Monday, October 17, 2011

I should probably start thinking more about OWS

Lately my mind has been completely preoccupied with transitive closures and Walker's Theorem, but at the one-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street I think it's probably time to admit this is not a passing fad, it's an important development, and I should pay more attention to it.

People I respect a lot endorse the movement, and the demands strike a chord with me in a vague sense, but I worry that in practice I'm too "neoliberal" for them. A Tea Party analogy might be OWS:Daniel::Tea Party:Senate GOP Leadership.

But they appear to have staying power - occupying a single site for a month is more along the lines of the Arab Spring than the Tea Party, and we have reports today that they've got $300,000 stashed away and have storage lockers full of supplies.

- Evan has an interesting post about the "Occupy Wall Street Library", which apparently you can donate to.

- Bob Murphy shares a discussion between Tom Woods and Stefan Molyneux on the movement. This might come as somewhat of a shock, but their primary critique is that OWS is not libertarian.

-This is an interesting graphic from the Wikipedia page:

If I were an OWS organizer, I'm not sure which trajectory I would prefer - but the contrast is interesting. I'm guessing part of the difference is due to the fact that the primary instigator of the Tea Party movement (Santelli) was a media personality, so it's no wonder they had quick coverage.

- And here's an interesting solution to a problem that Joe Stiglitz faced:

Any other thoughts/interesting points on OWS?


  1. Me and my wife have been pretty involved and are getting increasingly involved. I wrote this about it:

    It's more for people fully on board, but you might appreciate my socialist calculation debate joke.

  2. Oh, Also that graph comes from the 538 guy's blog and is interesting to read in it's own right:

  3. That graph only works if you think the TPM started in April of 2009.

    OWS was launched in part by Adbusters. I oppose Adbusters, so apparently my mind remains "polluted." ;)

  4. That's based on when the first (major?) tea party protest happened, not when it started.

  5. Isn't Adbusters Canadian?

    Why do these Canadians always lord themselves over American affairs? Who do they think they are to lecture Americans on what their policy should be? They didn't even have any major recession in Canada - it's a commodities and oil economy, so it is recession-proof.

    Why don't some Americans travel to Toronto and lead a protest against Stephen Harper? Won't ever happen.

    At least the Indian American Caucus focuses on securing Indian interests in Indo-American international agreements. They don't try to order American society from within.

  6. Dan, you should come down to Occupy DC and just hang out. I went for the first time yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to find that everyone 'fits in' and that Occupy DC is apparently pretty well organized despite being smaller than the main OWS in NYC (at least according to some folks who had visited a number of Occupy locations). I'll be going back tonight and hopefully frequently, since I work right around the corner (at the World Bank naturally) - feel free to get in touch.

  7. Dad had an interesting point the other day when we were talking about OWS. From what I know they originally started through protesting high earnings by CEOs. Dad's point was that if we want to protest insane earnings maybe we should protest how much entertainment and sports stars make. At least CEOs contribute real work.

    I'd be interested in knowing the demographics of the protesters and how many of them actually genuinely have ideas on change versus those who are just there as "the cool thing to do". Frankly, protesters often annoy me because I don't feel like they are working towards much and don't offer solutions. Yes, it's great to draw attention to a problem but we can't get anywhere without solutions.

  8. As for the "contributes real work" point, Kendra, you can tell him my quick thought is that the salaries of sports and entertainment stars are set by the amount of money they can bring in to the studio or the team (along with, of course, some bargaining power and rent capture). Basically, though, you do not get fabulously wealthy doing that stuff unless you are successful in entertaining millions of people enough that those millions of people are willing to pay money to you.

    CEO salaries seem somewhat different insofar as the circle of people you have to convince to pay you a lot of money is much narrower - a board of directors, really. All you need to do is satisfy their interest, and their interest over the last couple decades has been short-term stock returns. It is less clear to me that a high salary for CEOs guarantees that they are producing real value than it is that athletes and actors are producing real value. Clearly many CEOs do produce real value - and a lot of it. But the intermediary role that corporate boards play makes that less clear to me. Certainly short run stock returns are one potential measure of value creation. But I think we should all be able to agreee that that can be a distorted measure.

