Economic Terrorism or an Economic Sit-in?

I watch Glenn Beck. I want to know what everyone thinks, and he has too loud a voice to ignore. Make fun of me, unfollow me, do your worst.

A couple of weeks ago, Beck began hyping a story on “Economic Terrorism,” acts which could have catastrophic implications for US economic stability. I expected something incredible that I knew nothing about, a figurative bomb in the economic system which had been planted by Soros cronies. With an open mind but high expectations, I watched Beck’s Mar 22 program, in which he “Exposed Economic Terrorism,” apparently including reporting it to the FBI, Homeland Security, etc.

The quote is from Stephen Lerner, a former SEIU official, speaking at a closed-door Pace University forum. Here’s the summary of the plan:

For example, 10% of homeowners are underwater, right? Their home, they are paying more for it than it’s worth. 10% of those people are in strategic default, meaning they are refusing to pay, but they are staying in their home. That’s totally spontaneous; they figured out it takes a year to kick me out of my home, because foreclosure is backed up. If you could double that number, you would, you could put banks at the edge of insolvency again. Students have a trillion dollar debt. We have an entire economy that is built on debt and banks. So the question would be, what would happen if we organized homeowners en masse to do a mortgage strike? If we get half a million people to agree, it would literally cause a new financial crisis for the banks – not for us. We would be doing quite well, we wouldn’t be paying anything… –Business Insider (Full audio & transcript)

I was kind of pissed that this was the major, earth-shattering news that Mr. Beck had been promoting. This idea isn’t new. Students from UK Uncut suggested similar tactics: avoiding student loan, credit card, and car payments in an “Economic Sit-In.”

7.33:

2011 is the year of the people’s uprising and we can’t take it anymore. (Banks, government) have destroyed the economy, they’ve destroyed everything, and we have to take it back and you know it. Mar 26 – stop paying your mortgage, stop paying your taxes. Stand firm.

I know, this is only one person. But it’s one person within a youth movement, when not paying for something is often an initial idea. The corruption associated with big banks collecting dues, and governments collecting taxes, is a justification.

Stephen Lerner, the perpetrator himself, had the most honest response. He explained why the establishment felt so threatened by an economic sit-in (or economic terrorism, which ever term you prefer):

But I don’t think it was just my theorizing about power relationships and the economy that set off such a frenzy. It was the prospect that average Americans could take a series of concrete and practical steps, including direct action and civil disobedience, to make Wall Street pay for the trillions it stole from us. Ordinary Americans have the power and the opportunity to go on offense right now—with the immediate goals of keeping millions of people in their homes and raising revenue for cities and states to save jobs and critical services. –The Nation

I think he’s right. What’s easier than not paying a bill, or your taxes? Numbers increase with a healthy dose of conviction or a shot of activism, the thrill of disobedience. Or perhaps something more mainstream, just the removal of the burden of an overwhelming mortgage payment. A financial institution may be able to foreclose on a single home, or even a few hundred, but not millions, especially within a short amount of time. Even excluding the loss of revenue, some aspects of banking would be paralyzed simply because of the sheer volume of incoming foreclosures. A single voice may be silenced, but half a million, or even a quarter of a million, would make a resounding statement.

I’ll be the first to say that this is a bad idea, if stability is the goal. If revolution is the goal, this is mad brilliant. Oil at $109/barrel, inflation nearing 2%, protests around the country over a million different things. What’s easier to unite upon, than banking & government corruption which led to two financial collapses in less than five years?

#SummerofRevolution

Standing no chance to win, but we’re not running.

-a. dare

Pigovian Taxation as a Means of Reducing Carbon Emissions

Economic equilibrium is reached when demand and supply are equal. Market equilibrium is similar, with prices of goods and services canceling each other out. Loyal to the definition of “equilibrium,” this state will not change unless one of the contributing factors, such as supply or demand, changes first. Economic equilibrium is largely theoretical, but it’s an ideal which economic policymakers strive towards. Some market inequalities are countered with taxes or subsidies. A notable method is Pigovian taxation – a “sin” tax developed to discourage a specific behavior through taxation.

Pigovian taxes were theorized to correct negative externalities by imposing an additional marginal cost on a producer. By penalizing an unfavorable behavior, economic policymakers believe that the tax system would discourage or limit the activity which causes the negative externality. Negative externalities occur when a producer does not pay the full cost of a market decision, and the excess cost, often not measured in currency, is absorbed by society. This creates market inefficiencies, as there is a gap between a producer’s costs and the costs imposed on society because of the producer’s decisions. An example may be a person who has decided to paint their house a vibrant color in an upper-class neighborhood: the homeowner bought the paint and enjoys their lime green house, but their neighbors dislike the fact that the oddity has a negative impact, aesthetically or otherwise, on the homogeneous community.

