Posner on Occupy Wall Street

Over at the Becker-Posner blog, Richard Posner (finally?) turns his attention to Occupy Wall Street. By and large, other than little quibbles about phrasing that accommodates Posner’s extreme market-friendliness, there is little to disagree with here: OWS was inspired by the Arab spring, depressions lead to demonstrations, social media makes organizing easier, the police tactics were tactically flawed, that OWS’ central complaints were “income inequality, lack of jobs, and the baleful influence of the banking industry.” I disagree that occupying public spaces was a mistake; au contraire, there was a vanishingly small chance OWS and its related occupations would have attracted a fraction of the press coverage they did had the protests been limited to sporadic marching and online bluster. A fixed, visible presence capable of acting as the locus of activist energy was always critical in elevating OWS’ profile; without it OWS would have lacked its distinctiveness as a political movement.

But then, at the end, after offering us as reasonable a take as one might expect from the champion of the economic in human affairs, Posner splutters:

Railing against income inequality, job loss, and banking abuses is thus understandable, but it doesn’t do any good. The “Occupiers” are anarchic and disruptive, and the solid middle of American society, which rejects the Tea Party because of its goofy ideas, is likely to reject the Occupy movement because of its style, while broadly sympathetic to its antipathies. But if the movement attracts charismatic leaders amidst a stagnant or worsening economy, it may become a force in American politics

This is a depressingly familiar, reductive, and not very deep summing up of political action: don’t bother protesting because it won’t do any good; good, “solid” people don’t like noise; come back when you have a “charismatic leader.” That is, channel your “anarchic and disruptive” forces into attracting the “solid middle” all the while making sure you march under the flag of that old rescuer of politics: the charismatic leader. So much for changing the political conversation.

OWS should take heart though, from Posner’s contention that they have found sympathetic resonance with the “solid middle” when it comes to their shared “antipathies.” Perhaps even if there is disagreement about prescription and treatment one should be heartened by agreement, on diagnosis and prognosis, across the political and intellectual divide that separates Posner and OWS.

Hope. Eternal. And All That.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: