One of the most fascinating things to come out of the current We Are 99%/Occupy Wall Street protests is the We Are 99% Tumblr. At the site, people hold up signs that explain their current circumstances, and it tells the story of a whole range of Americans struggling in the Lesser Depression. It is highly recommended.
The site features pictures of individuals holding their signs, and occasionally the tumblr reproduces the text of the signs themselves underneath the image as html text. Sometimes the text under the image is blank, sometimes it is a different message, but often it is the sign itself.
In order to get a slightly better empirical handle on this important tumblr, I created a script designed to read all of the pages and parse out the html text on the site. It doesn’t read the images (can anyone in the audience automate calls to an OCR?), just the html text. After collecting all the text on all the pages, the code then goes through it to try to find interesting points.
It’s a fun exercise, pointing out things I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. For instance, I found this adorable little rascal, pictured below, mucking up the algorithm, as the first version of the code assumed all the ages would have two digits. I found that he, and the sign his mom made for him as a confessional to her son, hit me a ton harder than any of the more direct signs of despair in this economy:
Going through the ~1,000 entries in the tumblr, here is the distribution of ages that I was able to generate:
Given that we assume tumblr and webcams are technologies of the young, the age distribution has a higher tail end than I had expected. There were two major clusters – people around 20 and people around 27, each with their own major concerns.
What were the most frequent words? We ate up all the words across all text and came up with the following list:
“Of Interest” is my call–I removed all the pronouns and other words that occur frequently but didn’t get at the chief concerns of the 99%. The major words are jobs and debt, as a quick glance of the site would show. The ability to make it month to month shows up here more than on the glance, with “pay”, “afford”, “rent”, “food” and “bills” right underneath the big items.
Student debt is a meta-concern, but what are the others? Scanning, I totaled four major categories. Here is the number of individual entry texts that flagged each, and the search terms to grab them:
“Children” has a few false positives in it (“It used to be my dream to help disabled children…”), but only a few. Student loans are an overwhelming presence, but it often has the same terms repeated and giant dollar figures next to them so it sticks with you. For all the people indentured with student loans there are almost as many worried about how they are going to take care of their kids.
Scanning the entire text, what is equally interesting is what is missing. There’s no signs of a luxury fever or cascading consumption heading downhill. These aren’t the signs of people envious of their peers going off to the high-end financial sector and then getting bailed out. The only time luxuries are mentioned are in a mode of denial (“We do not own HD TVs, expensive automobiles, use cable TV, or indulge in other..”). The only time unions are mentioned are in retreat and defeat (“No union”, “threatend [sic] by funding cuts and union busting”). So how to theorize this?
So if the 99% Tumblr was a PAC, what would its demands look like, and what ideology would it presuppose? Freddie DeBoer is discouraged after reading the 99% tumblr. He’s concerned it reflects a desire for restoration of the glory days of the 90s-00s, which concerns him because “this country cannot be fixed by wishing to go back to the economics of 2005.” Concerned that the solidarity is one that, at most, is a I-got-mine-you-go-get-yours form of neoliberalism (as he imagines it, “I went to college and I don’t have the job and the car and the lifestyle I was promised”), DeBoer is worried that We Are the 99% isn’t “a rejection of our failing order. It is an embrace of it in the most cynical terms.”
With all due respect to DeBoer, the demands I found aren’t the ones of the go-go 90s-00s, but instead far more ancient cry, one of premodernity and antiquity.
Let’s bring up a favorite quote around here. Anthropologist David Graeber cites historian Moses Finley, who identified “the perennial revolutionary programme of antiquity, cancel debts and redistribute the land, the slogan of a peasantry, not of a working class.” And think through these cases. The overwhelming majority of these statements are actionable demands in the form of (i) free us from the bondage of these debts and (ii) give us a bare minimum to survive on in order to lead decent lives (or, in pre-Industrial terms, give us some land). In Finley’s terms, these are the demands of a peasantry, not a working class.
The actual ideology of modernity, broadly speaking, is absent. There isn’t the affluenza of Freddie’s worries, no demands for cheap gas, cheaper credit, giant houses, bigger electronics all under the cynical “Ownership Society” banner. 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.
