Occupy Economics

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How Occupy Has Shifted the Economic Paradigm

Janet Meaton:

"First of all the Occupy Movement has created a useful space where finally the elephant in the room is exposed and legitimate discussion of the dysfunction of the present economic system is now widely underway from mainstream media to politicians, to academia, to students, as well as average citizens. Slovenian philosopher, and Professor Slavoj Zizek, popularized in Adbusters, and widely interviewed when the Occupy Movement was in full swing perhaps said it best in one of his interviews with Al Jezeera:

The basic insight I see is that clearly for the first time, the underlying perception is that there is a flaw in the system as such. It’s not just the question of making the system better. The system has lost its self-evidence, its automatic legitimacy. And now the field is open. This is a very important achievement. [4]

Zizek’s ideas are echoed by – Canadian activist, author and publicist, Naomi Klein in an interview in Solutions an online Journal for a Sustainable and Desirable Future. Klein states that the Occupy Movement has been a game changer, that it has opened up space to put more radical solutions on the table and she says that the experience of seeing these groups of young people putting their radical ideas on the table, and the country getting excited by it, has been a wake up call for a lot of people.. She concludes that it has challenged the sense of what is possible. [5]

University of Amherst Professor Emeritus Richard Wolff, one of many Profs who have spoken out in favour of the Occupy Movement, in the US stated: As the Occupy movement keeps developing, it seeks solutions for the economic and political dysfunctions it exposes and opposes. For many, the capitalist economic system itself is the basic problem.

He also noted that the students who were occupying Harvard and hundreds of other colleges and universities around the country were exploring two basic issues: i) how to restore the idea of the university and ii) how to imagine and create appropriate substitutes for capitalism. Both are key issues within the larger, national and international, Occupy movement. [6]

Vandana Shiva writing in the January /February 2012 edition of Resurgence states that the 99% is withdrawing its consent from the present political and economic disorder that has pushed millions to homelessness, joblessness, and hunger. She says that they understand that ‘freedom’ sold as ‘free market democracy’ has meant freedom for corporations to exploit whomever and whatever they wish, wherever they wish and however they wish and that means an end of freedom for people and nature everywhere. She speaks of systemic shift when she concludes: The new movements know this. And that is why they are indignant and are occupying political and economic spaces to create a living democracy with people and Earth at the centre – instead of corporations and greed. [7]

Sarah Van Gelder of YES Magazine writing about The 12 Most Hopeful Trends to Build on in 2012, observed in her trend #2 Economic myths get debunked that Americans now understand that hard work and playing by the rules doesn’t mean you’ll get ahead and that just as the legitimacy of apartheid began to fall apart long before the system actually collapsed, today the legitimacy of corporate power and Wall Street dominance is disintegrating. She concludes: The new-found clarity about the damage that results from a system dominated by Wall Street will further energize calls for regulation and the rule of law, and fuel the search for economic alternatives. [8]

So it becomes clear that many pundits and observers of the movement are defining an opening where a systemic economic shift is not only possible but emerging.

Secondly the movement has undertaken significant actions that address the disparity between the big banks and local economies and that strike at the heart of the globalized free market capitalist system and the dysfunctional democracy that represents it.

As noted in my last blog: The Occupy Movement’s call for citizens to transfer their monies from big banks to local credit unions and community banks was a direct challenge to the big banks and the mainstream system – indeed billions of dollars were transferred in a relatively short period of time. [9] In fact nearly two –thirds of a million Americans joined credit unions in the five weeks from the beginning of October to November 5th 2011. As Gar Alperovitz observed: This transfer was another sign that large numbers of people, fed up with Wall Street, were ready to act in some fashion to change the system- not simply to demonstrate anger at the big banks. [10]

Another significant action of the Occupy Movement that has challenged the dominant system has been their manner of organizing using grass roots, participatory, consensus building methods which has been variously described as originating with the Quakers, the anarchist movement, and the women’s, anti-nuclear and civil rights social movements of the 1960s . Others have seen parallels with the methods of the anti-globalization movement which came into prominence during the so-called Battle of Seattle at the 1999 WTO meetings where the Direct Action Network used methods of non-violent protest inspired by Gandhian techniques of self- organizing. [11]