Pollution is often cited as a practical example of the potential of Pigovian taxation. Suppose a steel mill were located in a particular town. During steel production, air and water become heavily polluted, the biodiversity around the mill decreases, and a formerly rural town is impacted by sudden industrialization. The pollution created by steel production has no affect on the company or its profits, but affects the citizens of the town, and can be labeled as a societal cost. Theses costs – air and water pollution, lessened aesthetic appeal, decreased biodiversity, noise and industrial development – are costs absorbed by citizens, and are therefore negative externalities. In response, the government may levy a Pigovian tax against the steel company equal to the societal costs, or negative externality. This may encourage the steel company to decrease its overall output or improve pollution containment efforts.

Though the theory behind Pigovian taxes is solid, its application is more difficult. To be effective, the tax must be set at an adequate level to cancel effect of the negative externality. In an insulated governing environment, this action would favor of society. However, current governments are lobbied by producers of negative externalities, most notably big oil. In a Pigovian taxation system, this could result in lower taxes that favor the producer and reduce the tax’s effect. Conversely, special interests may lobby for such high taxes that production is adversely affected, negating the potential positive effect of the Pigovian tax due to the overall negative effect on the economy.

Before the 1970’s, Pigovian taxing has met some applicable success in the US, but was soon replaced by a more profitable system of “pollution rights.” Policymakers prefer this system because polluters don’t lose profits by taxation, and may even earn extra profits by selling their unused pollution rights to a needy polluter. On the smaller scale, Pigovian taxes have been added to everything from cigarettes to soda, and have been proposed to be the structure behind a counter-pollution Carbon tax.

Since the G20 proposed Kyoto Protocol, there is a worldwide movement involving law-binding pollution goals. A more prevalent idea to reach these goals is a Pigovian tax on carbon production. Carbon taxing is directed at the “producer” of the negative externality, or fossil fuel industries which contribute most heavily to carbon emissions. By taxing carbon emissions, Carbon-emitting industries would face an extra marginal cost. Industries would be forced to either take in less profit, or slow their production of
carbon emissions to avoid these costs. By interfering with the fossil fuel industry, production and competition would slow, and may encourage more infantile energy industries, such as solar, wind, and geothermal, to grow with by alleviating pressure from established competitors. Currently, a growing number of countries, including many EU representatives, Australia, and Canadian provinces impose some form of carbon tax, or have introduced an Emissions trading system.

As world markets become more complex and our understanding more thorough, solutions are offered to balance societal inequalities. Pigovian taxes discourage the taxed behavior by increasing the cost of the action. The taxed entity may alter its behavior to avoid the taxes. When this is a large, profitable company, this slowed production relieves smaller organizations of a competitive burden, allowing them time to grow stronger and more profitable. In these ways, Pigovian taxes can, in time, strengthen markets by increasing the number of producers or suppliers. Broader uses of the Pigovian system are being implemented, in the form of Carbon taxing. Classic Pigovian taxation has been successful, but only time will tell if newer Pigovian models will have the same fate.

*edit 2/17/2012: same content, better wording

We’ve been conditioned for revolution.

“The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.” – John Adams

The true battle of a revolution isn’t within the Days of Rage or the bullets. The battle of a revolution is waking people from  their apathy and enlightening them a cause, something to fight for. This can be seen as a chain reaction, especially among those groups who are historically revolutionaries: a grievance is  identified, and evidence against the entity is gathered by the small group who initially identified the victimizing party. This evidence is used to convince others that there is a problem, and it is a problem worth attempting to fix. Depending on the scale of the problem, these attempts can be as local as the dean of a college, or broad and massive as an entire government or corporation.

It would be foolish to believe that there have not been efforts to condition Americans to the ideals of a revolutionary movement, largely in a leftist, if not socialist, direction. The progressive era introduced the idea of entitlements – Unions (pensions), Social Security, Welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, onwards to Pell grants, federal student grants, etc. Due to increases in population, increases in need, and lowering of qualification standards (ie, more people could qualify for the programs), these programs’ budgets expanded magnificently, and at times, exponentially. US revenue, however, has not increased in correspondence to the demand of social programs, whether it be due to outsourcing, corporate tax dodging, decreases in output, or multiple other factors.

