well graduated “Citizens Income”;would make a good start towards leveling out the distribution of wealth. It could be speeded up somewhat by bringing back the higher tax on unearned income.
    It has been well documented that a more even distribution of wealth (particularly when combined with the equal status of Women), is the best way to reduce “Fertility”. It also improves social cochsion, improves self-sufficiency’ which then lowers the desire for run away consumerism.
    The vicious circle is now broken and we are then in a position to start tackling the environment
    Please keep in toutch, Michael

  23. there are many possible futures. out of 100 of them 95 of them wind up with the u.s. winding up more like russia and china. the rest of the world suffers even worse.

    the only beneficiaries are the major financial hubs, especially singapore and other controlled smart and benevolent dictatorships—thriving hubs require firm wise and not overly greedy leadership.
    new york subsists on its inertia, but enters a general decline resembling the 1970’s only with a permanent underclass that overcrowds the city propping up tax revenue as captives. new york looks more and more like hong kong. with people working in mcdonalds that can’t afford to eat there.

  24. About the 99% Occupy movement…
    I support an end to the inequities created by welfare corporations including banks and mining companies who receive bailouts, hand outs, and tax deductions the rest of us are not in a position of ‘privilege’ to negotiate.

    I support the prosecution of white collar criminals who knowingly defrauded their clients leading to massive losses which we all pay for.

    I call for all loans to banks paid by the government on behalf of the Australian people to be paid back to the Australian people at the same interest rate they charge the Australian people.

    I support better regulation of the inequities of massive executive bonuses running unprofitable companies.

    I support the creation of more affordable housing, and a recognition by government of the unsustainable myths of the cancerous ‘growth’ economy.

    I support the freezing out of corporations who influence our political process for profit, and marginalise our democracy.

    I support the prioritisation of sustainable, regenerative environmental policy for a cleaner, better world for all human and non human inhabitants.

    I call for significant cuts to Australia’s military spend of ~$22 billion per year.

    I support renewable energy over fossil fuels, and cal for an end to the inequitable subsidies that continue to be poured into the mining industry at the expense of cleaner technologies and good, intelligent energy innovation.

    I support a moratorium on CSG until the risks are known.

    I support a change to Petroleum (onshore) Act 1991, making holders of Petroleum licenses subject to EPA (environmental protection law)
    See: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/pa1991224/s47.html

    I support the 99% movement better representing the 99%, rather than being hijacked by fringe minority interests, who risk this movement for real change being marginalised and trivialised.

  25. The unsustainable system will collapse eventually. If we can correct the current distorted system with collective wisdom in amicable way, we will have a better future. To do so, we should all learn the appetite for excessive possession is not a path for happiness, but a road for self-destruction. Additionally, we also avoid the growth-oriented economic policy.

  26. Paul, Many in the USA have way too many material things, some are selling their stuff just to hang onto what they can, and others never did have much. There is tremendous of social energy is the disparity and the politicians do not seem to be able to channel it in a useful manner. As we are forced to deal with the coming disruption, this social energy will become even more difficult to channel. How can an individual best influence the sociopolitical process so that reasonable choices are made? Are big-money politicians capable of reasoned thinking?

  27. Paul, thank you for your excellent analysis and insights. I agree with you that we are seeing the early stages of system collapse. I want to suggest a way in which we could regulate against income inequality.

    I think the key measure is the ratio of the highest salary to the lowest in an organization (clearly, “salary” will need to be very generally defined), and there should be a target maximum ratio of, say, 10 to 1. Organizations should be required by corporations law to calculate this ratio and give a histogram of its distribution down to 10:1 in their annual reports and their annual tax returns.

    The tax law should then take over and mandate a 10 year path for each employing organization to get their ratio down to 10:1. Companies paying salaries in excess of their path limit for that year should identify the individuals to the tax office, and those individuals be hit with a 100% tax rate on the differences between their actual salaries and the path limit.

    The advantage of such an approach would be that employing entities can reduce their ratios by either reducing the salaries of their highest paid or by increasing the salaries of the lowest paid. Guess which approach the CEO would prefer?

    To my mind, the current system of shareholder voting on renumeration reports has the same status as the Coalition’s climate change policy – it’s a policy you have when you want to generate the appearance of action, but not the reality.

