Occupy Wall Street redux: 99%

15 October 2011

It is an empirical question whether the marriage partners of capitalism (in its totally mythical form as “self-regulating market”) and representative democracy (in its totally mythical form as “popular sovereignty”) are fully compatible, and practically functional, in conditions of emergency such as an economic crisis (particularly a crisis that is global). In the present situation, the finance banking system, which is not subject to the controls of any particular “government,” contributed to a crisis; whether “the People” (Tea Party or #OWS) can do anything about it using the instruments available to the American government is an open question, particularly when the ideal of a self-regulating international market holds sway in public opinion and in practice.

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The problem is that since the 1930s and 40s (and Taft-Hartley), there’s no political language for talking about class directly in American politics. After all, Americans are all middle class by definition, up to a yearly income of $250K. There’s no accounting for class differences between the owner of a small business, a well paid freelancer, a plumber, and person who works two jobs: they are all middle class. Hence, class distinctions are recognized as distinctions in culture (e.g. educational attainment, prestige of educational institution, patterns of consumption including books, religion or lack thereof, neighborhood, region, linguistic fluency, prestige of occupation, home-ownership, etc.).

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