Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupied by a Loss of Trust

World Map of Occupy Protests from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/occupy-movement

I have noted some things about the Occupy protests...

The protests have been largely poo-pooed, regarded as an amorphous social phenomena and a logistical nightmare for municipalities to manage.  Worse, some have framed them as problems due to specific individuals or companies.  But it should act  far more as an indicator of a widespread distrust in the governing systems that rely heavily on the maintenance of that trust for power to govern.  Trust and risk are inversely related.  As trust decreases, perceived risk increases.  That the governing systems seem to be perceived as a risk to the public well-being should be a concern to those powers as it is an indication that the public has lost trust in their ability to govern effectively. 

Also, a common complaint about the protesters is that their demands seem unorganized.  It appears more of an uprising with general discontent then one of traditional demand for specific policy action.  But it is not fair to ridicule protesters for this.  Because the public does not know the intricacies of the system and cannot know the intricacies, they trust others to make decisions about the system for them.  This is the purpose of electing officials that consult with technical experts.  To accuse them of not formulating specific policy demands is a slap in the face to those that have put their faith, debt, and dollars into the ideals of democracy and by extension, modern capitalism.  

A brief editorial by Richard Lambert in the Financial Times reflected on this issue well
...The fact that the protesters have no clear agenda is irrelevant. They represent concerns that many people can relate to, and they are unlikely to go away.
So it may be that capitalism is approaching some kind of tipping point, away from the winner takes all culture of the past three decades. If left unchecked, public disquiet will sooner or later bring a political response, maybe in the form of much more aggressive regulations and progressive tax systems. These could be at least as damaging as the free market fundamentalism that they would seek to replace.
Much better for business itself to recognise that it has a real economic interest in the well-being of the societies in which it operates; that success or failure is not just determined by earnings per share or profits per partner; and that a successful market economy has to be built on a degree of trust and mutual respect. Capitalism has adapted to changing political and social pressures in the past, and now is time for it to do so again.


  1. Very perceptive and very generational. As a child of th sixtys, I grew up not trusting government. My observation from TV coverage is that most of the protestors are younger than my 60 years. Perhaps that's a matter of stamina, but more likely it's that trust was never there and therefore, it was not betrayed. Of course, This sixtys child does become angered over the economy, etc. however, if pointing to a specific complaint would help, I am of the opinion that we should begin by prosecuting a few of those who participated in marketing bundles of fraudulently obtained mortgages and forfeiting some of those proceeds as fruits of those crimes. RICO is a term that readily comes to mind.

  2. I like the RICO idea :)

    It may be that earlier generations lacked trust in the government and economy as well, but it need not be all or nothing. As the 60's generation still had more than their parents at their might not have been such a strong feeling of risk. Trust may have been waning, but some remained. Maybe trust to protecting the ideals of growing the middle class but no trust in power to tell the truth.

    Risk is socially learned. It could be that people have learned from their 60's parents not to trust the government to tell the truth but as the jobs decreased and financial shocks increased, trust to protect the middle class also waned.

    Anyways, point being trust and risk exist as a gradient. This would explain the "tipping point" in the above excerpt. Trust has been lost over many decades and several generations, there is now such extreme distrust that the system is perceived as risk in and of itself.

  3. Sometimes the perception is exactly right. Thus, the system, in its present form, is the risk. Moreover, while it may be risky to trust, it certainly may be prudent to distrust because of the inherent risk. It's the abuse of trust which, I believe, has led so many to occupy.


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