  28. Hello from Occupy Oakland – the General Strike –
    some marginal violence from the angry, impetuous young who dared make a move on empty property to try to secure physical space so as to survive the wet winter coming.
    Interesting city council meeting last evening to discuss the future and the face the problem that local small businesses are suffering in business loss with the fear factor keeping people out of the city.
    There are large immigrant communities that do not understand and are fearful. There are educated types who are fearful and reactionary – who appear to be unable to let go of some of the preconceived ideas about the system and change. I am an older white-guy living nearby, but not living in the very small site. I tend to be met with suspicion to whomever I talk to…had an interesting moment introducing the Asian manager of the restaurant next to the food line at City Hall to Boomer running the street-kitchen. The Restaurant decide to close, fearful, I’m sure, on Strike day.
    The civic leaders and police appear to have little inclination, or imagination to the possibility of mediation, negotiation, reconciliation…..they appear stuck in their assigned roles as rulers in the hierarchy that they have worked hard to obtain in their lives…..
    …..congrats to the meetings and meetings that go on constantly on many levels to move forward in Occupy Oakland. Change has arrived – and will transmute….and as the African-American truck driver stalled out by the Strikers suffering personal loss on his route said – “where ya’ll been? we’ve been surfing for all these years!…and now it hit’s your pocket book? and you want to do something about it?” from the street and the Oakland Port Docks – some photos up on Facebook – Sam R Sheppard

  29. Hello – call back…i have now been in contact with a local organizing group – who will not accept corporate or gov funding and asks for membership of ^@cents per month in honor of the workers here in the 70s who got 62cent an hour…grass roots big time organizing -LOCAL –
    Local…door to door/people to people….
    organizing people who do not have computers even to be in touch…and then the gentrification of the HOOD>> and driving people out…
    and OCCUPATION>>> solidarity….but move and grow an talk…srs

  30. Paul, great piece helps us all to understand what is taking place, as the old system fails and the new system begins to take shape. It is through words like yours that ideas take form.

    You give us the wisdom and courage to change.

  31. Michael Dwyer

    To restart growth it is suggested to use austerity Or spend more govt money. Neither works.
    You can’t have austerity because the poor and middle class will react by spending less and this will further erode growth. Nor can you swamp the system with money because that becomes inflationary.
    BUT what could be done is tax and confiscate the rich person’s wealth and redistribute it in paying govt debt and starting up social services. This way we can have both austerity and prime the system with money at the same time. This will work.
    (Have you ever played monopoly where one player owned all the hotels and real estate. Its not worth playing. this is the world is now.)

    Woops, I have said what you aren’t allowed to say.
    I am reading Richard Heinberg, The End Of Growth. Its argument is compelling. Settle back for a fundamental change in the way you live.

  32. David Fourie

    Great Post! i would just like to add: everyone seems to blame capitalism for all our problems, what we have right now cannot be capitalism.
    “Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without Hell”
    I agree the occupy is a strategic brilliant movement. Now they are building volumes of protesters without a clear leader against a very popular enemy(rich bankers) but tomorrow it can be the white house, politicians and government officials. One could not start with the latter.
    In my opinion, our real problem lies with our politicians, world wide.

  33. I moved from Australia to Spain and arrived in Barcelona 2 days before 15M(ay) organised the mass demonstrations in Madrid/Barcelona and the massive assemblies that were held in Placa Catalunya (see website) what may not be known is that the police put 128 “peaceful deminstrators” in hospital, (broken arms, legs). But they came back & Occupied Pl Cat for 6 weeks.
    Management of assemblies is easier at Barrio (local) level and Los Indignados are “occupying” some of the 1.5 million empty homes in Spain, THIS is a property bubble. They are also stopping home evictions by preventing orders being served (300 people turn up !)
    In western terms this is turning into mass poverty.
    The “growth areas” of Asia are saving world GDP at present, but based on ‘slave labour’.
    I was astonished to read that the U.N. “poverty line” is $1.25 (US) a day. After hearing how many people (BILLIONS) have been lifted out of poverty, (what a con) is because they now earn $1.30 a day.
    Someone soon will say, “hey why don’t we try Herman Daly’s Steady State Economy” – after all there hasn’t been growth for years anyway”

  34. Peter Thomson

    Overpopulation seems to be the unspoken taboo in this ongoing conversation. Fertility is the most important contributing factor in arriving at any sustainable remedy for our planet’s decline. That is the naked reality!

  35. Eric

    Hi Paul, everyone,

    I read the Great Disruption recently, and like some other commenters here I’m over my “grieving” period and am now ready to get to work.

    However, I’m a little lost on exactly how to do that. I’d like to get in contact with people in the know and see what sort of jobs/opportunities are out there. I’m a game designer by trade and currently have a job producing web and mobile apps. I’d be happy to leverage that (games can be powerful tools for change) or to make a change if something with more direct impact presented itself.

    Anyone have any suggestions? …or can just point me in the right direction?

  36. Martin Lightle

    Do you seriously accept your baseless rantings as considerable? This negative fear mongering will be the deth of genuine efforts to achieve a sustainable world. Your madness is regional, fix Aus and let us in the sane world know how that works out.

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