#OWS: The brand leaders cannot afford to ignore


Cannes, France: I can sense very clearly here at Cannes that this is the moment "the masses" start shaping the policy response to the global financial crisis.

Angel Gurria OECD chief Angel Gurria says the protesters 'have a point'

Why? Because everybody I speak to, interview or discuss background with keeps dropping the words "Occupy Wall Street" into the conversation. In fact if #OWS were a global brand, like the designer apparel shops that line the Rue d'Antibes here, it would have a profile to die for among the super-elite.

#OWS has, in just a few weeks, become global shorthand among policymakers for "what can happen" if they don't regain control of the situation. Once you get a coalition of perfectly ordinary people saying "we've had enough", and then you have to watch as the cops baton and taser them in the name of the trespass laws, you know you are in a reputational crisis.

Angel Gurria, boss of the OECD, who I've just interviewed, is not the first to say "they have a point". There needs to be a social aspect to the anti-crisis response: something to stimulate growth and give hope to a generation that have had their future cancelled: that is pretty much accepted among every one of the G20 nations that is a democracy.

But to turn the corner, so that structural reform does not just come as a message about lower wages, fewer employment rights etc, you have to get over the fiscal crisis stage. And the problem is we are not over it.

The Greek fiasco - and it really is a fiasco: I've met senior policymakers who have no idea why George Papandreou did this, or why the timing, or where it ends - is a reminder of how quickly things can spiral out of control.

If we conclude that it was democratic pressure on Pasok that prompted the surprise move to a referendum, then the word "Greece" suddenly has a whole new significance in the G20.

Occupy Wall Street logo image The Occupy Wall Street movement is symbolised by a ballet dancer on a bull

Up to now people have looked at Mr Papandreou and said: "That's what happens if you let your sovereign debt get out of control. Tut, tut." Now they see Mr Papandreou and think: "That's what happens when you let your streets get out of control."

Athens spiralled out of control two weeks ago: the sight of Communists in crash helmets fighting anarchists and right-wing nationalists in balaclavas did not please those who have read the micro history of the Greek Civil War.

My hunch is that someone in the Pasok hierarchy - maybe someone in the deep support networks the party has in the Greek town and village - simply said: "George - we can no longer sell this to our people."

In any case, anybody with even remote knowledge of the early 1930s knows that the moment street politics within a nation start dictating its stance at international summits is the moment you have to worry about the global system fragmenting.

Tonight on Newsnight - as well as reporting on the latest here - I will be exploring some of the parallels with the 1930s. Though the policymakers will be playing a straight bat here, saying a multi-lateral, co-ordinated approach is the only way, two top UK economists I've interviewed - one from the free market wing and one Keynesian - are remarkably close to saying it's time to forget worrying about protectionism, and for the mainstream to start responding to the demands for national solutions.

The rationale: if the mainstream does not deliver - as in the 1930s, others will try.

The subtext: it's probably better to deal with protesters whose symbolic image is a ballet dancer pirouetting on top of the Wall Street bull statue, than some other, less politically endearing iconography.

Paul Mason Article written by Paul Mason Paul Mason Former economics editor, Newsnight

End of an era

After 12 years on Newsnight, Economics editor Paul Mason has moved on to pastures new and this blog is now closed.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    here here, i'm with Senor Angryloner, will the BBC please please stop using the misnomer. Try calling them "anti-the-capitalism-we-have", which, if you ask them, is what the majority are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    The only political effect OWS will have in the US is to guarantee Obama is a one term president. Middle America cannot stand what is going on in Oakland & will be turned off by the violence & growing confrontational attitude of the protesters. Non-violent protest w/ clear goals gets sympathy, like the Civil Rights Movt. Not this stuff

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Biker @27
    Unequal in infinity of dimensions
    Equal where we CHOOSE

    Plenty to share?
    Life% spent 'checking dues'?
    Too much to make nit-picking worth it?

    My life: wife, 2 children, wider family, colleagues, demanding rewarding work discipline, deeply resenting distractions - 'watching my back', knowing as I built others tore down

    MUST have better to do / think about than petty advantage?

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Oakland Police Chief said, on channel 7 abc news, that he knew: there were provocateurs dressed in all black with masks, not part of Occupy- who were destroying property. You're fist picture on the 'in pictures' article is of one of the provocateurs, who were not invited by Occupy folks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I was seeking & I have found: Statement, 3 November by Greek Auditing Commission of the Public Debt. Look at that date, would you?
    No to the 50% haircut, no to the new Occupation. Cessation of payments & debt audit! These were the findings. These should be headlines! EU leaders reached a decision tightening public debt’s grip over the Greek people, but Nov. 3rd decision should negate.


Comments 5 of 43



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