At the moment, this is more easily applicable to the state level, who are also in similar cut-or-bankrupt situations. The weight of entitlement programs on governments is heavy. People have been conditioned to expect their service, and aren’t happy when it’s taken away. Even the threat entitlement cuts is  politically dangerous. However, the wave of GOP state legislatures and House representatives who were voted into office during the last election cycle, campaigned on just this topic.

Austerity measures have triggered unrest and uprising in many parts of the world, particularly the EU. Even after witnessing these uprisings, I don’t believe that US policy makers imagined that Americans would react in a manner even remotely similar. Americans are politically apathetic and may complain, but are unlikely to act. The same argument can be applied to any developed country with a hopelessly corrupt government,  because voters lose confidence – no one wants to be forced to choose between the lesser of two evils when at a polling station. People distance themselves from politics because they feel as though they have no influence, or that they entire thing is a charade. People are distant because they see little immediate effect on their lives.

Entitlements, however, directly effect anyone who receives their benefits, or anyone who is sympathetic to the argument. Groups are easily organized around a single effort or an umbrella of causes, and many anti-cut groups may unite to increase their influence. This is exemplified by UK Uncut, and the American version, US Uncut. Both of these groups have the potential to be a sustained force: they have a grievance, and  they have a proposed solution, both of which are easy to explain and easily communicated. They do not align politically (officially, anyway), and they do not have monetary sponsors.

 

1/3 of the American Revolution were Patriots. 1/3 were Loyalists. 1/3 were apathetic.
Using those statistics, the 33% apathetic would be the most influential group. Those who don’t align allow others to speak for them. It may be  that they truly don’t have an opinion, that they aren’t informed, or they just don’t care. But it’s more likely that they’re disillusioned like the rest of us, and just aren’t sure of which side to be on. They don’t advocate change, but they don’t fight it. This empowers a revolution, but on which side is debatable.

It’s not too late. We have the rest of our lives.

-a. dare

The opportune moment

My commitment issues are again apparent. However, I wanted to write every day – it was just too difficult to pick a single topic and, like an overwhelmed child, I just didn’t do it. Too much has been happening, much too quickly. It feels as though the pace is increasing, worldwide, as if a signal has been given for every revolutionary movement to start its first fires.

I don’t know how to introduce this, and I’m not sure of its relevance, but I feel like it’s very important. There’s a book, anonymously authored by The Invisible Committee, a group of French militant Communists. It’s titled, The Coming Insurrection, and reads as both an instruction manual and a manifesto for revolution. I had graduation testing today, so I had the opportunity to read it in one sitting. There are tones of anger, of hate, of longing, of passion, and of complete dedication to the cause. But what struck me was the advice to pass information indirectly, through subtle messages.

I’m in no way theorizing that the #MENA movements are planned or organized by a centralized or even decentralized authority. I truly believe they are the product of oppression, demographics, and emotion. But the rapid domino effect – Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, even China – may lead one to believe that the revolutionaries in these countries may have been waiting for a signal: this is the opportune moment.

[There are levels of a movement, of the mass of people which make up a revolution. The dedicated, diehard core of a movement, those with true goals and unshakable ideology and motives, are usually those who are the first and last on the streets. Once a large movement begins to build behind the core, broader arguments are offered. This lessens chances of alienation of possible supporters, and also lessens the chance of the movement itself being marginalized by a government as “extremist”. Between the core supporters/organizers and the mass movement, lay a group who are likely aware of the movement’s intentions but are not organizers themselves.]

Egypt sent these movements, these revolutions, this sentiment, global.
In the US, unions have always protested, but they haven’t been able to sustain these numbers and enthusiasm since the early 20th century. Activists of other realms, such as #USUncut demonstrators and #FreeBradley protesters on March 20, should have made headlines. If not their numbers and mere presence, their confrontation with police and the arrests, especially during the #FreeBradley rallies, should have made headlines. Among the 400 at Quantico base in Virginia, 30 were arrested. Over 100 were arrested in Washington, D.C. outside the White House protesting the treatment of Bradley Manning and the 8th anniversary of the Iraq War/Invasion/Occupation.

#UKUncut, the umbrella of UK student organizations protesting tuition increases, entitlement cuts, etc., have chosen #March26 as essentially a Day of Rage. Some channel occupation, others riots. Many suggest ignoring mortgages, student loans, credit card bills, car loan bills… Essentially crash the state through an economic sit-in. This video is a bit long, but it is #UKUncut. It is #March26.

#USUncut is planning solidarity movements across the country, but their success is always questionable. Those who participate are usually the most passionate, though, and are the antithesis of the movement. It seems as though the US is relatively safe from revolution, at least for the time being. Europe is more likely to fall, with crushing debts and the coming Portuguese bailout, a rebellious and angry youth, a youth who believe they’re fighting for something.