It’s awful that it has come to this, but it also is an opportunity. As was discussed in the monetary debate from earlier, creditors aren’t bosses; their power is less coercive and much more obviously based on socially-constructed fictions, laws and ideas. As Peter Frase pointed out:
Indeed, widespread and large debt loads are one of the most important ways in which my generation differs from those that immediately preceded it…This has direct implications for the left: more than once, older comrades have noted to me that it has become much more difficult to live in the kind of bohemian poverty that sustained an earlier generation of young radicals and activists…
And there may be some advantages to a politics centered around debt rather than wage labor. The problem confronting the wage laborer is that they are, in fact, dependent on the boss for their sustenance, unless they can solve the collective action problem of getting everyone together to expropriate the expropriators. Debt, on the other hand, is just an agreed-upon social fiction denoting an obligation for some act of consumption that has already occurred. The only way to make people respect debt is through some combination of brute force and ideological legitimacy–a legitimacy that we can only hope is starting to slip away.
Upon reflection, it is very obvious where the problems are. There’s no universal health care to handle the randomness of poor health. There’s no free higher education to allow people to develop their skills outside the logic and relations of indentured servitude. Our bankruptcy code has been rewritten by the top 1% when instead, it needs to be a defense against their need to shove inequality-driven debt at populations. And finally, there’s no basic income guaranteed to each citizen to keep poverty and poor circumstances at bay.
We have piecemeal, leaky versions of each of these in our current liberal social safety net. Having collated all these responses, I think completing these projects should be the ultimate goal of the 99%.
(Update: 25 Most Frequently Appearing Words graphic has been updated and corrected; job(s) was originally reported as 201, not the correct 272. Merging job and jobs put unemployed at #25, with 31 mentions.)
Just great thought and hard work. Way to go.
Right out of Lennon.
“I am the Walrus.”
YOU’RE OUT OF YOUR ELEMENT, DONNY!
V. I. LENIN! VLADIMIR ILYICH ULIANOV!!!
I’ll take a look at it tonight. If it’s like Google Voice it should be good for a laugh.
Or, we could just change the banking battle hymn of the republic which is “Restructuring any debt first requires a default” to “Restructuring any debt DOES NOT first require a default.
I think this is an appropriate level for reform that often gets overlooked as incrementalism. There are a million tiny changes like this that could add up to real, serious change for a lot of people; the new student loan exception in bankruptcy is another example.
You’ve got both “job(s)” at 201 and “jobs” at 71, which doesn’t change the order of things. And thank you for the marvelous insights. I learned about Jubilee, when all debts are forgiven, in Sunday school, and the groaning of the people under their load of debt then sounds like what we hear now.
Wonderful post, thanks. Freddie, unfortunately, is insane.
I really enjoy the angle you’ve taken on this. Gives me a lot to think about, much thanks.
Thanks everyone for the kind comments.
joyfulalternative, thanks for catching what was a mistake! I hadn’t added up job and jobs in the top 25 chart like I had with loan(s) and debt(s). There is now a correct value of 272 added to the chart, along with “unemployed” entering the top 25 with 31 mentions. This is reflected in the UPDATE above.
Freddie, unfortunately, is insane.
YOU MUST ENDORSE THE CONSENSUS. KNEEL BEFORE ZOD
Hi there — out of curiosity, I just ran a quick script on the site and got different figures — for example, I got 471 instances of “job,” 142 of “jobs,” and 364 of “debt.” Dramatically different from your figures. Do you mind explaining briefly how exactly you got the numbers?
PS. Here’s what I did: (1) I downloaded the entire website with `wget –recursive –no-clobber –page-requisites –html-extension –convert-links –domains wearethe99percent.tumblr.com –no-parent wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/` and (2) I searched all html files to cound all lines containing a key word, like this: cat `find . -name *.html` | grep debt | wc –lines
PPS. Pls note that double-dashes were converted into long dashes by WordPress.com.
Does the ordering match up? I ran a perl and a python script for the two steps – not the most elegant but did the job.
Also off top of head, your “grep debt” would grab “debts”; and if a line had multiple “debt” it would only be counted once with a wc -l command, instead of multiple times, no? (Been a while.) I had 71 jobs, and you have 2x that number, which makes me think that maybe you are reading each entry off the main index page (“page/X”) and its individual page? With that could the grep/wc are throwing off the rest making the discrepancies?
