Straight Out of Antiquity

By James Kwak

In their paper on the Tea Party, Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol, and John Coggin (Chrystia Freeland summary here) argue that one of the central principles of the Tea Party is a division of the world into workers who deserve what they earn (including Medicare and Social Security, which they like) and undeserving “people who don’t work”—by which many mean the young, or even their own younger relatives.

We are the 99 Percent, the tumblr associated with Occupy Wall Street, is, among many other things, a kind of response to that worldview. The introduction takes it on directly:

“They say it’s because you’re lazy. They say it’s because you make poor choices. They say it’s because you’re spoiled. If you’d only apply yourself a little more, worked a little harder, planned a little better, things would go well for you. Why do you need more help? Haven’t they helped you enough? They say you have no one to blame but yourself. They say it’s all your fault.”

Mike Konczal (who, among his other talents, can use perl and python—who knew?) whipped together a quantitative analysis of the 99 Percent tumblr. The tumblr as a whole is depressing (you need to go look at it to know why), but Konczal’s analysis adds another level of downer. As his numbers indicate (and my reading of a decent chunk of the pages confirms), there aren’t many extravagant ambitions here: no expectations of material consumption, no expectations of self-actualization through work, no 60s-style dreams of peace and community. Instead, as Konczal puts it,

“The demands are broadly health care, education and not to feel exploited at the high-level, and the desire to not live month-to-month on bills, food and rent and under less of the burden of debt at the practical level.

“The people in the tumblr aren’t demanding to bring democracy into the workplace via large-scale unionization, much less shorter work days and more pay.  They aren’t talking the language of mid-twentieth century liberalism, where everyone puts on blindfolds and cuts slices of pie to share.  The 99% looks too beaten down to demand anything as grand as ‘fairness’ in their distribution of the economy.  There’s no calls for some sort of post-industrial personal fulfillment in their labor—very few even invoke the idea that a job should ‘mean something.’  It’s straight out of antiquity—free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.”

I’m not saying this is a downer because I think the people sending in photos to We Are the 99 Percent, or the people occupying Zuccotti Park, should have a detailed political program or that they should be mobilizing to overthrow the bourgeoisie.* It’s because it shows, in Warren Buffett’s words, how far the class warfare has already gone—and how overwhelmingly his class has won. When the primary hope of workers is not to feel so tired anymore, it seems we’ve regressed back to a time even before the organized labor movement.

Konczal cites David Graeber and Moses Finley for the idea that premodern popular demands focused on canceling debts and redistributing land. A friend of mine brought this up to me a few weeks ago, too. His question at the time was about the Tea Party: when has there been a populist movement that wanted to make money harder? Remember, the Tea Party began with Rick Santelli calling people who were underwater on their houses “losers.” In retrospect, it seems like a brilliant preemptive strike by the creditor class.

* Apparently it’s been so long since I used the word “bourgeoisie” that I couldn’t even remember how to spell it at first. There’s a message in there somewhere.

34 thoughts on “Straight Out of Antiquity

  1. I agree with this analysis. And that should scare the elite even more, actually. Because desperate people with nothing much to lose are likely to become violent.

    “Either you obstruct, in the only form left to us, which is civil disobedience, the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil. Either you taste, feel and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. Either you are a rebel or a slave.”

  2. The worst part of this analysis is that it imagines that the organized labor movement ever could have done anything about people ‘feeling tired’ – that it made progress against this goal, that it could have done so in a lasting way.

    Corruption was a threat from the very start and it quickly engulfed the labor movement, which became a twisted writhing mess of organized crime and a particular political party.

    The second persistent problem was the ever-rising tides of consumption that causes spirals in the cost of everything (as labor costs inexorably rise, with everyone chasing the same dreams) and the need for things, and the space to store them. Living increasingly unhappy within increasingly large and unsustainable (financially) warehouses to greed, all the excess burden was pushed down to future generations – themselves too expensive to maintain, and so delayed or contracepted away.

