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Our leaders should ignore street protest

Posted by Richard D North in Food / Green / Money on 3 April 2009

Why we posted this: It’s a commonplace that The People are angry with capitalism and that’s why there’s protest on the streets, and it ought to be heard by our leaders. But actually, isn’t the big surprise that there’s so little protest and that there is little evidence that people think capitalism is dead, or anything like it? 

The original story:
“Wall Street slow to see zeitgeist”
Chrystia Freeland
Financial Times
3 April 2009

Summary of the story:
Chrystia Freeland’s piece discusses the public anger about failures in Wall Street and The City. Here is a key passage:

The technorati and the punditocracy have tended to characterise public anger provoked by the crisis with the lazy shorthand of “populist rage”.

This week’s robust mass manifestation of that discontent in London will have strengthened that perception. But the truth is that the people’s disgruntlement is far more focused than that dismissive tag would suggest. Even those London crowds – and remember, these were people animated by the passions of a public demonstration, not participants in an Oxford Union debate – targeted the windows of Royal Bank of Scotland, one of the big public welfare recipients, rather than the hedge funds of nearby Mayfair.

livingissues comment:

Chrystia Freeland seems irritated that Wall Street people dismiss as “populism” the anger about the hiatus in capitalism. Fair do’s: one imagines that there are elite, educated, thoughtful people who are angry with the generation of capitalists who have so failed their customers, employees and firms. Certainly, it’s not just mob folly to dislike what’s been going on.

But Ms Freeland’s analysis seems to emphasise the wrong things. Here are a few:

(1) The street protest against the G-20 was mostly old-style anti-capitalism of the sort we’ve heard for a decade or more. This anger is always directed at whatever capitalist target looks the most unpopular at the time.

(2) This wasn’t “popular protest” by “The People”. Not many taxpayers (all of them) with money in RBS would think it clever to add to the bank’s problems by breaking the firm’s windows.

(3) The really interesting thing about the mass media response to the financial chaos we are living through is how little of it is anti-capitalist. There seems to be a quite a lot of tacit understanding that capitalism hasn’t failed us, we have failed capitalism.

(4) It is very interesting how much interesting discussion there is now about what sort of controls are needed on capitalism as we rebuild the system. The good thing is that there is a lot of sensible discussion about how too much new regulation would be as dangerous as too little.

(5) The important thing is that Chrystia Freeland seems quite wrong to say that the G20 leaders have much to learn from the protestors. They are already being quite thoughtful and have plenty of more interesting voices to take account of.

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