Also possible, check what you are grabbing with the grep: the image’s “alt” tag has the text that is identical with the html text. It’s possible you are pulling both the image and the text with each equally (which could example the doubling count of jobs).
Well, what I did wasn’t exactly elegant either (been a while for me too). I figured a quick-n-dirty line count would be close enough, but then the ordering didn’t match up — that’s why I asked. I’ll look at it more closely as soon as I get a chance.
Great idea, BTW.
Update: I got pretty close numbers by isolating the text inside the tags. (Trying to stay with simple one-line commands. Thanks!)
…inside the “p” tags, not inside the tags.
“YOU MUST ENDORSE THE CONSENSUS. KNEEL BEFORE ZOD”
Freddie. Absolutely nothing in your post points a way forward. A smattering of quotes like “the system is unjust” and “a new way is possible” will not solve the problems that real people face, like getting healthcare and adequate nutrition, and having meaningful lives and careers. If you have ideas, please share them. Otherwise, I’m inclined to agree with the analysis in this article (http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/01/on-the-lack-of-left-wing-discourse-in-the-blogosphere.html) that you’re just a nobody shooting for a shot at the academy.
I’m curious as to whether you included in the data all of the many recorded instances of the 99% who did not directly represent themselves? i.e. (sic) “I live with 3 others, we are all struggling.” or “I was forced to move back in with my parents and then they lost their jobs, too.” Because I believe there is a much richer and deeper story there that your raw data is unable to convey.
At face value, your data would suggest that the 99% are primarily students and recent (within 5 years) graduates who are struggling the Rites of Passage like any normal young family.
And that is really not the point.
I was similarly moved by the tumblr and this analysis was great and I’ll forward it on.
One thing you don’t discuss in this post, but that seems germane, is that the tumblr is certainly edited/curated. There are plenty of posters that don’t get posted, right? So the ideology of the blog is determined in some part by the site moderators.
Also, people are not so self aware, and are unlikely to post about how their cable TV bills or new car payment are part of what is screwing them right now.
This is some of the stuff I thought about looking at the tumblr, even as my overall impression was of empathy for all these folks who, like me, can’t make the basics because of an unfair economic system.
http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/we-are-the-99-percent-creators is a link to an interview of the creators and how they go about compiling it. It sounds like they are pretty unbiased when it comes to posting. That’s probably why some “53 percenters” ( the conservative response) are kicking in ,
Modest, therefore radical?
This passage struck me as crucial:
“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.
It’s awful that it has come to this, but it also is an opportunity. As was discussed in the monetary debate from earlier, creditors aren’t bosses; their power is less coercive and much more obviously based on socially-constructed fictions, laws and ideas.”
I sense another sort of opportunity. Because (a) what people are asking for is so basic and (b) it seems so utopian & unimaginable in the context of the existing system, this really may be the bedrock on which a much more widespread shift can be based. I’m not saying there’s any guarantee. I wouldn’t even want to lay odds. But the enormous gap here points to possibility–nothing more, at least at this early point in time.
It’s not 99%. Less than 12% of the U.S. workforce is in a union.
The federal government is borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends right now. Where should the money come from to pay for free college educations for all? And how would that help? These protests are full of young people with college educations who are nevertheless unemployed or underemployed.
This is just one example of how some of the protesters’ demands seem poorly thought out. I can see why Freddie DeBoer would be discouraged.
Methinks the reason the protests are full of young folk who are unemployed or underemployed is primarily because those who are not in this position yet are ONE PAYCHECK AWAY from actualizing it and thus are unable to afford the frivolity and luxury of fighting for their lives.
Can you only read numbers, not words?
There’s three steps to a solution (all of them perfectly reasonable, none of them politically conceivable with the present gang of crooks running the country)
1. fix the income side of the equation; tax corporate earnings the same way that individual earnings are taxed (worldwide), apply the Buffett rule wherever it makes sense. Return taxes to Reagan era levels with a progressive tax structure that is fair.
2. Redirect the massive subsidies from the war industries towards civil society. This would include the hypertrophied “national security state”, gut the DEA, the ATF, the CIA and the rest of the cold war relics; those billion dollar black budgets buy us nothing but pain and suffering.
3. Recognize that health care, housing and education are investments in our human capital, and that restoring our people to healthy productivity is our national priority.
I think this is clear, fair and would probably be effective. (Well, people will argue about fair, but I say that if a corporation is a person for political donations, it ought to be one for taxation, too.)
Probably where the money is increasingly: at the top. As well, there would be significant savings (public and private) with a single payer system, such money could be used for the goal of educational possibilities for everyone.
This topic has been thoroughly thought out. http://www.facebook.com/groups/forgivestudentloandebt/
The fact of the matter is that college tuition costs have increased at a shocking rate since the 70’s:
That was when our parent’s generation started looking into college as a worthwhile investment, and where a good bit of working through the school years could pay off significant chunk of their tuition- leaving a relatively manageable portion of their debt to pay off afterwards. Now, tuition to even a state school costs increasingly more, costs of course supplies are astronomical, and it’s gotten to a point where even working during the school year really can only cover at best a small portion of the cost, and at worse the cost of living if the option to stay at home is unavailable. Once we graduate, the higher paying jobs aren’t there for us, and we are left with no ability to put much cash flow at paying off those loans. We stay living with our parents if we’re lucky, but put off starting a family and purchasing a home. The system for obtaining a higher education is creating a whole generation of student loan debtors who were only doing what they were taught to do in order to get a good job. How are we to support the economy of this country when our parents are ready to retire in 10 years or less? How are we going to take care of our elderly if we are still struggling over the load of our debts? We are setting our selves up for failure.
Why can people can gamble away thousands and max out dozens of credit cards and have it all forgiven in bankruptcy while students don’t even have the option for that fresh start? What we loose from giving gambles and credit card abusers debt forgiveness is exponentially greater than what we loose by forgiving a student’s debt. These people have no physical manifestation of their debt with actual face value, but what they do and always will have are the benefits of a furthered education- which is instrumental in growing and progressing as a country and society. Whether you agree or not, the fact is that this is a bubble that is going to burst, and better to try to contain it now before it turns into an even bigger burden on this country.
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Ok Here’s what we know. About 50% of households are now receiving direct aid from the Federal government in one form or another. About that same number are ‘financially fragile’ and could not come up with $2k in 30 days for an emergency. Almost 55% are still being covered by some sort of employer based health care insurance, but that number has been dropping steadily for a decade. Incomes for the vast majority of workers has been stagnant or declining for about as long or longer. Most classes of workers are now making less than they did in 1999, including college grads. Household incomes are still declining. Food insecurity and poverty are now back at levels seen in the 1960’s, especially for children and minority kids. Those communities face high double digit unemployment, and have for years. We’ve got the longest series of long term unemployed since yes, the Great Depression. Truth be told, we’re not measuring these effects very well, and it’s worse than it looks. But for the ‘automatic stabilizers’ that were absent during the 1930’s, we’d be right there with them. At what point do you have just look at the data and say, ‘Yep, it’s a Depression And a National emergency, requiring a sustained coordinated policy response and not just the usual dithering?
In any case, I read much of the Tumblr. The words I never saw come up? ‘Voting’ or ‘Votes’ or anything to do with collective or real coordinated action where they live. They’ve given up on that route. The ‘greedy geezers’ of the Teaparty knew where to apply the pressure at the right time & places to make the entire political system nearly collapse. Of course they had professional help and plenty of funding & organizing from the Koch Bros. These kids never learned any civics, and seem terribly disinclined to learn at the moment. Such as where and when to aptly apply ‘majority rules’ for their decision making processes. Relearning the real need for that method might facilitate some of their discussions and activities better. And oh yeah, registering people to vote & voting too. Thanks for the effort though. JMP
The more I learn about “civics,” the less inclined I am to think that voting is worth the time to pull the lever. Our political process is a dirty game and it only gets dirtier the digger you deep. I say this as someone who has personally registered hundreds of people to vote and worked on political campaigns before I became dissilusioned with the process.
Honestly, the voting machines themselves are often of literally unverifiable security – voting in a system like that is actually self-disenfranchising; it’s giving a vote of confidence to a black box political process (the black box is filled with poo, I might add).
