Freedom Not Yet: Ch. 3 & Occupy Wall St.

Why do they occupy Wall St. instead of targeting D.C.? The third chapter in Surin’s book can be read as providing an answer to this “postpolitical” situation by turning to post-WWII economic history. The shift from the homo politicus to homo economicus can be organized along two lines. The State no longer functions as the clear center of political life as it has withdrawn from earlier, Keynesian management of the economy. However, and this is the second line, the financialization of the economy has shifted enormous geopolitical power into specific States, like the U.S., leaving the least developed countries to suffer at the whims of the global finance sector.

On the first shift, Surin says,

the state’s function was to aid the expansion of the market by providing the appropriate macroeconomic and microeconomic environment, as well as an adequate institutional framework, for market activity. To do otherwise, said the neoliberal ideologues, would be to distort pricing mechanisms, and thus to hinder a country’s economic development (70).

Surin disputes that this neoliberal form of economic management has lifted a few select economies while pushing the rest down: in other words, there is highly uneven progress, kind of like what we see in the US, where a select few (individuals, countries) benefit enormously at the expense of the rest. The upshot, Surin explains, is that

the capitalist state underwent a fundamental reorientation as its apparatuses and governing axioms were reshaped by the pressures of international competitiveness, supply-side adaptation, and production method and labor market flexibility. This new environment compelled the state to adapt itself to a greatly expanded transnational economic and political domain, even as it had to find new opportunities for accumulation at the regional and local levels (74).

The State appears “hollowed out” as it no longer strives to manage the social, political, and economic life of its citizens but instead strives to relinquish more and more of its functions to the market forces (75). They go to Wall St., not D.C., because they are following the politicians (though with a different aim).

The problem, however, for those who would see this as “the end” of the nation-state, is that global finance capitalism has dramatically increased American hegemony. In short, though U.S. citizens complain about the corporate overtake of American democracy, the U.S. as a whole has witnessed an enormous increase in wealth and power in the global context. This leads to the conclusion, related to the one I made about the protests being about the “blackening” of American life. The enormous distributions in wealth, the lack of democratic participation, the blatant disregard for human, civil, and national rights, the determination of life by certain unelected leaders, all of these things have been life as usual in the world, especially in the lower development countries (the Global South). So, again, behind the anger directed at Occupy Wall St. is the horrifying experience of becoming a little familiar with the problems of the Global South.

The turn to financialization means now that money is made off of money–off of currency speculation, futures, derivatives, etc. You have to have a lot of money to make money, contrary to what the guy in the video below says, and those with relatively small financial resources are overrun, at the mercy of financial speculation. When a few investors can pull resources that triple your country’s GDP, then slight shifts in their investment strategy can destroy your economy. As Surin says,

the poorer LDCs [least developed countries] have virtually no place in this system from which they can hope realistically to influence its overall direction.

The global financial economy is structured so that the wealth amasses at certain key centers and the U.S. has the power–political, military, economic–to ensure that it continues to benefit from this arrangement, and thus, to ensure that the arrangement continues.

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One Response to Freedom Not Yet: Ch. 3 & Occupy Wall St.

  1. Julius says:

    I’m so jealous that you are getting to study this NOW! Good timing. Maybe, one day, in the near future, we can discuss these matters over a nice cold and frothy beverage.

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