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Standing in the Way


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February 12th, 2012


The essence behind Free-Market ‘capitalism’ is the idea that the provision of incentives create a response within a particular market.


Sourced from Uncommon fritillary (Own work)

By Brendan Law, ESSA Vice-President 2012

The essence behind Free-Market ‘capitalism’ is the idea that the provision of incentives, say, a profit-motive, or some significant tangible benefit, create a response within a particular market that allows it to organise itself, and for goods to be produced in the most efficient way, in the desired quantities and prices. For hundreds of years we have seen the opportunity to create wealth being capitalised upon by enterprising business-people across all industries, with the inefficient being scaled out of the system, leaving only the most efficient producers to compete for the right to be the preferred supplier of any consumer.

This idea has links with why the recent ‘Occupy Movements’ have not attracted the action or attention desired around the world in recent months. Ironically, it is the very ‘capitalist’ sentiment they appear to resist that explains the flaw in their system.

With land occupation rights rejected in Australia, the authorities beginning to reclaim land in New York and Washington, and with the London movement now being viewed as more of a hindrance than a spectacle to visiting tourists and to the members of the famed St. Paul’s Cathedral, it seems that the movements have not had as much impetus as originally intended.

Relative to other recent demonstrations in recent weeks; QANTAS’ Union Dispute, the Baiada workers’ strike, the Nurses’ Union disputes, the NBA and NFL lockouts, the Jockeys’ Union disputes, and even the events of the ‘Arab Spring’, the ‘Occupy Movements’ have been relegated to the back pages of newspapers. With many onlookers, and even the press confused at their aims and their message, there is one key way to distinguish why the movement has not attracted as much attention and coverage as the others; the Occupy Movements lacked any distinct incentives to sufficiently organise the demonstration.

Union strikes always appear to present fierce protest and debate, partly due to the fact that employees become so heated and passionate about what they are fighting for, not just based on a belief or an ideal, but based on the fact that their employment, salaries, and more often than not, families and children are dependent on the outcome of their demand for pay-rises or more sufficient working conditions. This is a fairly significant incentive that motivates such large numbers of people to become organised, and produce a dispute in a way that is most efficient, and allows them to spread word and awareness to their employers, and more often than not, the general public through news media. The Arab Spring was similar, with peoples’ lives being at risk from dictatorial and totalitarian rule. The incentives were larger, as was the response.

On the other hand, there is no clear-cut incentive that appears to drive any of the Occupy demonstrators towards action; no desperation, no need to change, just a passive way to vent their spleens, and, it appears, become nothing more than just a disruption in major city streets. They have not come up with any viable alternative to the status quo, they have not created any plans for action, nor decided upon a unified message to campaign with. There is little sense of urgency within their movements, or any sufficient organisation to ensure that they will get what they want, or create any clear, unified message to demonstrate with in order to provide any credible sort of movement.

Why have the incentives been lacking?

Primarily, it has been due to the way the protest was framed in the beginning, as being a show of disgruntlement against large irresponsible financial firms, rather than being a protest with a clear goal in mind, or an adversity to overcome. Without any clear steps or action plans in mind as to how this rather large sector should be reformed, it then became a general protest for individual grievances. That was when the movement became too large and too diverse to allow any realistic progress, and from there, any incentive to create the phenomenal leadership force required to re-unite such demonstrators diminished exponentially as the leaders faced uphill battles trying to unit an ever growing, and more individualised protest movement. Moreover, there is no overarching sense of lost salary, significant financial loss, or lives being placed at risk from the status quo.

No incentives, no organisation, no action, no efficiency. It is the basic free-market principles that can explain why there has been such little action or result from these movements.

They would argue, and rightly so, that the passive, non-violent, free and individual protest is the essence of their movement. That may be so, but in terms of inspiring action from members of the public, the movement appears ineffective.

The views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the ESSA Committee or the Society's sponsors. Use of any content from this article should clearly attribute the work to the author and not to ESSA or its sponsors.

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