Vandana Shiva in the Resurgence article referred to above, reminds us that not only the Occupy Movement but people’s movements worldwide are based on the deepest and most direct form of democracy which is what Mahatma Gandhi called Swaraj and which emerged during India’s freedom struggle . In this horizontal and leaderless form of organizing, Gandhi saw, in direct contrast to pyramids of hierarchy and domination, individuals at the centre and as an integral part of a village, which was itself part of an ever expanding, never ascending, array of ‘oceanic’ circles. Vandana also reminds us that this is how all indigenous cultures have practiced democracy throughout history. [12]

Sarah Van Gelder in her The 12 Most Hopeful Trends to Build on in 2012, attributed the organizing style of the Occupy Movement to a future potential for change in her Trend #4 . Alternatives are blossoming. She says that as it becomes clear that neither corporate CEOs nor national political leaders have solutions to today’s deep crises, thousands of grassroots-led innovations are taking hold and the Occupy Movement, which is often called “leaderless,” is actually full of emerging leaders who are building the skills and connections to shake things up for decades to come. [13]

It is worth noting the kinds of principles which define these leaderless grass roots movements include non-violence, smaller scale, sustainability, social equity, participatory democracy, and economic justice where economy, money and investment is rooted in community. Relating this form of principle centred self- organizing to the theme of Occupy Economics- one can see a pattern that connects- as the Occupiers in the public squares and spaces apply these principles in their day to day decision making about sharing resources, disbursing donated money to various committees for the social welfare of the group, discussing how to begin working with local currencies, transferring their monies to local banks and credit unions, and assessing the power of worker owned cooperatives and small scale businesses to transform the economic system beyond their encampments. [14]

In other words the participants of the Occupy Movement are modeling a systemic alternative to economic globalization, which parallels other community based economic initiatives already well underway such as those noted above.

Finally it is worth citing a recent rally in San Francisco as an example of a potentially deeper and more systemic kind of protest which is emerging. In the earlier days of Occupy Wall St., the movement with their street signs and in their speeches and slogans, called out the 1% and identified the economic disparity between the 1% and the 99%. In this recent San Francisco protest, a small but informed Occupy SF rally was held in solidarity with the sovereignty of the people of Greece highlighting the importance of their economic situation to the Occupy community, the United States, and the world as a whole. The Occupiers, noting that the austerity measures were designed to benefit the banks and enslave the people, cited the need for radical systemic change by calling for the IMF to leave Greece, and by suggesting that Greece should follow the example of Iceland, default on its debt, and arrest the bankers involved in the fraudulent derivative agreements that helped bring down the economy. [15]

So the some of the actions of the Occupy Movement and indeed its inherent form of self-organization are in themselves indicative of systemic economic change.

Thirdly there have been significant teach-ins by Occupy groups to attempt to grasp the meaning of the disparity between the 1% and 99% and what to do about it.

Well -known economists, philosophers, anthropologists, and other academics joined with the Occupiers in their public spaces, offering historical context, economic, political and cultural analysis of the existing capitalist, globalist system and it’s fall from grace and discussing ideas and recommendations for shifting the political economic paradigm, i.e transforming the existing system.

In the US well known academics, intellectuals, and economists like Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek; British born anthropologist, anarchist , Professor and author of Debt 5000 Years, David Graeber; American economics professor and author of America Beyond Capitalism, Gar Alperovitz; American economist, change agent and author of the “New Economic Agenda” David Korten; author and advocate of “Participatory Economics”, Michael Alpert of Z magazine; Amherst University Professor Emeritus Richard Wolff and many more have brought messages to the Occupiers. [16 ]

