#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, Economics editor, Newsnight 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 1.

    It is when the ordinary salaried citizen goes on the streets that governments have to worry. It is only happened in Athens so far and the Occupy movement is still at the margin, but give it time and more austerity they will be fighting in the street with their children their feet. Even so Papandreou has a referendum argument to moderate the insurrection tendency.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Yes; but what?

    This is a time for leadership but there aren't any: just technocrats, bureaucrats, and sordid opportunists. If they weren't out of their depth we wouldn't be here.

    They have to tackle The Debt the bankers and the state created, but since they are the selfsame people they don't know how.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    the problem isn't that we seem to be following the 30's the reall issue is that bankers greed and stupidity is going to have us following the 40's as well.

    then again bankers like wars, they make a lot of money during and after.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The elite you are don't seem capable of envisioning, nevermind enacting, the quite radical shift required.

    Saying they must 'resolve' or even stabilise the financial crisis first before they entertain deep structural change is a cop out. Unlike the 1930 deep structural change is the only answer to stabilise the crisis...unless you consider WW3 or pandemic viable options....

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Good article. From which I will disappear off at a tangent:

    At no point do you refer to the protest as "anti-capitalist". Which is good because that is not an accurate description.

    Anti-inequality would be much more accurate and closer to the stated aims such as they are.

    "Anti-capitalist" continues to be misused on the main BBC News TV and Radio broadcasts. This is just Bad journalism.


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