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Sunday 9 October 2011

We're finally of the one mind -- but still clueless

The left and right share their resentment of the greed of the global financial elite, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

One of the scariest aspects of the present crisis in the global economy is that no one really has a clue what to do.

That fine thriller writer, Robert Harris, suggests we are heading for calamity because of the unintended consequences of a 1993 Congress decision to cancel the American Desertron, a more ambitious version of Europe's Large Hadron Collider. Its army of brilliant, naive physicists then headed for Wall Street, where they helped greedy financial traders develop financial derivatives so complicated as to be virtually beyond human understanding: Warren Buffet called them 'financial weapons of mass destruction'.

Throw in the world's increasing dependence on computers (73 per cent of share trades in New York require no human intervention), instant communications and the financial profligacy of politicians and public, and the result is a deadly mess. Harris's fear is "that the financial system itself has somehow slipped all human control -- that it has become the preserve of a profoundly anti-democratic, super-rich elite, and that it girdles the planet like some alien entity from an HG Wells novel".

That's what the average person is now afraid of, which is why the right-wing Tea Party and the left-wing Occupy Wall Street have so much in common. The Tea Party may want to shrink the state and reduce taxation, while Occupy Wall Street want to bleed the rich and subsidise the poor, but they're as one in their resentment of the folly, avarice and arrogance of a global financial class that seems to prosper whatever happens and in their resentment at millions of jobs going overseas.

Congressman Ron Paul, a libertarian running for the third time for the Republican presidential nomination, is sometimes described as the intellectual godfather of the Tea Party, but he has declared he shares the frustration of Occupy Wall Street protesters and believes civil disobedience is legitimate. The left, who have always thought him a wingnut, are beginning to pay attention and are attracted by his absolute opposition to American involvement in foreign wars. Excited commentators are suggesting that he might have a platform that attracts populists at both ends of the spectrum.

I wouldn't put a bet on this. Paul may be too honest for

his electoral good and his demand that Obama be impeached for ordering the assassination of the inspirational al-Qaeda propagandist, the Yemen-based American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, is, to put it mildly, controversial in a country where capital punishment is so popular. Yet there is a powerful argument at its base. Obama, he believes, has contravened the Fifth Amendment (No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury) by ordering execution without due process.

"Can you imagine being put on a list because you're a threat? What's going to happen when they come to the media? What if the media becomes a threat?"

There is a case to answer.

The Tea Party movement began in January 2009: Occupy Wall Street began just three weeks ago. Tea Partiers have meetings right across the country, focusing on lobbying politicians to push the Republican Party towards fiscal conservatism. So far, Occupy Wall Street are just street protesters, but though they began with only a few hundred gathering in a park near Wall Street, there are now increasingly streetwise protests in more than 80 American cities voicing disparate grievances mostly to do with economic inequality and demanding accountability from Wall Street and corporate America.

For Occupy Wall Street to evolve into an effective movement depends on its picking up support from the respectable. Unions are on board, but too many of its celebrity backers are what one commentator described as 'self-demonising millionaires' like Michael Moore or fruitcakes like Roseanne Barr, whose contribution was to demand that bankers be beheaded if they don't give the money back. While Fox Radio's Glenn Beck calls the activists socialists and anarchists -- and some are -- many more are ordinary people who, like the ranting anchorman in Network, are mad as hell and won't take it anymore.

There's plenty to be fed up about, wherever in the world you are. It's hard to defend a financial system in which Goldman Sachs is still unpunished for helping a corrupt Greek government rig the books and thus jeopardise the whole of the eurozone. It's outrageous that the US central bank, the Federal Reserve, which is answerable to Congress, and which in the view of many is merrily hurling good money after bad, refuses to open its books.

President Obama, still the preferred candidate of the left, is scared of the new populism and at present is trying to raise campaign funds from denizens of Wall Street. He doesn't know what to do. The trouble is, neither does anyone else.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards