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Guest Post SuperReview Part I of VI: The Occupy Handbook

March 19, 2013

Whassup.

It has become a truism that as the amount of news and information generated per moment continues to grow, so too does the value of aggregation, curation and editing. A point less commonly made is that these aggregators are often limited by time in the sense, whatever the topic, the value of news for the median reader decays extremely rapidly. Some extremists even claim that it’s useless to read the newspaper, so rapidly do things change.  The forty eight hours news cycle, in addition to destroying context, has made it impossible for both reporters and viewers to learn from history. See “Is News Memoryless?” (Kautsky et. al. 2014).

A more promising approach to news aggregation (for those who read the news with purpose) is to organize pieces by subject and publish those articles in a book.  Paul Krugman did this for himself in The Great Unraveling, bundling selected columns from 1999 to 2003 into a single book, with chapters organized by subject and proceeding chronologically. While the rise and rise of Krumgan’s real-time blogging virtually guarantees he’ll never make such an effort again, a more recent try came from uber-journalist Michael Lewis in Panic!: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity.  Financial journalists’ myopic perspective at any given point in time make financial column compilations of years past particularly fun(ny) to read.

Nothing is staler than yesterday’s Wall Street journal (financial news spoils quickly) and reading WSJ or Barron’s pieces from 10 to 20 years ago is just painful.

The title PANIC: The story of modern financial insanity led me to believe the book was about the current crises. The book does say, in very, very fine print “Edited by” Michael Lewis.

-Fritz Krieger, Amazon Reviewer and chief scientist at ISIS

Unfortunately, some philistines became angry in 2008 when they insta-purchased a book called Panic! by Michael Lewis and to their horror, discovered that it contained information about prior financial crises, the nerve of the author to bring us historical perspective, even worse…some of that perspective relating to nations other than the ole’ US of A.

As the more alert readers have noted, almost nothing in the book concerns the 2008 Credit Meltdown, but instead this is merely a collection of news clippings and old magazine articles about past financial crises. You might as well visit a chiropodist’s office and offer them a couple of bucks for their old magazines.

Granted, the articles are by some of today’s finest and most celebrated journalists (although some of the news clippings are unsigned), but do you really want to read more about the 1987 crash or the 1997 collapse of the Thai Baht?

Perhaps you do, but whoever threw this book together wasn’t very particular about the articles chosen. Page 193 reprints an article from “Barron’s” of March, 2000 in which Jack Willoughby presents a long list of Internet companies that he considered likely to run out of cash by 2001. “Some can raise more funds through stock and bond offerings,” he warns. “Others will be forced to go out of business. It’s Darwinian capitalism at work.” True, many of the companies he listed did go belly-up, but on his list of the doomed are
[..]Amazon.com

- Someone named Keith Otis Edwards

Perhaps because I was abroad for both the initial disaster and the entire Occupation of Zucotti Park, both events have held my attention.  So it is with a mixture of hope and apprehension that I picked up Princeton alum Janet Byrne’s The Occupy Handbook from the public library. The Occupy Handbook is a collection of essays written from 2010 to 2011 by an assortment of first and second-rate authors that attempt to: show what Wall Street does and what it did that led to the most recent crash, explain why our policy apparatus was paralyzed in response to the crash, describe how OWS arose and how it compared with concurrent international movements and prior social movements in the US, and perhaps most importantly, provide policy solutions for the 99% in finance and economics. Janet Byrne begins with a heartfelt introduction:

One fall morning I stood outside the Princeton Club, on West 43rd Street in Manhattan. Occupy Wall Street, which I had visited several times as a sympathetic outsider, has passed its one month anniversary, and I thought the movement might be usefully analyzed by economists and financial writers whose pieces I would commission and assemble into a book that was analytical and- this was what really interested me – prescriptive. I’d been invited to breakfast to talk about the idea with a Princeton Club member and had arrived early out of nervousness.

It seemed a strange place to be discussing the book. I tried the idea out on a young bellhop…

And so it continues. The book is divided into three parts. Part I, broadly speaking, tries to give some economic background on the crash and the ensuing political instability that the crash engendered, up to the first occupation of Zuccotti Park. Part II, broadly speaking, describes the events in Zuccotti Park and around the world as they were in those critical months of fall 2011. Part III, broadly speaking, prescribes solutions to current depression. I say broadly speaking because, as you will see, several essays appear to be in the wrong part and in the worst cases, in the wrong book.

  1. March 19, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    As someone who discovered Cathy via her involvement with Occupy, I’m looking forward to your take on the book and the implications for the future of what was started in Zuccotti Park. The self-seeking control over the economy exerted by the much bruited 1% (or 0.001% or whatever) seems to continue apace, abetted by a willing pool of political enablers. The rest of us lapse further into a new kind of serfdom with ineluctable fealty to the banks and the political machinery.
    Countermoves by the “offspring” of OWS, like Cathy, her new banking group, the Idle No More movement and countless others, are aimed at creating a saner mindset and a more inclusive approach to marshalling America’s and the world’s financial and political power for the good of the many and not just the few.
    Occupy, like Gandhi, hoped to lead by example: no bloody revolution for us. But were we just a rag-tag assemblage of malcontents at the gates ultimately dispersed by the blue-suited military arm of the established order? Are we victims of the 48-hour news cycle?
    The passion and spontaneity of OWS was inspiring. But what range of effective actions can we, the people, take now to redirect momentum away from the “Dark Age Ahead” (h/t Jane Jacobs)?
    Perhaps you can take this week to explore some hopeful paths.

    • Blimp Rider
      March 20, 2013 at 2:24 pm

      With regards to the Alternative Banking Group, has the group developed any proposals for alternative banking models/systems that can be reviewed?

      It was difficult to find this on the group’s website.

      • March 21, 2013 at 12:30 pm

        We have piecemeal proposals.

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