#USDOR. I watch this hashtag with both fear, and anticipation. I’d like to believe that the US’s problems can be solved within the law, that markets will realign themselves, that the Constitution will be upheld; to be honest, these things are true – but those surrounding the highest ranks of the US government, are either corporatists or revolutionaries themselves. Something has to give. Ideologies are clashing, lies are churning…

Revolution is in the air, but something sparked this fire. Perhaps it was Tunisia, the successful fall of a dictator, which inspired other movements, and so on. Perhaps it was WikiLeaks, and we go full circle – the fall of our world began with the truth, and in the end, the truth will be all that’s standing.

We cower to interests not our own.
-a.dare

Us vs. Them

I learned this basic principle in AP Psych. When any group of people is divided into factions, there is a tendency to develop intense rivalries between them, no matter how united they once were. In experimental settings, these factions are often determined randomly; however, outside of the lab, people divide based on many aspects of life. One of the most prominent in the US is political ideology.

Ideologies in the US scatter across the political spectrum, just like in every other country. However, as a result of the two-party system, a majority of the population identifies with one of the mainstream political parties – the Republicans, or the Democrats. The more informed understand the ideologies the parties intend to represent – conservative and liberal, respectively. This direct split between the ideologies of the majority of the US population has, in my opinion, led to the often hostile “us v them” mentality which now stalls even the most basic of government functions.

I talk to everyone, no matter how much I disagree with them or how uninformed I believe they are, because I want to understand how different types of people justify their arguments. I know the arguments of the right – I was raised straight conservative, many of my childhood memories having Bill O’Reilly as background noise; I can explain Glenn Beck’s “George Soros’ New World Order” theory off the top of my head, and I know the ugly side of the elite left.

But more recently, I’ve learned ugliness of the right’s elite. Monsanto, Google, Bank of America, and all the corrupt oligarchies which are essentially a monopoly in disguise. I’ve learned the influence of the corporate elite on legislation, much of which hurts the American people – but those policing agencies are those who work for the company. I’ve learned the ugliness of my country’s wars, the propaganda war against WikiLeaks and AnonLeaks, the attempt of framing innocent people. The conflicts of interest and the world picking winners and losers, based on economic output. The elite right are just as wrong.

Most applicably, I’ve learned that we fail to distinguish between the policies and beliefs of the elites and extremists of an ideology, and the average people who identify with principles of that ideology. The vast majority of those who identify with liberal ideals embrace humanitarian ideals, as opposed to radicalism and revolutionary movements, as portrayed by the right. The vast majority of the right embraces logical economic policy, as opposed to the left’s portrayal of gun-toting secessionists.

The Us v Them mentality of America will be our downfall. We aren’t as different as the elites of our ideologies like us to believe, and opposing views aren’t as ominous as they would like. The humanitarian and emotional arguments represented and brilliantly executed by the left allows this segment of the political spectrum to organize effectively, uniting the population under a broad cause. The economic logic of the right ensures the sustainability of a movement or government. But the elites continue to barrage us with arguments hate against the other side, insisting that they are less than human and suffering from genetic mutations.

We don’t need to be told who’s our enemy or friend, who to trust or be suspicious of. No one has a greater conflict of interest than an ideological elite, and it surprises me that each side discounts the power of their elites. The people have the power. We shouldn’t answer to them. We outnumber the elites, including the ideological elites, remember?

Seal the exits because this is war.
-a. dare

WikiLeaks catalyzed #MENA uprisings – Assange

Initial reaction: Well, duh.

I found it rather entertaining that Mr. Assange’s argument was organized in a similar manner as my own. Wikileaks exposed government corruption and therefore became a platform for widespread discontent. Such a general argument as the end of corruption, or the fall of a hated regime, is broad enough to quickly gain popular support, especially in countries with high youth populations and high unemployment rates – in other words, an easily disturbed atmosphere.

However, there were other aspects which I had yet to consider, at least as more than a line in a tweet. The US’s finicky #MENA policy, combined with leaked diplomatic cables, led Arab dictators, kings, and despots in general, to believe that, in an the event of an uprising, the US’s loyalty could not be assured, no matter the previous relationship – the US may instead choose the side of the military. Perfect example: Egypt’s “President” Mubarak, who had been a long-time ally of the US despite his regime’s human rights abuses. However, when #Jan25 uprising commenced, and international support was the only thing which would have kept Mubarak in power, the US faltered and took the side of the people (like a week late and indirectly), abandoning their buddy for the less-familiar #EgyArmy.

