I notice that, according to news reports, the Occupy Charlotte movement staged a coup against their self-proclaimed leader - you can't have a leader in a leaderless movement, can you?. In pique, he groused to the local CBS station that they were just a bunch of "rogue kids."
Apparently, the argument that drove us all insane last summer is starting up again here. Who is the grown-up in the room?
Adbusters, the Canadian website that claims to have started it all (and most journalists now agree, especially because they announced everything to the date before it happened), has been sounding a little whiney lately that it's not getting proper credit for everything that's going on. The growing urban legend from the start has been that the "Occupy" movement was simply a spontaneous, accidentally simultaneous, but unscripted, unco-ordinated mass uprising of les enrages first in America and around the world.
The claim may or may not be comparable to Al Gore's famous claim that he invented the internet. But I think Adbusters has more going for them. At least they can get instant PR now in the mainstream media.
Today they got everyone from Salon.com to the New York Times to herald them for stepping in as the grown-up in the room and formulating for the first time one clear, resonant demand - a 1 percent financial transactions tax. It will be interesting to see if this demand, which the mainstream media (or at least the mainstream liberal media) seems to like, catches on.
Now I realize pure participatory democracy doesn't have demands, just like it doesn't have leaders, because demands - well, they can make you sound "political". It compromises the pure utopian idea of non-judgmental, consensus-based, collective desire without politics. But, in fact, that's what democracy means - demands. Demands lead to policy which leads to proposals which leads to legislation and/or elections to elect legislators who will support those policies and demands.
Adbusters is calling it a "Robin Hood Tax." Actually, the notion has been circulating in the economic profession for some time under the name of the "Tobin tax" (after the name of the Nobel prize-winning economist James Tobin who first proposed it).
The Tobin tax is politically controversial, and it is not just opposed by conservatives but also by many establishment liberals. It is sort of a global version of the "fair tax." It's certainly no more squirrely than 9-9-9, which actually makes sense too. The OWS people can call it the "Robin Hood tax" or the "greed tax"; the Tea Party can call it the "let's tax Wall Street and not Main Street tax." Both versions are equally just.
BUT, politically, it may be something that would really focus people's attention - just as 9-9-9 does. Personally, I think it's just what the doctor ordered, though I'm not sure 1 percent on every transaction is the proper formula.
The problem is not really "capitalism". We haven't had real, good, old-fashioned capitalism in a long while, and if we did even the Tea Party wouldn't like it. They still like their Social Security checks.
What we have is a kind of make-believe, simulated, funny-numbers-gone-wild form of virtual capitalism that is not merely (in Frederic Jameson's tendentious phrasing) the "logic of late capitalism." It is post-capitalism. Capitalism requires the transformation, as Marx understood of labor value into "surplus value." But post-Microsoft virtual capitalism - i.e., global, computer-dominated, virtual capitalism - has arisen as the transformation of what was left of surplus value into "fantasy capital."
I've got a good economist friend who has been explaining to me that we've seen the ongoing vanishing of capital since the late 1970s, which is why we're in the current cataclysmic debt mess.
What we have is a hyperreal capitalism and hyperreal ongoing protest against capitalism.
Tax the funny money! That will bring the system down, if you really want to bring it down. Of course, it will bring the government debt, if not the government itself, down.
The "it" is problematic. It doesn't really exist, though corporations who play in this global "casino" (I think the better phrase would be the Great Global Monopoly Game). It wouldn't really mean a redistribution of wealth, because the wealth is all play money to begin with.
But at least we would know where we stand.
We'll see if OWS listens to their putative "mentors," or they throw Adbusters under the bus too. After all, the major sin of the guy who got thrown out in Charlotte was that he claimed to have something to do with starting it all - at least in Charlotte.