    This is not solvable by wishing away bankers or even lawyers. Certainly, bringing back organized labor is just an invitation to repeat the crimes of the movement.

  3. If you read about the history of poverty, welfare, poorfarms, you find that the judgments have always been about the same. Poor people are *lazy, *stupid, *intemperate, *gaming the system. What’s also interesting about poor farms history is that their greatest abuses came when counties tried to privatize them, handing out contracts to the lowest bidder.
    In the end, they figured out welfare was cheaper and more effective.

  4. @ BenK

    What about corruption in the private sector and government? No “twisted writhing mess of organized crime” there? Do you suppose the way the oligarchy operates is any less depraved than organised crime?

  5. The False Consciousness of American Higher Education:

    “I am a student, when I graduate I will have (over) $100K in student loans, as will much of my generation. [false, but, whatever…] *I believe that* Education is the key to Responsible and Productive Citizenship *So what happens when no one can afford it?*”

    “I am 42 years old … 0 savings … $40K in student loans”

    “I am a freshman in college with 12k+ in student loan debts ALREADY and my family has very little opportunity to support me.”

    “7 years at college, $50 G’s in debt, STILL NO GOOD JOB.”

    “My health insurance rate = $365/month, My student loan balance = $140,000 [that’s 32 years – a lifetime – of health insurance], I was laid off from my job 4 months ago”

    “I was told to go to college to get a good job – I now owe $110K in student loans, I have been laid off twice in a year and a half.”

    “I work 2 Jobs. Barely make rent every month. Can’t pay off debt. No health insurance and live in fear of illness. STAY UP AT NIGHT WORRYING. 20k in student loans.”

    “Married for 1.5 years, wife has two degrees and $30,000 left in loans”

    “I am 35K in student loan debt because I want to help others who can’t help themselves, but I can’t afford to take more loans and finish my education.”

  6. @ Indy

    What about the qualified buyers who put 20% down on their homes and are now drowning in their mortgages? Relief is reserved for those who own the levers of power. That would not be the people.

  7. Infiltrators, spies, and useful idiots NOW Occupying Wall Street….Konczal isn’t the only observer to realize this kind of touchy-feely horsechit will go exactly…NOWHERE.

    What is needed: programmatic demands that all interested groups (farmers, laborers, debtors, unemployed, students-with-debt, nurses, etc) can get behind, and not some recycled faux-hippiedom replete with drum-bangers and guitar-players inducing sleep in nearby women.

    “We will control the opposition by leading it”.
    Vladimir Lenin.

    So, yes, Another BIG Bummer, as Mr. Kwak points out.

  8. @woop – Trotsky, not Lenin :-)

    CNBC is providing *live* oligarch TV coverage of *Occupy* today (Columbus Day :-)).

    Is it not PROOF that D.C. is in a galaxy of its own when


    SKILLED laborers,

    Debtors (why include this as a group when fractional reserve banking is how $$$$ is printed…?!),


    students with debt (wives of wall streeters contribution to education in USA – how about one of those students being allowed to mud wrestle with one of the wives as a *fund raising* charity thingy…?)

    nurses (an abstraction position for big pharma – all *inwestor* resources going to technology to replace the position, maybe, but I have my doubts whether the Drug Lords who have merged their past operations with Big Pharma give a shit about providing HONEST health care)

    etc. – scientists, engineers, architects, teachers, shoot – all 60K+ people yanked out of the medical research labs should show up – if only to organize a new way to do research since Big Pharma is out of that business

    so this is PROOF that all these groups of people have to be on the street to represent themselves that D.C. is a hell-hole…

    After all the pre-emptive strikes against NORMAL and SANE people taken in the erection of Psycho Heaven, only a poodle who can talk would claim that organizing a defense of LIFE is a *mob of hippies*.

  9. Annie, you’re misguided to think Psycho Heaven is a work-in-process, if you say its’ the building stage.

    No, it’s completely built and operational, as the scooter raid proves, the Patriot Act has shown, the fusion centers demonstrate, the airport security theater lends further weighty evidence…a million things indicative of a hellacious police state grid, replete with satellite surveillance of innocent Americans.

    The bouncing ball of technology.

    The only thing we’re waiting on is for the other shoe to drop, and from all indicators, that shoe is close-by.

    And, yeah, the goofballs running the “steering committee” are there to wreck it.

    CIA central casting…..or a foreign subsidiary.

  10. @woop – Right, so why the inability to TWIT out the message of the rebellion against Psycho Heaven, the new Labor Movement:

    here it is – feel free to make it your own, I don’t care who repeats it because you cannot contain TRUTH – especially the kind of truth that every person can experience for themselves as a mere human animal:

    “We the People are giving ourselves permission to make our lives less miserable through honest work.”

    No delusional political or religious *ism* survives that clarion call of LABOR, that light of truth and free will choice.

    And as we do honest work, it succeeds because we “Love one another.”

  11. I love that message, Annie, really do….as an honest laborer and union dues-paying member going on 26 years, myself.

    And I also think of another classic, often: “Hank Paulson, as he was leaving, HANDED US A STICK UP NOTE” perfect!

    Since we both write about psychos, and their harmful misdeeds, this may be of interest; also, since it peripherally relates to the serious message that Messrs. Kwak and Johnson have been delivering on these pages….things are *out of control* :

    That bouncing ball of technology, funded by…..our friends on WALL STREET!!

  12. Ah yes, The Men Who Stare at Goats – that is a whole other discussion that needs to be had elsewhere, imo.

    Things are not *out of control* – the attempt to tightly control – and dismantle – people’s natural abilities to make their lives less miserable through honest work is a *control* problem.

    Nihilism is how they are trying to do it….when I examine this FACT, I am not *angry*, I’m working to try and pick out the most practical and ethical ways to ACT upon the situation – and, yes, from a 2000 year tradition of a moral ground built on “love one another” – may be nutz but not any less nutz than 100% of the other made up crap out there :-) Plus, I’m one of those people who gets calm when confronted with chaos :-) So their gizmologist won’t pick me out – flying OVER the radar – LOL. However, I will research which small business owners already have a multi-EMF jammer to sell and will *inwest* in the company – spy vs spy – god bless free market capitalism…

    Said it 3 years ago – the FACT is Psycho Heaven $$$ doesn’t work as commercial banking currency – there are no 1000 head of cattle (wealth) – their increase in personal profit $$$ is based on dead body counts.

  13. “we’ve regressed back to a time even before the organized labor movement.”

    In a process that began in the Reagan administration, labor organizing has been practically outlawed, much like medical abortion in many states. It has taken about 30 years, but that has told. (The process really began with Taft-Hartley, but Reagan kicked it into high gear.)

    Yes, the Occupy demands are very close to the US center. It speaks well for their democratic process that it does, in fact, reflect the popular center. And, yes, it’s pretty sad. The left has lost its language, and its voice, and we are finding out that we need the left. Without it we fail of our ideals.

    “when has there been a populist movement that wanted to make money harder?”

    Mostly religious movements: think “positive thinking” and so on. The TP in fact overlap with these people, so that may be the source of some of it.

  14. @The Raven

    What delusional made-up monkey brain political or economic *ism* produced a belief in the moral correctness of outlawing *labor organizing*?

    There is no way that this site is presenting truth data. The information is not PUBLIC because it was always paid for in cash, so to speak. No taxpayer money was used. No one has the numbers and there are no quality control measures in place to validate any numbers that are provided – it could be a lie. How a private *think tank* got its hands on private health care data needs to be investigated.

    And as we can see today, whatever the number, there was no PLAN for the securing of USA’s economic security in place back then, either, for that many middle class jobs. It would just be 50 million living below poverty instead of 40 million…and a 4.01 Billion population reduction target.

    The political right and left are members of the same CULT who argue amongst themselves, but ultimately are after the same goal – they got theirs.

  15. The Top 1% account for more of the total income in the US compared to other countries. In 1950, income concentration in the US was comparable to other countries.

