Where are we headed?

Greek trade unionists block the entrance of the Greek Labour ministry in Athens

It’s the strangest sensation – for week after week, watching as the global financial system inches steadily closer to the abyss and the world’s politicians repeatedly kick a resolution to the European debt crisis a few weeks or months down the road.  Today, the Greeks are on general strike, battling to resist  measures that have pushed Greeks to the brink of penury. How bad can things get?  Your salary halved (if you’re a public sector worker)? The imposition out of the blue of a property tax of €1,500, payable this month, and if you don’t pay your electricity gets cut off (everyone)?

Larry Elliott’s piece in today’s Guardian was jaw-droppingly apocalyptic:

Welcome to the new normal. Billions of pounds were wiped off the value of shares in London on Tuesday 4 October. Dexia, a bank jointly owned by the French and the Belgians, teetered on the brink of collapse. One of the main barometers of Wall Street sentiment slid into bear-market territory. An emergency press conference called by Greece’s finance minister was delayed because the building was being picketed by civil servants. […]

The panic-stricken reaction of the markets over the past few days reflects a growing mood in the financial markets that the default will not be managed and orderly but messy, with knock-on effects not just for the rest of the eurozone but for the entire world economy.

Banks will go bust, credit will dry up, trade will wither, jobs will be shed. Greece, Lehman Brothers 2.0, will be the prelude to the second Great Depression, something policy-makers were congratulating themselves on avoiding only a few months ago. […]

Hence the concern about the alternative, much darker scenario in which the financial market pressure on Greece becomes intolerable and triggers a default for which the politicians are not prepared. Market interest rates for the other struggling eurozone countries go through the roof. Banks in the US refuse to extend lines of credit to Europe, where the banks go down like ninepins. Greece decides that the only long-term solution to its problems is to leave the euro, thus triggering a rapid unravelling of monetary union. As in the 1930s, deep economic distress has profound political consequences, fostering the growth of extreme nationalist parties.  This is the doomsday option, and over the coming weeks and months finance ministers and central bank governors will do all in their power to prevent it from coming to pass.

Who is to blame for this crisis?  Politicians?  Banks?  Speculators? Regulators? It surely isn’t your ordinary joe or josephine, Greek, American, Irish, Italian, or a citizen of wherever.  There was a clue, maybe, in an interview the BBC broadcast last week with some sort of trader, Alessio Rastani, who spoke with such brutal honesty from the perspective of a speculator, that his interview was initially suspected to be a Yes Men hoax (it appears it wasn’t):

The governments don’t rule the world, Goldman Sachs rules the world.

The savings of millions of people are going to vanish in less than a year

For most traders we don’t really care about having a fixed economy, having a fixed situation, our job is to make money from it. Personally, I’ve been dreaming of this moment for three years. I go to bed every night and I dream of another recession.

When the market crashes… if you know what to do, if you have the right plan set up, you can make a lot of money from this.

The Yes Men later issued a statement:

Who in big banking doesn’t bet against the interests of the poor and find themselves massively recompensed – if not by the market, then by humongous taxpayer bailouts? Rastani’s approach has been completely mainstream for several years now; we must thank him for putting a human face on it yesterday.

If  we don’t know who caused this whole mess, we certainly know who are getting it in the neck: the 99 percent.  That’s the number (the 99% of Americans who together own only twice as much wealth as the other 1%) that is now galvanising a movement that began with the Occupy Wall Street sit-in (now three weeks old) and is now spreading worldwide.   They say:

We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.

The 99 percent website features lots of images like this one – handwritten summaries of lives devastated, held up to the camera by the victims of what may turn out to be the second Great Depression.  They say:

Who are we? Well, who are you? If you’re reading this, there’s a 99 percent chance that you’re one of us.

You’re someone who doesn’t know whether there’s going to be enough money to make this month’s rent. You’re someone who gets sick and toughs it out because you’ll never afford the hospital bills. You’re someone who’s trying to move a mountain of debt that never seems to get any smaller no matter how hard you try. You do all the things you’re supposed to do. You buy store brands. You get a second job. You take classes to improve your skills. But it’s not enough. It’s never enough. The anxiety, the frustration, the powerlessness is still there, hovering like a storm crow. Every month you make it is a victory, but a Pyrrhic one — once you’re over the hump, all you can do is think about the next one and how much harder it’s all going to be.

They say it’s because you’re lazy. They say it’s because you make poor choices. They say it’s because you’re spoiled. If you’d only apply yourself a little more, worked a little harder, planned a little better, things would go well for you. Why do you need more help? Haven’t they helped you enough? They say you have no one to blame but yourself. They say it’s all your fault.

They are the 1 percent. They are the banks, the mortgage industry, the insurance industry. They are the important ones. They need help and get bailed out and are praised as job creators. We need help and get nothing and are called entitled. We live in a society made for them, not for us. It’s their world, not ours. If we’re lucky, they’ll let us work in it so long as we don’t question the extent of their charity.

We are the 99 percent. We are everyone else. And we will no longer be silent. It’s time the 1 percent got to know us a little better. On Sept. 17, 2011, the 99 percent will converge on Wall Street to let the 1 percent know just how frustrated they are with living in a world made for someone else. Let us know why you’ll be there. Let us know how you are the 99 percent.

Three weeks ago, a few hundred people rolled out their sleeping bags in a park in New York’s financial district in a protest against corporate greed and corruption, now there are thousands, and they are gaining the backing of trade unions.  A union-backed coalition will today rally in support of the protesters, and they are being joined by supporters in cities across the US and beyond.  The core group, Occupy Wall Street (OWS), claims people will take part in demonstrations in as many as 147 US cities this month, while the website occupytogether.org lists 47 US states as being involved. Around the world, protests in Canada, the UK, Germany and Sweden are also planned.

And it looks like the movement is heading this way: Liverpool will host its own protest, Occupy Liverpool,on Saturday 15th October.  Wonder if the financial system will have crashed by then?

3 thoughts on “Where are we headed?

  1. Where are we headed? I normally charge for my financial advice. But in your case, Gerry, I’ll make an exception.

    The answer is: no one knows!

    And no one’s in control, not even Goldman Sachs

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