Do You Hear the People Sing?

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FOR THOSE POLITICAL AND FINANCIAL LEADERS who don’t necessarily like hearing that the status quo is under deep suspicion by citizens, communities, and groups worldwide, here are a couple of other headaches for you. Your problems are growing.

Universities have always been seedbeds of reform and activism, but many will be surprised to learn that on campuses across Europe, in Tel Aviv, and New York, students of economics have gained ground in raising their opposition to their peers and mentors who feel that their field is a science and that there is little can be done. Not so, says the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics – a fancy name but with a gutsy mandate.

We want to ultimately create a space in which economic solutions to society’s problems can be generated.  United across borders, we call for a change of course in economics.

You can’t get much more resolved than that and I trust capitalist leaders are listening.

The student’s movement, and those like it, are saying it’s time to take economics out of the sterile lab and into the highways and byways of where people actually live. And they are driven by anger. Following the economic crash of 2008 and the financial sector’s quick return to business as usual, these movements called for change, only to be ignored across the board by those in the very field they were studying in universities across the globe. Of course economics is something of a science and these students are learning their craft, but it is also about people and populations, environmental degradation and poverty, community decline and the lack of political will. They are marching to the call that it’s time science and humanity came together for economies that actually work and don’t just leave these challenges in stasis.

In another development, on May 22, a conference titled, “The New Populism” is being held in Washington D. C. and features the highly popular Senator Elizabeth Warren as its keynote speaker. It’s a tough conference for the financial and political elites to ignore when people like Warren are participating.

Two years of polling has revealed that Americans are becoming increasingly more populist in political outlook and community-driven in their economic priorities. They, too, are angry and starting to fight back over what they perceive as huge indulgences among the elite when so many citizens have fallen by the wayside following the economic meltdown. It was their hope that things would change following the financial calamity, but when corporate and political leaders managed to protect their increased financial rewards from legal scrutiny, people began organizing at significant enough levels to capture national attention.

In so many ways, Elizabeth Warren has unleashed the floodgates of populism and is a rarity – a popular politician prepared to take on the system and call it to account. Her bestselling book and frequent pointed questions at committee hearings have given confidence to citizens who previously stood on the fringe in their anger, but who now have come together to accomplish exactly what Warren has called for – a citizen’s alternative to the prevailing elitism. The website populistmajority.org unveiled some polling that, if true, speak to new tensions ahead. Among the findings:

  • More than half of those polled think the problems that led to the financial crisis have not been fixed
  • Two-thirds believe that Wall Street financial institutions actually make it harder to find good jobs
  • Two-thirds believe there should be more government oversight of financial institutions
  • Nine out of ten believe it is important to regulate financial services in order to ensure fairness toward customers
  • 83% believed financial leaders should be held accountable for actions that result in considerable negative effects on society in general

It’s no accident that most of the interest in the movement finds its source on the centre-left side of the political spectrum, yet the targets of their outrage including well-known Democratic and independent leaders like Bill Clinton and even President Obama for coalescing around the financially comfortable when so many have been thrown under the financial juggernaut.

As you would expect, there are many naysayers, and yet these two movements – students of economics and populism – are gaining a level of attraction and attention unseen in years. And they are going right after the heart of economic and political indifference. Their real power might not be in their astute arguments but in the sense of fervor they can create in societies growing restless for economic and political change. Even if they are doomed like those manning the ramparts in Les Miserables, shouting: “Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men? It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again,” they will ultimately usher in a movement of social and financial equality that can yet capture the hearts of a citizenship remained dormant too long. The next generation is coming and hopefully it gains success before we have wasted our human future.