    Besides the growing financialization, focusing on Wall Street’s excess (e.g., bonus payouts) is appropriate: the last two years saw the largest NYC bonus totals, outside of the record breaking 3-year stretch from 2005-2007. See charts below for details:

  16. @woop “Since we both write about psychos, and their harmful misdeeds….”

    Yes, beating swords back into ploughshares takes thought above and beyond monkey brain :-))

    Driving two hours on local roads outside of Missoula, Montana (10 cars going the OTHER way is the only traffic I saw in that time), I was suddenly unsure, was I heading in the right direction? So I pulled off to look at the map again (out of range of gizmo). A minute or so later, I hear a sound and then the SUV moves because something is pushing down on the rear bumper. I turn around to see a grizzly bear sniffing through the window. I do not believe that I ever made a faster decision in my entire life than the one to start the truck and get the hell out of there. He chased me until I hit 40. I never got a chance to really look at the map, but as I turned a corner (had to slow down from 95 :-)) around a mountain range, I saw a city ahead in the bend. Still shaking from the encounter, the first thing I said to the valet was that a grizzly had chased me until I hit 40mph and the location where it happened. He went right in to the hotel to call the report in – the village was alerted. So there’s a job for a war *contractor*, but it’s a public service job. Think they’ll take jobs like that? Prince of Blackwater can’t give up the psycho rush…but what about the ones who do? War skills needed when going mano et mano against a grizzly no longer afraid of eating humans…

    Plenty to do back home for official USA military forces that are good peaceful empire managing jobs…especially because they ARE some of our best and brightest citizens…

  17. 80 With what compulsion and laborious flight
    We sunk thus low? Th’ ascent is easy, then;
    Th’ event is feared! Should we again provoke
    Our stronger, some worse way his wrath may find
    To our destruction, if there be in Hell

    85 Fear to be worse destroyed! What can be worse
    Than to dwell here, driven out from bliss, condemned
    In this abhorred deep to utter woe!
    Where pain of unextinguishable fire
    Must exercise us without hope of end

    John Milton. Paradise Lost, book II.

  18. – Supreme Court Ruling on corporations is to be repealed- Corporations are not persons even legally. A special status needs to be established to ensure that a corporation in whatever form cannot rule over us
    – universal health care is mandatory for all Americans. If most of the world can have it, without ruining their economy, then surely we can as well.
    – slash the Pentagon budget so that it does not equal the next 17 countries on the list – rely on human ingenuity and intelligence and not on technology
    – repeal the Patriot act immediately- we want our freedom
    -limit police and government powers- this was a democratic nation and not a police state and it should once again be one
    – no outsourcing jobs to third world countries regardless of the reasons- we will take our chances- third world countries can learn to make Starbucks coffee just as well as we can
    – No corporate president or officer can make more than a ratio of 10:1 compared to what the lowest person is making in that industry. Obviously it is a free market and the person can always go and work in China, Mexico or Cuba.
    – Federal Reserve is out and we shall introduce a system the same as Canada where we are in charge of creating our own money and not a private corporation owned by the banks and making money off of us.
    -our politicians should have a psychological exam before entering politics and there should also be a basic high school biology component to ensure that they at least know that dinosaurs wondered the earth millions of years ago. If they write an essay about Jesus and dinosaurs then they do not qualify for anything but the mental hospital
    -gays, lesbians and any other people of whatever sexual persuasion should not be afraid to walk the streets of a free country because nuts are out to hurt them
    – All children must have access to the best education regardless of creed, color, ethnicity, race, etc.
    – research funding must increase
    -no more prisons run by private corporations – when 1 in 100 Americans is behind bars then that should tell us something- it is not us because the rest of the world is not like this- they do not have prisons run by corporations cooperating with local police
    – we must protect our environment and any political party which does not believe in the science dealing with the environment should pay the price
    – Supreme Court Judges should not stay for more than 10 years. They can do far too much damage as we have already seen
    – We must really sit down after these protests and ask ourselves how it was possible that even one person was hurt during these peaceful protests. How was it possible for a police officer to pepper spray those girls in New York. Those who are older must think and seriously wonder why they are not asking for resignation of certain people. Here we are protesting the killing of this and that half way around the world but these are our children, our neighbors, our friends, and we are allowing police to do this to even one of them? America? I guess maybe it is much easier to open up a beer bottle and be suckered in by Fox and CNN et al.
    Something to think about.
    And while I am at it: no more sending our children to damn wars that are only for the rich. America first!

  19. Come on, come on. Let’s stop blaming the victims and instead, provide them some leadership. They are the first organized (well, sort of) response to the forces that fooled the middle class into believing that easy credit was an acceptable substitute for a fair share of the wealth they helped create. Meanwhile, the providers of credit grabbed all the wealth that should have gone to the middle class. Somehow, some where a sense (not yet fully understood) of this is emerging. encourage ti and helped it to grow to achieve its desired, if not fully understood, ends. Otherwise, the Kochs and their so-called Tea Party are going to win.

    You can read my response to Simon’s previous post for more. But we need to strengthen the institutions that helped the middle class increase their share of the wealth they help create (by working or being available to work). And yes, some union leaders were corrupt and in the future, more probably will be. But what about our captains of finance and industry! The list is virtually endless with new institutions and individuals are being added every day. Remember, perfect is the enemy of the good. But nothing will happen without a struggle and no struggle will happen if we write off the Occupiers at this stage. Join, educate and help shape their vision and message. These folks have genuine grievances, as do millions of others. Help them find their voice and direction. Leave the criticism and so-called analysis to Fox and Rupert.

  20. I found this post wandering around the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations links. It’s worth noting that Oklahoma is one of the overwhelmingly “red” (Republican voting) states in the nation. The reporter here is Carla Wade of Oklahoma City’s ABC affiliate, she is at Kerr Park in Oklahoma City. Just press the play button on the picture after the jump:

  21. @coffmann “They are the first organized (well, sort of) response to the forces that fooled the middle class into believing that easy credit was an acceptable substitute for a fair share of the wealth they helped create.”

    No. That’s not it. With the Secretary of the Treasury having the *power* invested in him (Paulson at the time), ala The Patriot Act, to rip apart the economic security of USA citizens. No court order was needed to view our records. Banks sold it as *customer service* – “…we look at everything you are doing so that we can help you achieve your economic goals…”

    This was a SAVAGE, PREDATORY congolese mercenary assault – a theft to pay off PRIVATE military contractors who support global War Lords and Drug Lords – those *corporate* people, my friend.

    Yup, it’s going to take some *organizing* and *leadership* to address the *forces*.

    It’s taking shape, the Civil War. Donor states – New Jersey being the biggest donor state – and WELFARE States (New Mexico being the biggest taker state)…East vs Wild Wild West – and Heartland in the Middle.

    “Back in the USSR, boy, you don’t know how lucky you are, boy…”

  22. Sorry, it should have been:

    … He cites an analysis of the OWS Tumblr postings by Mike Konczal : “As his numbers indicate (and my reading of a decent chunk of the pages confirms), there aren’t many extravagant ambitions here: no expectations of material consumption, no expectations of self-actualization through work, no 60s-style dreams of peace and community.”

    I would say that this is both accurate and to be expected. First because any look at the signage or internet postings of this amorphous group as a whole will give you only an overall view which, by the nature of the inquiry will give a median result. Within the framework of the data one is likely to find boundaries that range from the mundane (jobs and debt relief) to the slightly more ambitious (universal health care) to the impossible (ending corruption). This is entirely consistent with the mainstream aspirations of everyday people. I do not recall seeing the demands of demonstrators in Egypt, Greece, Spain or London for anything more radical. No calls for flower power.

    Again, this is entirely consistent with a sentiment that I believe is at least instinctually understood by ‘the masses’; (as I have said before) “Capitalism is killing us, Socialism can’t save us, and no one knows what happens next.”

    -Full response here:

  23. @woop – googled the phrase “psycho heaven” – learn something new every day – who knew they actually DO have an *idea* about what it will be like…?!

