Friday, November 25, 2011
"Where man starts by burning books he ends up by burning people."
451 at Zuccotti Park
The cowardly, nocturnal destruction of more than 5,000 volumes of “the People’s Library” last week, a repository of knowledge gathered by the Occupy Wall Street assembly at Zuccotti Park requires the most vigorous push-back. Mayor Bloomberg of New York ordered the destruction which was certainly coordinated with Wall Street and the White House.
Let the number 451 become his license plate; let it become his Social Security Number; let it become the password to his billions; let it become his total ID, for now the world knows him as the one who realized the dystopia of book-burning described in Ray Bradbury’sFahrenheit 451 (1953) known to every American high school student.
Or, one might liken the destruction at Zuccotti Park to the burning of the books in Germany in 1933. The German burning inspired a comrade of 1968 to place at the site of the Nazi’s hideous deed a plaque with Heinrich Heine’s words, written in 1821,
… wo man Bücher verbrennt,
Auch am Ende Menschen.
which roughly means, ‘where man starts by burning books he ends up by burning people.’ There is, of course, a difference between 1933 and 2011. The distance between the gasses of the holocausts and the burning of pepper spray is substantial but it is a distance upon a similar chemical continuum and it shares the same fear of ideas.
Though the plutocrats are still leagued with the war-mongers they are no longer
organized as national and social capital; capitalismorganized as national and social capital; capitalism now is globalized.
they constantly tell us, not national and not social. However, we the 99% too are world-wide and becoming more and more social.
The books at Zuccotti Park were hauled away in dumpsters belonging to the sanitation department. The pretext of the destruction was “cleaning” the park which, the Mayor said, was filled with “filth”. This is the rhetoric of Mein Kampf. But no one is deceived. These acts are deliberate attempts to destroy the ideas and the many “yesses” of the movement against neo-liberalism, and our utter negation of the blasphemous notion that rule by the 1% with its wars, debts, and work is inevitable and eternal.
The trashing of the books is a sign of our times as surely as the deliberate destruction of the antiquities and national library of Baghdad. In the case of Mesopotamia the books held the knowledge of the first cities of human history; in the case of Zuccotti Park the knowledge was surely of the next cities of human history. Well, not only cities. Obviously the country and the seas and the stratosphere are planetary sites of filth and destruction in need of repair. Even the Biblical jubilee of debt forgiveness, manumission, and land restoration entails a time of fallow, to give the earth a rest.
Nowadays the 1% expect all the respect, as if money conferred it, while we, the 99%, are degraded and devalued. Our wealth is not filthy lucre. Our wealth consists of ideas, it consists of our books, it consists of our prefigurments in our relations with one another. Our wealth consists of our assemblies where the “people’s microphone” returns to the Greek etymology of the assembly, the ecclesia, which meant to “call out.”
Within a few hours the call went out again and people re-gathered to re-constitute the movement to occupy Wall Street. Among the signs was one which surely is a call-out, “Arrest one of us; two more appear. You can’t arrest an idea!” Ideas are not “absolutely dead things,” as Milton said (Areopagitica 1644), “they are as lively, as vigorously productive as those fabulous dragon’s teeth, and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men.” He was writing in the midst of civil war; we may say that we are armed with books and with ideas. Our occupations, up and down and everywhere, embody them. You have only to witness the soft-spoken eloquence and the powerful composure of the librarians of the OWS Library at their press conference of the day before yesterday to understand this ecclesia.
This – the relation between words and deeds - is the essential point. The Occupation of Wall Street tended towards a unity of action and talk, because the action of occupation created the assembly where speaking out and speaking up could transpire. The resulting discourse creates knowledge of the revolutionary future. The struggle for ideas is a struggle for space: it was so with the hills and mountains of the liberating guerrillas, it was so with the peasants and soldiers in the soviets, it was the case with the congregations of the yeomen and artisans in the English civil war; it was the case with the tennis court where the French Revolution of 1789 began; it was so with the zocolo in Oaxaca; it was the case with the numberless encampments of history in forest and field from Kett’s Rebellion to the Zapatistas of Chiapas. In all of these it was the combination of ideas and assembled people in some actual, occupied space that was creative: ideas alone quickly become smothered in isolated study carrels, crowds alone quickly become mindless in the stadiums of authorized sport. When they are united our movement lives up to its name. History can begin. Hence, our enemies need to repress our deeds and our ideas. The protection of this relation of ideas and assembly is what the US Constitution forgot and had to be repaired right away in the very first amendment.