In Canada both economic profs and economists have taken to the streets to speak to Occupy Groups about the need for alternatives to the present economic and or financial systems: well known figures like York University Economics Professor David McNally, CAW Economist, Jim Stanford who conducted a teach on the banking system with a view to taking back the banks, and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative [CCPA] researcher and economist Mark Lee [CCPA] who spoke on the importance of co-operatives and credit unions. Others like political ecologist James Rowe, University of Victoria Prof, wrote to the Occupy Movement about the importance of the social economy. Professors Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson, Department of Economics at the University of Manitoba, and co-authors of Social Murder: Conservative Economics also took part along with occupiers themselves in Why Occupy : A Panel Discussion on the Occupy Movement. Chernomas spoke on the rise of the Occupy Movement and Hudson reviewed the banking system. [17]

As well as individual Profs who have come out to actively support and inform the Occupy Movement , associations of economic professors, and students have also voiced their concerns and offered their support and backing for systemic economic change . e.g. the Econ 4 – 4 people, 4 the planet and 4 the future, an organization of professors that originated at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in September of 2011 with the basic aim of trying to produce a change in economics in the United States. They drafted a statement which 400 or more mostly Economic Professors and a few economists from all over the world, including Canada, signed on to. The statement opposed the ideological cleansing of the economics profession especially the political cleansing in the vital debate over the causes and consequences of the current economic crisis. And in it they extend their support for the Occupy Wall Street movement across the country and the globe to liberate the economy from the short term greed of the rich and powerful 1% . [18]

In addition students have been taking action on campuses not only against the financial and economic systems but also against their profs and the economics profession in general. Professor Nancy Folbre writing in the New York times observed: Seventy Harvard students dramatized dissatisfaction with the economics profession when they walked out of Prof. Gregory Manikiw’s introductory economics class on Nov. 2, protesting, in an open letter to their instructor, that the course “espouses a specific and limited view of economics that we believe perpetuates problematic and inefficient systems of economic inequality in our society today.” [19] They also stated: A legitimate academic study of economics must include a critical discussion of both the benefits and flaws of different economic simplifying models. [20]

These Harvard students were taking a page from the actions of French economic students who several years ago walked out of their economics courses, organized protests, placed manifestos on the doors of their professors offices, and drafted a petition signed by hundreds of students demanding reform within the teaching of economics. Their actions spread to the UK, the US and beyond and the student group was joined by economics professors and other economists, to form the Post-Autistic Economics Movement [PAE ] which published online news, reviews and articles. More recently the PAE transformed into The Real World Economics Association [RWEA] which boasts hundreds of members and publishes an online journal highly critical of the existing neoclassical economic system and which has reported on the Occupy Movement.[21] Obviously students have an important role to play in shifting the economic paradigm. played an important role in [21]

So it is apparent that the Occupy Movement appears to be tapping into and manifesting an intuitive, experiential and academic awareness that economics as it is being taught and practiced throughout much of the world is based on a pseudo scientific discipline, the basic assumptions, values and theories of which have little basis in reality, and which no longer ring true given its massive failures evidenced by the on-going collapse of the ecological, financial and economic systems.

In reviewing the accomplishments of the Occupy Movement it becomes evident that ground work for an economic paradigm shift has been laid, alternatives to neoliberal economic globalization strategies have been identified and acted upon, and a greater understanding of the root causes of the issues and ways to shift the paradigm have been openly communicated and discussed in teach-ins with professors, heterodox economists, and the occupiers themselves, all of which has prepared the way for more significant gains as the movement emerges in a revitalized state this spring.

In other words it would appear that the Occupy Movement has contributed to shifting the economic paradigm." (http://beyondcollapse.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/occupy-economics-how-the-occupy-movement-has-helped-to-shift-the-economic-paradigm-2/)


[1] Janet Eaton. 2011. The Occupy Movement – Could it Portend a Whole System Shift? Visit and Support the Occupy Movement Nearest You.. Posted on November 7, 2011 http://beyondcollapse.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/the-occupy-movement-%E2%80%93-could-it-portend-a-whole-system-shift-visit-and-support-the-occupy-movement-nearest-you/

[2] Gar Alperovitz and the Democracy Collaborative. 2011. # Occupy The Future Brochure. Democratizing Wealth. Notes Towards an Evolutionary Reconstruction of the American System. http://www.garalperovitz.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/occupythefuture-final-printable.pdf

[3] Radio Documentary: “The Latin American Revolution” Hosts and producers Asad Ismi and Kristin Schwartz . http://www.psac-sjf.org/pages/index_e.aspx?ArticleID=403 Listen to the Broadcast at http://radio4all.net/index.php/program/44056

[4] Zizek interviewed by Al Jazeera on world protests and Occupy Wall Street. 2011 November 8 by Henrik Ernstson


[5] Interview with Naomi Klein in Solutions Journal. Solutions for a Sustainable and Desirable Future. Volume 3 | Issue 1 | Feb 2012http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/1053

[6] Occupy Harvard and beyond, December 6, 2011 David F. Ruccio. Real-World Economics Review blog. http://rwer.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/occupy-harvard-and-beyond/

[7] Vandana Shiva. 2012 . The 99%. Resurgence. January/February 2012 No 270. pp 10,11

[8] Sarah van Gelder. The 12 Most Hopeful Trends to Build on in 2012. YES ! Magazine Dec 31, 2011. http://www.yesmagazine.org/blogs/sarah-van-gelder/12-most-hopeful-trends-to-build-on-in-2012

[9] Janet Eaton. Comments on Banking and the Occupy Movement related to Ellen Brown’s “The Way to Occupy a Bank is to Own One” December 19, 2011.


[10] Move your Money Change the System Gar Alperovitz. December 12, 2012


[11] References on origins of the Occupy Movements methods of organizing. From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Everywhere by Nathan Schneider .October 11, 2011 | The Nation http://www.thenation.com/article/163924/occupy-wall-street-occupy-everywhere  ; Starhawk 2002. Webs of Power. Notes from a Global Uprising ; David Graeber. Occupy and anarchism’s gift of democracy. Guardian UK. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/nov/15/occupy-anarchism-gift-democracy;

[12] Vandana Shiva. Ibid pp ,11

[13] Sarah van Gelder. The 12 Most Hopeful Trends to Build on in 2012. YES ! Magazine Dec 31, 2011. http://www.yesmagazine.org/blogs/sarah-van-gelder/12-most-hopeful-trends-to-build-on-in-2012

[14] Janet Eaton Nov 2011 Ibid; Occupy Movement to Blossom as Spring Approaches. Groups from across the country planning actions in the coming weeks and months. March 15, 2012 by Common Dreams http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/03/15-1?print Published on Thursday

[15] Why Greece matters to the Occupy movement This piece was first published at OccupySF.org by Beth Seligman, JD. http://hellaoccupyoakland.org/a-small-but-important-sf-rally-why-greece-matters-to-the-occupy-movement-osf/

[16] Janet Eaton, Ibid http://beyondcollapse.wordpress.com/ Participatory Economics Michael Alpert http://www.zcommunications.org/participatory-economics-by-michael-albert-1-2, ; How to Occupy the Economy, According to Richard Wolff by: Lisa Rudman, Making Contact | Interview. 7 February 2012 http://www.truth-out.org/how-occupy-economy-according-richard-wolff/1328888306

[17] Janet Eaton.Ibid; James Rowe Occupy the Economy By James Rowe, 24 Nov 2011, TheTyee.ca http://m.thetyee.ca/Opinion/2011/11/24/Occupy-The-Economy;

Occupy Winnipeg. Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAdxtQwYaRk http://www.occupy-winnipeg.com/

[18] Econ 4 grouping – 4 people, 4 the planet and 4 the future. http://econ4.org/about/mission

[19] Occupy Economics By NANCY FOLBRE http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/28/occupy-economics/

[20] Harvard Student Walk Out In Support Of Occupy Wall Street http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/07/students-walk-out-of-harvard_n_1080236.html;

[21] Post Autistic Movement by Deborah Campbell , 15 Jul 2009. http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/85/post-autistic-movement.html; A Brief History of the Post -Autistic Economics Movement http://www.paecon.net/HistoryPAE.htm; Open letter from economic students to professors and others responsible for the teaching of this discipline http://www.paecon.net/petitions/a-e-petition.htm; Real World Economics Association http://www.worldeconomicsassociation.org/Journals/RWER/RWER.html ;

More Information

  1. NYT: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/28/occupy-economics/