  24. To your point, I posted one of the pictures on my Facebook page, and *both* of the responses I’ve gotten so far (and I’m an environmental/human rights advocate, with disproportionally progressive friends!) are like this (this is one of the two): “‎? Something is very wrong here. I am a single mom who never sold drugs, received money form guys who pay to look or touch a women , never got into those 5 finger discounts, I have seldom made more then the minamma wage and fact for the first 8 years of Rhya’s life I earned much less. It is true that I could not (would’t if I could) afford to buy Rhya name brands. But because I live her in the US I have always been able to cloth my daughter with the things she need allowing her to look good. I have always mange to make or get her a gifts for her birthday and other holadays. So please tell me why this mom can not do the same.”

    I can think of lots of theoretical answers – but I must admit that, not having ever being in that situation myself, it’s hard for me to answer.

  25. One thing that strikes me as hypocritical is the strong alignment between the Tea Party and Christisn conservatism when I consider their position on this matter. When I see the 99% peacefully asking for basic opportunity and a fair shake, I wonder what Jesus would available for comment. I expect he’d be right there in the crowd with the rest of the so called “losers”. And I expect he WOULD have something to tell the Tea Party and their Wall Street puppeteers. Images of Jesus arriving at the template, walking through the markets comes to mind.

  26. @Aaron – what is YOUR point? I don’t get it….?

    Can all you stop trotting out one story at a time when the discussion is about a SCAM that has taken a chunk out of every single individual in the 99%?

    All your story will do is provide fodder for Senator Hatch that “poor people” can afford to pay MORE in taxes…and that the minimum wage is too high…

  27. @Aaron
    Indeed; the people who should be in the worst shape, with whom I speak, are not generally sympathetic to the people who appear to be speaking for them. This is a common phenomenon. It spawned a book, ‘What’s the Matter with Kansas?’ and is an embarrassment to many of the more thoughtful social crusaders. There are many things people desire other than economic gain; honor and integrity, association with people whom they respect, among other things. It is my impression that the bulk of the 99% prefers to stand with the 53%, at least in their own eyes, than with the self-proclaimed 99%.

  28. uh, the 99% is not “self-proclaimed” – it’s about the 1% self-proclaimed *elite*….


    ah, forget it, whizzed right over your head…

  29. Still considering the apt title of this thread – “Straight Out Of Antiquity” – how about this? :-))

    Self-defense of land for farming will always depend, in part (no judgement about how *big* is the part – it will always be a part) on utilizing animals in that defense. Sure you could stop the city girl cruising along in a convertible by herding 1000 cattle across the road, but let’s think *wild*, brutal, antiquity days. The grizzly bear of the west is nothing if not psychologically *terrorizing* – primal self defense.

    Want to become a creative environmentalist investor to impress a girl who would drop you cold if she knew you were a hedge hog in the weapons biz? Invest in a grizzly bear contingent army for homeland defense! Let me guess, another public service job too low-paying for the modern merc? Still about body count for you guys, that *private* global corp contract among the 1% who not only hate the 99%, they hate each other even more and pay millions to take out the one person they hate.

    So how many grizzly bears are left living off of government welfare?

    (to be clear, I am ONLY talking about the actual grizzly bear – any other interpretation is in your imagination – trust me, you haven’t met a human being who is comparable in nature – scheesh, where cartoons failed to really educate about animals)

    We would be having NONE of these un-fixable problems

    (there’s the grizzly in the room – a problem could be unfixable when it’s a problem man willed using WAY too much of the resources of the material world – ie. Planet Annie)

    None of them – that we are having now in the USA – NONE – if we had kept the MILITARY budget from going into the global CONSUMER market seeking after profit. Bring it on, Rethugs. Like no one in New Jersey who is registered as a Republican is good enough to go up against Mitt – only Jabba was….? That’s what the peasants are concerned about – a middle class civilization failing to produce competent representatives in large enough numbers to serve in OUR government – We the People – we who ask what WE can do for our country.

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