It Helps To Be Correct In Your Analysis

Posted on


I really enjoyed Michael Kazin’s dialogue with Justin Elliot on the 99 Percent Movement, but I wanted to register a mild dissent from this take on what happened with the globalization protests of the late 1990s:

The most optimistic way to look at it is that this protest campaign will be a catalyst for people working on issues of economic justice anywhere in the country and, to a degree, in other countries as well. The negative possibility is that this will devolve like the global justice campaign of a decade ago, which is best known for the Battle of Seattle in 1999. It seemed hugely exciting at the time. I wrote a long Op-Ed in the New York Times in which I predicted this would be the beginning of broad new attack on concentrated wealth, comparable to the populist movement in the 1880s and 1890s. But it fizzled. Its targets, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, were hard for most Americans to get excited about. In ““>American Dreamers,” I quote an activist who says it was pretty hard to get people to understand what the World Bank actually did. Occupy Wall Street is more visceral. Young people are afraid they’re not going to get jobs. People are unemployed. They are losing their houses. These are issues that everyone understands.

It seemed to me both then and now that the big problem with the global justice movement of that era wasn’t that the issues it was grappling with were too complicated for the average person to understand, it’s that the movement’s analysis was mistaken. The late 1990s were a very prosperous time for America. And the analysis that the spread of global capitalism to what we used to call “the third world” would be immiserating for those countries was wrong. China has not been immiserated. Nor has India. Nor has Brazil. Nor has Turkey. Africa’s just wrapped up a very solid decade. It’s true, as Dani Rodrik will tell you, that none of the development success stories (except maybe Chile) has come from a carbon copy implementation of the full Washington Consensus. But it’s even more true that none of the development success stories have come from developing a radical alternative to participation in a globalized market economy.

By contrast, the main analytic points of Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots are correct. Policymakers promised us broadly shared prosperity and macroeconomic stability. We didn’t get the former, and now we can see that we didn’t get the latter either. Having failed to deliver prosperity or stability, the global elite pivoted to the claim that owing to the lack of past prosperity it would be irresponsible to return us to macroeconomic stability without first cutting pensions. It’s crap, and people shouldn’t stand for it. And in America, at least, it’s already working. Conservative politicians are expressly talking about inequality, and the Obama administration has gone back to talking about aggregate demand instead of grand bargains. There’s more to life than being right, but being right helps a lot. And that’s the main difference here.