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Occupy: Is Economic Redistribution Sufficient for Social Justice?

scottcyw
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Joined: Jan 27 2011

The Occupy movement, as noted by Chomsky( 2012), is the first significant and collective challenge to what he hailed as "thirty-years of class war."  The imagery, of the 99 percent and 1 percent illustrates thirty years of the erosion of labor laws, neo-liberal globalization, wage stagnation and the deregulation of the American banking system, which has in consequence, cultivated great economic disparity. While Canada has not broken down legislation, which according to Hedges (2009), turns banks into casinos, this "class war" has been executed ideologically. Nonetheless, where does social work stand among this movement? Are the espoused tenets on of the Occupy movement align with the aspired ideals of social work? 

 

 Occupy on its most rudimentary level is a radical-left winged movement that seeks to ameliorate economic disparity. Nevertheless, I agree with many writers, and particularly with Hedges (2011), that the Occupy movement is at its most fundamental stratum is bipartisan. While capitalism is an economic theory, according to Stanford (2008) the type of capitalism that has become current practice in North-America is Ango-Saxon capitalism. Anglo-Saxon capitalism statistically reflects, inequality, potent concentration of wealth and manufactured individualism.This type of capitalism is also referred to as radical or corporate capitalism by Chris Hedges. While those approaching the Occupy movement from the political left seek to ameliorate economic disparity, the true Conservatives, as stated by Hedges, seek the "restoration of economic law"; the re-regulation of the American banking system. 

 

The meta aspirations of the Occupy movement have been blurred by the mainstream media, which inaccurately contextualizes Occupy is a disbanded group of punk-radicals with no clear intent. Nonetheless, on its most fundamental level, I believe the Occupy movement is been quite explicit in its intent and aspirations. Chomsky (2012) concurs and asserts that the mere conception of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent symbolizes a myriad of ideals (wage stagnation, polarizing of resources and corporate influence on government). It is worth noting that other movements and aspirations that derive out of the Occupy movement (environmentalism) are tied to the purported goals of Occupy (Chomsky, 2012). Now that we have an understanding of "what" the movement aspires to achieve, where does social work fit in? And how does the movement tie into the ideals of social work?

 

Reisch and Andrews (2002) assert that social workers are to be champions of social justice. Further examining this conception, social works more fundamental objective is to cultivate equitable access to resources, employment and to help create opportunities individuals require to satisfy basic needs (Reich & Andrews, 2002). In social work vernacular, the rationale and objectives of the Occupy movement reflect “material redistribution” (Mullaly, 2008). Myopically, social justice is theorized to be achieved, or oppression is to me ameliorated through a more equitable economic system; eg.nordic capitalism. Oppression from this perspective reflects a somewhat simplistic model of oppression, “The Single-Strand Model”, which purports that oppression and social injustice derives from a single origin, in this case, a Marxist based argument of classism and exploitation (Mulally, 2008). From an anti-oppressive social work perspective, I assert that we need to be examining the motives of the Occupy movement through an “Intersectional Model of Oppression”. This model suggests that oppression is sustained and perpetuated from a myriad of societal sources, and cultivates an array of types of oppression that are steeped in class, race, gender, sexuality and age that create disparity. Comparing this to the single strand model, the “cause” of ones oppression is not merely based in economic inequality, but additionally by held societal believes. In terms of redistribution and advocacy work, what exactly does this mean? In my opinion, the motives and rationale of the Occupy movement are single-strand based. Hence, a successful Occupy movement would redistribute material and resources, but nonetheless, neglect the societal variables that justify disparity and remove rights. The focus on achieving social justice through material redistribution has been referred to as the “distributional notion of social justice.” Young (1990) accentuates the limitations of this narrow conception of social justice. For instance, the social structures, processes and practices that cultivated “maldistribution” are ignored. Additionally, rights, freedom and opportunity cannot be merely “redistributed.” For instance, the structural barriers to gay-marriage will still be present in a society with a perfect GINI coefficient. 

 

Unequivocally I am a proponent of the Occupy Movement. I agree with Chomsky’s assertions that this is the first significant collective challenge to the “class war” that has been raged by the dominant-minority on the oppressed-majority.  However, as a human advocate, social constructivist and on many levels, an existentialist, I view human suffering and oppression through a moving kaleidoscope of perspectives that includes multiple sources of oppression. The rationale for this piece was not to critique and undermine the movement, but to add “food for thought”, and to cultivate a critical discourse on a very exciting and important movement. 

 

References: 

 Chomsky, N. (2012). Occupied Media Pamphlet Series. Zuccotti Press. 

 Hedges, C. (2008). Empire of Illusion: The Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. Vintage Canada. 

 Mullaly, B. (2008). Challenging Oppression and Confronting Privilege. Oxford. 

 Reisch & Andrews (2002). The Road Not Taken. Routledge. 

 Stanford, J. (2008). Economics for Everyone. Fernwood Publishing

 

 


Comments

Grandpa_Bill
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Joined: Apr 25 2009

scottcyw wrote:

Myopically, social justice is theorized to be achieved, or oppression is to me ameliorated through a more equitable economic system.

Myopic?  Maybe so.  Yet, with the thought that nearsightedness is better then complete blindness, allow me to note this:  decades of research show that more equal societies almost always do better.

Why More Equality?

So a more equitable economic system, i.e. one that results from Closing the Gap between the highest and lowest incomes, is a good start towards the goal of social justice.

