The 99 Percent Wakes Up
By Joseph Stiglitz, The Daily Beast
03 May 12
here are times in history when people all over the world seem to rise up, to say that something is wrong and to ask for change. This was true of the tumultuous years of 1848 and 1968. It was certainly true in 2011. In many countries there was anger and unhappiness about joblessness, income distribution, and inequality and a feeling that the system is unfair and even broken.
Both 1848 and 1968 came to signify the start of a new era. The year 2011 may also. The modern era of globalization also played a role. It helped the ferment and spread of ideas across borders. The youth uprising that began in Tunisia, a little country on the coast of North Africa, spread to nearby Egypt, then to other countries of the Middle East, to Spain and Greece, to the United Kingdom and to Wall Street, and to cities around the world. In some cases, the spark of protest seemed, at least temporarily, quenched. In others, though, small protests precipitated societal upheavals, taking down Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, and other governments and government officials.
Something Is Wrong
That the young people would rise up in the dictatorships of Tunisia and Egypt was understandable. They had no opportunities to call for change through democratic processes. But electoral politics had also failed in Western democracies. There was increasing disillusionment with the political process. Youth participation in the 2010 U.S. election was telling: an unacceptably low voter turnout of 20 percent that was commensurate with the unacceptably high unemployment rate. President Barack Obama had promised “change we can believe in,” but he had delivered economic policies that seemed like more of the same—designed and implemented by some of the same individuals who were the architects of the economic calamity. In countries like Tunisia and Egypt, the youth were tired of aging, sclerotic leaders who protected their own interests at the expense of the rest of society.
And yet, there were, in these youthful protesters of the Occupy Movement—joined by their parents, grandparents, and teachers—signs of hope. The protesters were not revolutionaries or anarchists. They were not trying to overthrow the system. They still had the belief that the electoral process might work, if only there was a strong enough voice from the street. The protesters took to the street in order to push the system to change, to remind governments that they are accountable to the people.