Assange highlighted this in his speech to a group of 800 Cambridge University students:

“The Tunisian cables showed clearly that if it came down to it, the U.S., if it came down to a fight between the military on the one hand, and (President Zine al-Abidine) Ben Ali’s political regime on the other, the U.S. would probably support the military,” he said.

“That is something that must have also caused neighboring countries to Tunisia some thought. That is that if they militarily intervened, they may not be on the same side as the United States,” Assange said.

The strategic timing of cable releases, during the height of uprising fever, was also addressed. Many assumed that these releases were to fuel the flames of dissent; however, Assange’s argument considers a broader context:

The cables were published, not just so that the people in those countries would know what was going on, “because many of them already knew what was going on in great and grotesque detail, but rather so that it would not be possible for the West to stand up and support the (authoritarian leaders),” he said.

“It was not possible for (U.S. Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton to publicly come out and support Mubarak’s regime,” he said.

Reuters

Wikileaks is truly one of those milestones in history, when events are described as “before” and “after.” No longer do a country’s citizens bear the weight of corruption and oppression alone, with only their words and experiences as proof to their claims. The surge in online activism since Wikileaks, whether the inspiration be Wikileaks itself, or the humanitarian or political arguments the cables uncovered, has amplified the voices of those who are oppressed by regimes, weakening the regime’s hold on the people. Once the psychological barrier is broken, the fear, alienation, aloneness – a movement is born by those who are no longer afraid to die, because their story will be heard. Someone will know. The world will know.

Diplomatic cables only reveal how deeply the corruption runs, throughout the world system – everyone is betraying the other, lying, cheating, covering up. All with straight faces. But the kid who believed it was  all wrong, then decided act rather than watch, is the enemy.  Yes, world leaders. We understand. Alienate your masses further. There will always be more of us than there are of you.

#MENA status: Ben Ali exiled, Mubarak fallen, Gaddafi genocidal, Bahrain recruiting the Saudi military and currently ravaging #Lulu/#Pearl, Yemen using nerve gas, Syria arresting bloggers at random; many other regimes all over the region either attempting to bridge the gap with reform, or steadfastly refusing to see their people rise.

I’ve read interviews where Assange said that his purpose for Wikileaks, was to create chaos. Mission accomplished?

Storm the gates, raise the flames.

-a. dare

Is it better to live or die on your feet?

I analyze everything way too much.

Example: I was listening to Rise Against’s new album, and the lyrics are essentially a call for revolution. But one song in particular, “Survivor Guilt,” begins with commentary between an American and someone with an eastern European accent, likely Russian.

America: “What are you talking about? America is not going to be destroyed.”

European: “Never? Rome was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, Persia was destroyed. Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours? How much longer do you think your country will last? Forever?”

American: “You’re a shameful opportunist. What you don’t understand is that it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.”

European: “You have it backwards. It is better to live on your feet than to die on your knees.”

Song

I find both of these arguments compelling.

To die on your feet, rather than live on your knees.

There are few people in this world with beliefs so unshakable and nerve so strong, that they are willing to die for their beliefs. I’m including religion in this, as the seed of doubt is planted very early in life. Most people don’t question, but won’t hesitate to doubt, especially in a pressing situation with multiple possible outcomes and no true solution. However, there are those who choose to stand. I use the term “choose” loosely, because for those who would die for their cause, the person and the idea are no longer separate: those who are willing to die are the embodiment of their movement. Whether it’s those who have been brainwashed by government propaganda, or those who have embraced an ideal by choice: to die on your feet is to sacrifice for a movement.

To live on your feet, rather than die on your knees.

This conjured images of an execution. There are extreme situations when dissent is deadly, and regimes do not hesitate to kill those who attempt to introduce new ideas. Information becomes an enemy, and those who distribute it are traitors. In this environment, it’s impossible to openly broadcast anything against the government or regime, impossible to be anonymous. Once a government utilizes technology against their citizens, bans books, monitors airwaves, funds propaganda (I know,  they already do all of these things), and openly target those who dare speak against the approved agenda, word-of-mouth becomes the most powerful weapon. In these situations, it’s critically important to remain alive despite oppression, in the hope of facilitating change and a better future.

During an open revolution, or in a freer society, pledging to die on your feet is productive. The buildup to these revolutions, however, is largely spawned by the quieter understanding between those who are willing to live on their feet, against their ideals, only comforted by the knowledge that they are not alone, and they are the inspiration for a new generation.

Like a single domino that falls while the rest stay vertical.

-a. dare

*Nov 29, 2011: edited title on the suggestion of a reader