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The world’s 99: voices fighting to be heard around the world

The world’s 99: voices fighting to be heard around the world

One underlying effect of the financial crisis is that it undermines legitimacy of authority. Rhetoric and tactics against the 1% global elite is shared around the world.

October 11, 2011 2:26 by

“If you look at what’s happened everywhere, there is some kind of psychological synchronisation,” he told a meeting in Washington last month at the US Institute for Peace. “There is a sense among young people that their generation is different. If enough of them behave like that… you might be seeing some kind of generational shift as happened in 1967.”

With hindsight, many of the baby boomers who protested in the West and Communist blocs in 1967-68 did not prove notably radical in the rest of their lives. Most settled into mainstream jobs, raised families and moved in a more conservative direction. But many wonder what might happen if the current economic downturn proves more profound and longer lasting.

Today’s protesters in the developed world tend to lack the ideological conviction of many of their predecessors. While they might declare themselves frustrated with mainstream politics, globalisation and financial markets, there is little of the hankering of yesteryear for alternate ideologies.


“There’s enthusiasm for Marxist theory as a tool for analysis,” says Tim Hardy, author of UK-based blog “Beyond Clicktivism. “But I haven’t seen many calls for Marxist-style statist solutions. There is some interest in anarchist models, perhaps because they’re the only thing that hasn’t been tried and failed. But there’s also just a lot of confusion.”

If anything, many of the new generation of protesters could be described more as “militant Keynesians” than anything else: favouring state stimulus, public works and controls to stem the unfettered movement of capital. More often, they appear to be coalescing around individual issues or demands.

UKuncut, for example, an officially leaderless group of which Hardy describes himself as a leading cheerleader and which has formed a US offshoot, organises flash mobs at businesses they accuse of avoiding tax through offshore dodges.

In contrast, rioters who ran amok through British cities for several days in August, largely a poorer, tougher, more inner-city group than the earlier student protesters, seemingly lacked purpose beyond a desire to flout authority and loot goods.

The Wall Street protesters, early indicators suggest, may come together around calls for financial regulation and tax reforms to redress a widening wealth gap. In doing so, they may end up accelerating trends already visible.

Last month, US President Barack Obama echoed billionaire Warren Buffett in calling for America’s richest to pay more tax. Even before the protests, Goldman Sachs had lost around a quarter of its value in the stock market largely because of fears it might face a regulatory backlash.

But at the same time, the financial crisis and its aftermath has also helped fuel the rise in the US of the right wing Tea Party with almost exactly the opposite demands — slashing back state intervention in the economy and society.

In the euro zone, a left-wing response against austerity in troubled borrowers in the Mediterranean south — such as Greece — is counterbalanced by the rise of Eurosceptics and right-wing parties in the fiscally more frugal north — Germany, Finland and other core EU states opposed to ongoing bailouts.

“What you’re seeing is a loss of confidence in institutions and their legitimacy because they are not seen as delivering,” said Jonathan Wood, global issues analyst at Control Risks.

“It’s hardly a surprise that it’s producing a degree of paralysis. Politics becomes very reactive and it’s hard to deal with the bigger issues.”

For the protesters of the Middle East dealing with the aftermath of revolutions or facing a sometimes bloody backlash from autocratic elites clinging to power, events in the developed world are all very interesting.

But for many, there are more pressing concerns than how they might fit into a wider global generational zeitgeist. “I think the bankers in the region are worried,” United Arab Emirates-based blogger Sultan Al Qassemi told Reuters via twitter. “But not the Yemeni and Syrian street, if you know what I mean.” (By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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