Occupy Mammon. The end of the competitive economy

By Wilhelm Neurohr, January 2012

The worldwide actions in the crises of the present time show that increasing numbers of young people want to take responsibility for economic and political events. All people in the world community are dependent on one another by destiny. Social imagination and competence is in demand to restructure conditions on the basis of solidarity.

The date of 15 October 2011 will enter the history books after 20 million people in almost 1000 cities in 82 countries took to the streets simultaneously in protest at the power of the financial markets. A worldwide protest movement of predominantly young people came into being only four weeks after the initial protests in New York’s Wall Street, the largest such movement in human history incidentally: half a million people in Rome alone, hundreds of thousands in other cities and countries, tens of thousands in German cities. 

The social function of money has been lost

People worldwide recognise that as a result of the sustained and chaotic financial and economic crisis, which continues to worsen, the social function and quality of money has been lost – to the detriment of all. At the same time the possibility to influence this threatening development politically and democratically is waning.

The streams of money vagabonding around the world are growing larger and larger, the prices on the stock and currency markets are becoming increasingly crazy and the central banks are unable to get the money supply and purchasing power under control. The allegedly free market economy has degenerated into a kind of dictatorship of the financial markets as a result of their political deregulation.

Revolution in consciousness in civil society

Despite the annual rise in economic performance and concentrated wealth, people are confronted with ever growing debt, poverty and unemployment. At the same time the political and economic elites cannot think of any recognisable alternative but are helplessly and nervously trying to respond to the new challenges with old thinking and action. The demands of the protesters in the global social movement and the movement for democracy are therefore in favour of a common welfare economy instead of a competitive one, against greed and social Darwinism as valid economic principles. The civil society movement, which strives for political participation and  shared responsibility, is some way ahead of the elites. A revolution in consciousness is still absent among the political and economic elites. That is why they are running the risk that if they adhere to the old system the protest movement will escalate into a truly revolutionary movement. The current chaos on the financial markets threatens to turn into political chaos. That is why many people are endeavouring to grasp their common destiny themselves and take on shared responsibility; young people in particular are aware that this is also about their future.

Young people are rising up against the god Mammon

Will this movement topple the god Mammon from his throne? Mahatma Gandhi recognised what was happening long before the subsequent fixation of Europe on competing financial and internal markets and he put it like this: “Europe is only Christian in name. In reality it worships Mammon.” This dominance of Mammon creates the appalling chasm between rich and poor, places democracy and the common good at risk, prevents solidarity between and freedom of individuals, violates human rights and human dignity. And it destroys the future of young people as well as the environment of this planet. The apparently “apolitical” young people have developed a sure feeling for what is going on and are rising up against it, and with them the older generations too. No one should be under any illusion that this is just a passing phenomenon that will disappear again. Nothing will be as it was before. From mere anger, the civil society protest movement has long moved on with social imagination to creative ideas about what to do. The underlying call for politics and the economy to be disentangled instead of becoming ever more fraternal, and for cultural liberation from the coercion of the financial world, is evidence for anyone who cares to listen of a new approach to a changed social order.

The political representatives do not represent the interests of the majority

Humanity is not just facing a financial and economic crisis but also a crisis of parliamentary democracy. “You don’t represent us” is therefore the justified charge of the protest movement. Millions of people have risen up to take control of their destiny and their future as part of the protest movement. That alone gives hope for change such as has never been seen in this world.

The worship of the unrestrained freedom of the markets has brought the world to the edge of ruin and initiated the end of the era of capitalism – that has meanwhile been recognised even by those German and European politicians who have been committed to neo-liberalism since the 1990s and drove the deregulation of the financial markets on the advice of leading bank managers and stock exchange speculators. They have recently shown some understanding of the rising protest movement but continue to discuss measures to preserve rather than change the system. The public statements say: predatory capitalism must again be constrained – as if it had already been constrained before. There is no real awareness of the framework required for a common welfare-oriented economy.

Neither is there any greater awareness of the interests of the majority of people who are growing increasingly poor and have to take on personal debt than there is of the interests of the communities of states and local authorities who are systemically forced to keep on borrowing exorbitantly although debt reduction is propagated. The Occupy movement draws attention to these contradictions and injustices.

How capable of learning are those involved?

Since the start of the financial crisis in 2008, lip service has been paid to the effective regulation of the financial markets, as called for by everyone at the time, without anything significant ever having been done. On the contrary, the German financial and insurance industry expressed its gratitude to the political parties with substantial donations, as the publications of the German parliament show. Furthermore, according to research by NGOs, Germany has remained a “financial paradise” for the financial world and is among the top 73 most important “secrecy jurisdictions”. In addition, German financial institutions benefit from the flight of capital from crisis-hit countries in the euro zone such as Greece and are part of the cause of the problems there. The “dictatorship of the financial markets” has not, therefore, been constrained. The “casino” remains cheerfully and almost unimpededly open because the actors and ruling ideologies remain the same. In functioning democracies, by contrast, political failure should really lead to ejection from power or resignation. Although political parties can be removed from power in our democratic systems, that clearly does not mean that the neoliberal policies which do so much damage to communal welfare are also jettisoned. The reality is that the next constellation of parties carries on with the same policies undeterred. The capacity to learn from mistakes which takes form in corrective action is, at any rate, kept within limits. That is why the civil society protest movement is necessary – as is a change of awareness and behaviour of everyone involved in the economy. Without fresh thinking about the real function of money there will be no improvement in social conditions. An expandable money supply, used as a commodity, and greed have done their destructive work.

A social and empathetic attitude is becoming manifest in an increasing number of young people – an awareness of mutual dependence and connection among all of humanity. Young people want to take on such responsibility. That is what makes the protesters different from the financial jugglers who dominate the markets and the politicians, in thrall to the lobbyists, both of whom fail to understand that they carry significant responsibility for hunger, suffering and poverty in the world through their financial activities. In these eventful times no one can any longer hide which side they are on.

About the author: Wilhelm Neurohr (born 1951), town and regional planner, staff council chairman and Agenda 21 representative of Recklinghausen district council, active in various social and civil society initiatives as well as in anthroposophical projects (Netzwerk soziale Dreigliederung), book author and publication of numerous essays and lectures on social and ethical questions; father of a Waldorf pupil for twenty years (from 1984 to 2004) and involved in parent initiatives to establish Waldorf facilities, married to a Waldorf teacher.


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