  9. CEO's contribute real work? Last time I checked Chad Ochocincocho just plays football and didn't cause a 9% unemployment rate.

    Anyway, you'd take the protests more seriously if the posed solutions like TARP and Dodd-Frank?

  10. Athletes contribute "real work." "Real work" is what people are willing to pay money for. Indeed, even if you don't think they do "real work," think of the armies of people who are employed to make sure athletes are able to compete against one another - everyone from groundskeepers to journalists to public service announcers to medical personnel to security guards to concession stand attendants to etc.

    Anyway, as sport (professional and otherwise) has been with us since at least the start of civilizations (meaning cities essentially) there is apparently something very human about sport*; be it because of mirror neurons or what have you, sport is part of the human experience and is unlikely to go away (though it will change).

    *I could go into a long disquisition here regarding sport in the classical world, but I would probably bore everyone to tears.

  11. Andrew Bossie,

    When he played for the Beavers his name was Chad Johnson and helped lead the Beavs to an 11-1 season in 2000 and a 41-9 pummeling of the Irish in the Fiesta Bowl. :)

  12. CEO's contribute real work? Last time I checked Chad Ochocincocho just plays football and didn't cause a 9% unemployment rate.

    Exactly. At some point there's a question of whether they pass the "first, do no harm" test.

  13. I haven't been to any OccupyChi stuff yet. Apparently arrests have been increasing.

  14. Great post, Kendra.

    Here is my take on CEO salaries.

    An engineer at a R&D level probably still has to be a technical person of technical expertise. But as that engineer ascends up the business ladder, he has to move more towards becoming a person who wins the confidence and trust of other people - a people person.

    Winning the confidence and trust of people can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, as such a man can talk to various large private equity firms, raise huge funding, and ensure low cost of capital through the right smooth talk.

    So even if the technical engineer might be making the greatest value-addition to the actual product, the top management person is conducting an activity that may gain or lose them several millions of dollars in cost of capital. So it tends to justify paying her at least a million, if the downside is losing millions.

    Smooth talk may not be everything, but it makes difference in real money.

  15. ...don't get me wrong, though. I'd love a good protest against celebrities and sports stars, too.

  16. Andrew Bossie,

    The TPM was launched in February, 2009. That's when I first heard of it at least.

    So, how many (if any) people like this have you run into?

  17. Prateek, thanks for the interesting points. I think in America we like to unnecessarily make villains of CEOs a lot.

    Andrew, frankly I don't care what solutions they propose as long as they propose them (and they are within the realm of reality, which I suppose is another whole discussion). Shouting about an issue, doing something about it is another. If they have offered solutions I would be interested to know them.

    I guess my main feelings about OWS and the Tea Party is they seem to show and encourage polarity and viewing "the other side" as an enemy. We need to have more people who are willing to discuss solutions without feeling like it is a competition for winners and losers. Maybe I should start a movement of people for compromise, civilized behavior, and open minded discussion (doesn't make for quite as catchy slogans though).

    (Daniel, I suppose my real problem with sports and entertainment is that consumers chose to spend so much on that, rather than education, etc).

  18. I'd be curious to see how they sampled the population of folks they interviewed (as well as the questions they used in the survey), but this is the first thing along these lines that I've seen.

    "Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn't represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. Half (52%) have participated in a political movement before, virtually all (98%) say they would support civil disobedience to achieve their goals, and nearly one-third (31%) would support violence to advance their agenda."

    "Thus Occupy Wall Street is a group of engaged progressives who are disillusioned with the capitalist system and have a distinct activist orientation. Among the general public, by contrast, 41% of Americans self-identify as conservative, 36% as moderate, and only 21% as liberal. That's why the Obama-Pelosi embrace of the movement could prove catastrophic for their party."


  20. I think my major thoughts about OWS and the Tea Celebration is they seem to exhibit and inspire polarity and watching "the other side" as an adversary. We need to have more individuals who are willing to talk about remedies without sensation like it is a rivalry for champions and nonwinners. Maybe I should begin a movements of individuals for give up, civil habits, and unbiased conversation (doesn't develop for quite as different catch phrases though).

  21. Exactly. At some point there's a question of whether they pass the "first, do no harm" test.saç ekimi öncesi ve sonrasi


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