If there is one thing the Occupy Wall Street movement has generated, it's the opinion that there is no unifying agenda or policy being advanced by the Occupiers. Perhaps that explains why organizations such as mine have been asked repeatedly to contribute to that agenda and help identify that policy. And perhaps the time has come to oblige.
No one can claim to represent the entire Occupy movement or all its concerns. The wide-ranging movement has taken on local, grassroots issues as much as national, systemic concerns. I got a taste of this recently during a visit to Bloomington, Indiana, where the local Occupiers were camped out on the perimeter of Indiana University. I was in Bloomington to give a talk about steady state economics at the university, and happened upon the Occupiers' camp my first night in. I wasn't expecting a roundtable on macroeconomic policy, but frankly the Occupiers had nothing to say about national unemployment, GDP, or even Wall Street itself.
Maybe it was just my timing -- which happened to correspond with Halloween -- but the Bloomington Occupiers seemed pre-occupied with surviving the annual student "Zombies" march that apparently threatens the security of Indiana University every Halloween. The Occupiers were equally concerned with aggressive Zombies and the police assembled to confront said Zombies. (They feared the police would use the Zombies as an excuse to clean house all around the campus.)
It's hard to blame the Occupiers for focusing on local issues and forces. Police suppression alone saps the energy from many movements, as I recall from World Bank demonstrations a decade ago. Yet despite the inevitable localization of Occupier concerns, the Occupy movement needs a national identity to survive, and it needs a macroeconomic policy goal to unite around. That policy goal should be a sustainable and fair steady state economy. Let's see why.
The Occupy movement seemed to originate as an objection to the rule of Big Money; big corporations, big banks, and big-time rip-offs of the taxpaying public. It was all about economic justice. But at this point in history, economic justice is complicated by limits to economic growth. The old notion that a "rising tide lifts all boats" has become morally inadequate and physically irrelevant. In a world of over 7 billion people and an economy over $73 trillion in gross world product, the Wall Street Bull is tromping through an ecological china shop with increasingly endangered glassware. It's not only that the Wall Street Bull is kicking Occupiers and the rest of the 99% out of the way; the Bull is destroying the planet. It spans the globe but the globe is full.
The Occupiers need to get this, discuss it, and emphasize it. Otherwise, they could be unfairly portrayed as just the latest brand of populists seeking to expropriate the expropriators. Wall Street could point out that everybody has always wanted "theirs." And "they" have included Nazis, Bolsheviks, and Jacobins.
The Occupiers can do better. They are better.
The Occupy movement can do better especially by adopting the steady state economy as its macroeconomic policy goal. That means an economy with stabilized levels of production and consumption, which means stabilizing population and per-person consumption. It means an economy that fits on Earth without threatening present and future generations with its overbearing, bloating size. It means an economy of stable size that, when accepted by national governments and sought in international diplomacy, replaces war as a mode of getting "theirs."
Only sound economic diplomacy -- steady statesmanship -- can ensure that everyone gets enough without killing thy neighbor. Wall Street doesn't get that. To the corporations and banks, the world is a china shop to buck around in, and good luck to the kicked.
The ball is in the Occupiers court. They've got to concern themselves with more than the local food, zombies, and police. Occupiers must decide if they really want to distinguish themselves from the growth-at-all-costs corporations, banks, Democrats and Republicans that really and permanently occupy Wall Street. Can they distinguish themselves with steady statesmanship?
I think they can, and I'm one of them.