Peter Linebaugh teaches history at the University of Toledo. The London Hanged and (with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. His latest book is the Magna Carta Manifesto. He can be reached at: email@example.com
We Are the 99.9%
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: November 24, 2011 NYT
“We are the 99 percent” is a great slogan. It correctly defines the issue as being the middle class versus the elite (as opposed to the middle class versus the poor). And it also gets past the common but wrong establishment notion that rising inequality is mainly about the well educated doing better than the less educated; the big winners in this new Gilded Age have been a handful of very wealthy people, not college graduates in general.
If anything, however, the 99 percent slogan aims too low. A large fraction of the top 1 percent’s gains have actually gone to an even smaller group, the top 0.1 percent — the richest one-thousandth of the population.
And while Democrats, by and large, want that super-elite to make at least some contribution to long-term deficit reduction, Republicans want to cut the super-elite’s taxes even as they slash Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the name of fiscal discipline.
Before I get to those policy disputes, here are a few numbers.
The recent Congressional Budget Office report on inequality didn’t look inside the top 1 percent, but an earlier report, which only went up to 2005, did. According to that report, between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted, after-tax income of Americans in the middle of the income distribution rose 21 percent. The equivalent number for the richest 0.1 percent rose 400 percent.
For the most part, these huge gains reflected a dramatic rise in the super-elite’s share of pretax income. But there were also large tax cuts favoring the wealthy. In particular, taxes on capital gains are much lower than they were in 1979 — and the richest one-thousandth of Americans account for half of all income from capital gains.
Given this history, why do Republicans advocate further tax cuts for the very rich even as they warn about deficits and demand drastic cuts in social insurance programs?
Well, aside from shouts of “class warfare!” whenever such questions are raised, the usual answer is that the super-elite are “job creators” — that is, that they make a special contribution to the economy. So what you need to know is that this is bad economics. In fact, it would be bad economics even if America had the idealized, perfect market economy of conservative fantasies.
After all, in an idealized market economy each worker would be paid exactly what he or she contributes to the economy by choosing to work, no more and no less. And this would be equally true for workers making $30,000 a year and executives making $30 million a year. There would be no reason to consider the contributions of the $30 million folks as deserving of special treatment.
But, you say, the rich pay taxes! Indeed, they do. And they could — and should, from the point of view of the 99.9 percent — be paying substantially more in taxes, not offered even more tax breaks, despite the alleged budget crisis, because of the wonderful things they supposedly do.
Still, don’t some of the very rich get that way by producing innovations that are worth far more to the world than the income they receive? Sure, but if you look at who really makes up the 0.1 percent, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, by and large, the members of the super-elite are overpaid, not underpaid, for what they do.
For who are the 0.1 percent? Very few of them are Steve Jobs-type innovators; most of them are corporate bigwigs and financial wheeler-dealers. One recent analysis found that 43 percent of the super-elite are executives at nonfinancial companies, 18 percent are in finance and another 12 percent are lawyers or in real estate. And these are not, to put it mildly, professions in which there is a clear relationship between someone’s income and his economic contribution.
Executive pay, which has skyrocketed over the past generation, is famously set by boards of directors appointed by the very people whose pay they determine; poorly performing C.E.O.’s still get lavish paychecks, and even failed and fired executives often receive millions as they go out the door.
Meanwhile, the economic crisis showed that much of the apparent value created by modern finance was a mirage. As the Bank of England’s director for financial stability recently put it, seemingly high returns before the crisis simply reflected increased risk-taking — risk that was mostly borne not by the wheeler-dealers themselves but either by naïve investors or by taxpayers, who ended up holding the bag when it all went wrong. And as he waspishly noted, “If risk-making were a value-adding activity, Russian roulette players would contribute disproportionately to global welfare.”
So should the 99.9 percent hate the 0.1 percent? No, not at all. But they should ignore all the propaganda about “job creators” and demand that the super-elite pay substantially more in taxes.