These are days of protests across the world. On Saturday, an unprecedented wave of protests hit 950 cities across 80 countries in the world. Rome was hit by violence. In New York, a protest dubbed “Occupy Wall Street” has been on for a month now. All are linked to the economic uncertainty that has hit the global economy.
These protests have an amorphous nucleus of grievances. Words such as “corporate greed” and “government malfeasance” fly thick and fast among their participants. To an extent, these developments are understandable. In Spain, for example, the rate of unemployment is 21%, one of the highest in any industrial economy. Greece is in the midst of savage restructuring. Italy’s future is as unpredictable as an economy can get. If anything, the expression “lost decade” increasingly looks like “lost generations” to many.
Yet, if the sum of all these fears makes sense, there is, as of now, no attractive systemic alternative except to continue with free markets and democracy. The events of 2008 caught policymakers in Western countries with surprise. The so-called “socialization of losses” of financial firms and banks—if it had not been carried out—could have sent the global economy in a free fall. While that fate has been avoided, its painful aftershocks are being felt in many countries.
Italian police fired tear gas and water cannons as protesters in Rome turned a demonstration against corporate greed into a riot on Saturday. The protest in the Italian capital was part of “Occupy Wall Street”. Photo: AP
Here it is important to make distinctions. Those countries that were better prepared to face the shock and took pre-emptive action—the UK and its fiscal austerity plan being one example—have been spared the pain to an extent. Those who were unprepared or had “indulged”, so to speak—Ireland and Greece to cite two extreme cases—have had to pay the price. Thus, the picture is not black and white, but a wide swathe of grey.
It is in terms of alternatives that these movements are at their weakest. The options to free-market economies— mixed economies and socialism—have been tried and have failed. It is a moot point if the protesters in New York or elsewhere want to travel the Chinese road—secure economic future, sans liberty. Anti-systemic movements have had a place throughout history. But shorn of a core that proposes alternatives, they soon degenerate into anarchy.
How far are protests in Europe and elsewhere justified? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org