That must also be the thinking behind CUPE's pursuit of economic justice for women reported today in the Toronto Star:

Pay inequity OK if top rates are equal, Ontario court rules

I realize, however, that you started this thread with a purpose in mind different from examining whether incremental improvements are worth the paper on which they are printed, so I'll step aside for those who want to examine your thoughts.


KenS
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Joined: Aug 6 2001

Speaking of myopic....

What about asking if economic re-distribution is sufficient, when it is questionable when/if we will be on the cusp of achieving that?


Grandpa_Bill
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Joined: Apr 25 2009

KenS wrote:

Speaking of myopic....

What about asking if economic re-distribution is sufficient, when it is questionable when/if we will be on the cusp of achieving that?

Fair question, Ken.  CUPE seems to think that they are on the cusp of achieving a measure of eqonomic re-distribution for the women in their locals at Lakeridge Health Corp and York Region District School Board--see link above.  Perhaps you think otherwise.

 


Unclefred
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Joined: Jun 14 2011

Is economic re-distribution sufficient?  No.  It's necessary, but not sufficient.  The capitalistic system will always be unstable and self-desstructive as long as money can make more money, and that will be the case as long as money is a scarce commodity, as all major economies of the world use it.  It's that simple.  The economy is "The Matrix."  It's a prison for your mind that you can neither see, touch, nor taste, but it controls your actions and even your expectations.  It controls the way we relate to one another.  Money is "The Ring of Power" from the Tolkien stories.  It is the tool used by the rich to convince the poor that they have no power.

We need a different system.  We need a change even beyond political ideology.  We need monetary change, because for an economy to be healthy, goods and services have to flow freely to all the people.  That will not be sustainable with the dynamics of a scarce money economy.  2500 years ago the Chinese wrote in the Tao Te Ching, "When rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land; when government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures; when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn; all this is robbery and chaos."

That is a cyclical problem and it never goes away. even after revolutions.  If you don't change the structure of the basic economic underpinning of society, then a revolution is nothing more than hitting the reset button on an insane system.  A plentiful money system, like the LETSystem, or even a "no money" system such as that used by Occupy within their owns camps;... either of these would be a solution and worth exploring.  I am writing a book on this, (slowly), and I've come to believe that we will never amount to much as a species unless we leave this economic adolescence behind.  Capitalism does indeed contain the seeds of it's own destruction.  We've seen that over and over again throughout history.  We need to learn from the experience!


Ken Burch
Online
Joined: Feb 26 2005

One answer to this question was offered in an old IWW poem by James Oppenheim(later set to music by Mimi Farina in the 1970's).


"small art, and love, and beauty

their trembling spirits knew.

Hearts starve, as well as bodies,

give us bread, AND ROSES TOO".

 

It's not just about redistributing wealth, it's about redistrubiting beauty, joy, laughter, meaning and life.


Grandpa_Bill
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Joined: Apr 25 2009

Ken Burch wrote:

One answer to this question was offered in an old IWW poem by James Oppenheim(later set to music by Mimi Farina in the 1970's).

"small art, and love, and beauty

their trembling spirits knew.

Hearts starve, as well as bodies,

give us bread, AND ROSES TOO".

It's not just about redistributing wealth, it's about redistrubiting beauty, joy, laughter, meaning and life.

Quite a subject:  redistributing beauty.  There have been some amusingly insightful things said about both the production and the consumption of beauty:

Production:  Music is not like religion; devotion is not enough.  James Robert Waller

Consumption:  Do not do to others what you would have them do to you: their tastes may not be the same.  J. B. Shaw

 

 


Unclefred
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Joined: Jun 14 2011

It's not just the redistribution of wealth that is going to solve the problem.  It's the nature of the monetary system.  It's at a more fundamental level than "the economy," which is already "The Matrix"  - a prison for your mind.  It's the nature of money to make more money that builds the inequality.   Occupy has the right idea.  Their camps operated with no leaders and no money.  It was an incredible advancement, and it was working!  That's why the camps had to come down in the eyes of the 1%.  They couldn't allow these shining examples of an egalitarian community to stand there in the public view.  I camped in one of them for a while, (as I could manage at my advanced age), and although difficult physically, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

I always thought that it would take a period of a "plentiful money economy" to make the transition to a "no money economy," but Occupy went straight to the no money model with no interval or transition.  I was so ... proud ... of them all.  It restored my faith in my fellow human beings and the future of our species.  We can do better, and we might, in fact.


jeandlm
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Joined: Oct 16 2012

My feeling was the Occupy was against the banks.  What about them? 


Brachina
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Joined: Feb 15 2012

Unclefred wrote:

It's not just the redistribution of wealth that is going to solve the problem.  It's the nature of the monetary system.  It's at a more fundamental level than "the economy," which is already "The Matrix"  - a prison for your mind.  It's the nature of money to make more money that builds the inequality.   Occupy has the right idea.  Their camps operated with no leaders and no money.  It was an incredible advancement, and it was working!  That's why the camps had to come down in the eyes of the 1%.  They couldn't allow these shining examples of an egalitarian community to stand there in the public view.  I camped in one of them for a while, (as I could manage at my advanced age), and although difficult physically, it was one of the best experiences of my life.

I always thought that it would take a period of a "plentiful money economy" to make the transition to a "no money economy," but Occupy went straight to the no money model with no interval or transition.  I was so ... proud ... of them all.  It restored my faith in my fellow human beings and the future of our species.  We can do better, and we might, in fact.

Occupy had money behind it, from the Unions and donars. Basically it was a Political instead of religious Monastic situation. Monks too normally live in a post money enviroments, but thats because others provide money to the Abbots to handle such needs for the ordinary Monks.

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