By Alex Tarrant
We've all been watching the Occupy Wall Street protests with growing interest as more 'mainstream' Americans join in with the protests at Wall Street's bailouts.
The US is pretty stuffed, as these 40 charts from Business Insider highlight. It therefore wasn't surprising more 'Occupy' events sprung up across the States.
Now they have spread around the world, including to our little patch down here.
Occupy Wellington is being held on Saturday in the Civic Square. Fair enough. It's a nice place to have a sit-in, you'll be seen, you'll be heard.
But it's not just Civic Square that will be occupied in Wellington. They're also going to Occupy The Terrace at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (number 2 The Terrace) from November the 5th until the 30th.
Seeing as they were obviously directing some of their anger at the Reserve Bank's actions, I decided to log on to the group's facebook page to see what they were all about and what they were standing for.
I thought perhaps they weren't happy with the current interest rate settings or that the macro-prudential tools the RBNZ is considering weren't up to scratch. Hey, perhaps they thought the Reserve Bank should be doing more to tell the banks off about their lending practices, profit margins or treatment of workers (which could easily be argued as a very valid injustice).
So I thought I'd find out. The facebook page began:
This is the Wellington extension of the global movement that started with Occupy Wall St. We want a return to real democracy, a government by the people for the people & an economic system that works for 100% of the people.
From that introduction, I take it the call for a 'real democracy' is for one that's different from what we currently have (where everyone over 18 has the right to vote). They obviously want to change that for the better. (FYI they don't actually say how their 'real democracy' will differ from the current one, but perhaps you'll find out if you go down to the Civic Square tomorrow).
Secondly, seeing as they're calling for a government by the people and for the people, I take it they think our current system of government (with non-humans for Parliamentarians...?) isn't up to scratch. (Again they don't say how their version will differ from the status quo, so if I were you I'd head down to the protest if you're keen to find out).
Thirdly, they want an economic system that works for 100% of the people. They don't like our current economic model. Fair enough. That's what the people Occupying Wall Street are so angry about in the US, so it's fitting that our ones are angry about it too.
So why Occupy Wellington and the Reserve Bank?
Still not really informed still of why they want to occupy the Reserve Bank, I scrolled down the page to the Why Occupy Wellington description:
Because of Pike River mine disaster, because of legislation falsely passed under urgency without public due diligence, because of the way our elderly are treated, the way our physically disabled are treated, the way our mentally disabled are treated, the way victims of sexual assault are treated, because of our child poverty, because of the incredible and ever increasing divide between rich and poor in this country, because the TPPA will further disadvantage New Zealanders, because the Food bill will prevent us from growing and sharing food grown in our own gardens, because prisons have been privatised, because they are going to sell what few state owned assets we have remaining, because in 3 years we have got into more debt than we paid off in the previous 9 years, because our coast line is being sold off to oil companies that don't give a toss about our environment or our country, because we want to fight to regain 100% PURE NEW ZEALAND!
Yeah, they're pretty pissed off aren't they.
Problem is, none of the above has anything to do with the Reserve Bank or its responsibilities.
Luckily for the Occupy Wellington group, I've stumbled on this misnomer in their protest plans before they were left red-faced yelling into megaphones (not the one's made by global corporates of course) at the wrong government agency. That was close eh.
And it doesn't require one to be a rocket scientist to figure out which government agency would be involved with at least some of those decisions outlined about. It seems the Occupy The Terrace group chose the wrong side of the Terrace to protest on.
The Treasury (the government's central policy agency) at number 1 The Terrace would be, in my humble opinion, a much better target for the group to camp outside and voice its protest at (I even think there's a nice grass patch there where they can pitch their tents and even plant a garden).
How about the US embassy...?
Oh now hey, that could be a good idea as well couldn't it? Let's see. The Occupy Wellington group is protesting in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protesters, who are unhappy with US financial institutions, governed by US laws and overseen by US regulators.
Maybe it's all a bit '2003' to protest outside the US embassy now? It just might not be cool any more. (Tip: There's even more green space by the US embassy than there is outside the Treasury).
What's the Reserve Bank got to do with this again?
So just in case the Occupy Wellington/The Terrace group still wants to target the Reserve Bank (but not over monetary policy, macro-prudential tools or forecasting), I'll leave it up to TVHE's Matt Nolan to have the last word on why this might not be the best choice of action:
Nothing sounds nobler than fighting against injustice for those that are oppressed. And in truth, trying to make sure that people have an even playing field with which to take on life is one of the main justifications for government – hell it's part of the “social contract” that exists between us as individuals.
And on the face of it, these protests in the US have been trying to achieve that. It is a fact that the incomes of many US citizens have stayed roughly unchanged, while the incomes of the most wealthy have increased – the disparity is not as severe as some of the numbers suggest (as there have been countervailing price changes), but it has happened.
People in the US are protesting because there seems to be no rhyme or reason to this change – furthermore, unemployment has been at 10% for a very long time, and all hope appears to be gone. The fact that so much “corporate welfare” exists in the US is also very upsetting – as it should be.
But in NZ we haven’t had any of this – in fact incomes have risen sharply across the board, unemployment is still below the levels it was a decade ago (and employment rates are much higher), and we don’t have ridiculous corporate welfare policies. We have great institutions – including the Reserve Bank – which have helped to ease the pain from the drastic global events on New Zealand.
… and yet the protesters are standing outside the very places that HELPED New Zealand during the crisis. I’m not sure if this is because they don’t understand what is going on, or because they just think it’s a great way to get attention – but it is an extremely poor idea to protest there.
If you want to “show solidarity with the US”, do it at the US embassy – not in front of the very places that have helped all New Zealander’s out during a time of global crisis.