Why can’t Washington come up with a creative bill that allows students to volunteer off their student loans? Governments are strapped for cash, and enough people are out of work, seems like a win win to me.
please run for public office, thank you
Freddie’s not insane, he just thinks the obvious has some import that should make us all start, or maybe he thinks we don’t have eyes and can’t see for ourselves: holy shit, these people aren’t trying to fundamentally change the system; they’re just indignant that it has stopped working in the way it has been sold, and they’re out in the streets about it, employing Freddie’s preferred method of social activation, but not to what he thought could be its only true end! Holy cognitive dissonance Batman! You’re telling me there are people who will go into the streets to make themselves heard when it is apparent that their prospects for lifetime prosperity are going down the drain in a systematic way, and the elite guardians of the that system seem to have stopped trying to fix it? People go out into streets for the sake of their crass material interests? How… cynical! How un-radical!
I am very impressed by this effort: very creative, timely and useful.
It somehow confirms some intuitions I had about what’s behind the Occupy Wall Street (something similar could be starting Down Under [*]).
Keep it up!
Wall St protests spread south. Andy Park. The Age. October 10, 2011
Time to occupy our financial hubs? David Llewellyn-Smith. The Sydney Morning Herald. October 10, 2011.
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It’s interesting how many of the photos taken on that blog have EXIF data showing they were taken on iPhones or Photo Booth on Macs. Can’t afford to buy clothes at a thrift shop but can afford hundreds or thousands of dollars of computer equipment? Seriously?
Yeah I don’t really understand that either.
Nice straw man…
I guess one needs to be without any modern amenities before they can complain about injustice. Who knew.
It’s entirely possible that they’ve had the equipment for years- that they got the computer or phone or whatever before they were in such die straits. It’s possible that they received their electronics as gifts, or as hand-me-downs. Those with jobs might have had computers provided to them by their work.
Current minimum upfront payment, according to Apple, for the cheapest device in the Apple iOS division (iPhone 3GS 8GB): $0. Current upfront payment for the iPhone 4: $99. See, paying attention to Apple product announcements is a good idea!
Here in the UK, even before Tim Cook announced price cuts across the down-ticket iOS devices last week, I could walk into a store, sign up for a £15/month 2-year service contract on Orange UK, and walk out with an iPhone 3GS without putting any cash down. I’d recommend that deal, especially as it will serve for a camera, music player, and a good chunk of a PC as well as a phone.
Clue: mobile phones are sold to mobile network operators, not end-users. Whether, or how much, they subsidise the end user price, and how much of the vendor price they load on the service contract, is entirely up to the operator’s discretion.
“They’ve got cell phones” was lame when it was the excuse for Iraq.
I bet most of these people have refrigerators and indoor plumbing, too.
A Macbook from 2008 runs about $300 on ebay. Same as any “low end” electronics. Comes with a webcam and Photobooth software.
The cost of Apple products is significantly cheaper when regarding inflation, even when just compared to 10 years ago:
And considering they make some of the most stable and powerful mobile and home computing devices it does not surprise me that the younger generation depends on their brand. After all, computers and the mobile communication define us a great deal, since the internet is shaping up to be the most profound development of the 20th century.
I know a homeless man who has a nicer phone than I do. In one sense, it’s not a bad investment – laptop, desktop, cellphone in one! It really is nearly impossible to better yourself in this economy without internet access – buying a newspaper to look for a job in the classifieds is as obsolete as making spears with flint tips, and you can learn just about anything for free on Google.
On another level, I think it provides some psychological solace for being generally looked down upon for being poor – ‘sure, I may sleep under a bridge, but I have the same phone as the guy in a suit in front of me in line at the grocery.’
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Personal problems are of course compelling and immediate, but the cause of all these personal tragedies is Empire and the lack of true democracy (self-government that could address such oppression).
Jesse LaGreca, on the corporatist media’s reactionary “show”, ABC’s “This Week” did a good job of saying what the Occupy movement was for, which is real democracy, but this will not stop the endless red-herring question of our “demands” and what the movement is confronting.
We are 100% correct that the goal of the 99% has nothing to do with the shill Obama or the ‘Vichy’ and collaborator Democratic Party, BUT the fastest, easiest, and most compelling way to PROVE that Occupy is not and cannot be co-opted by the Obama shills, the Democratic Party shills, or any other shills is to state that the inclusive goal/demand/revolt of the Occupy movement is “Against Empire”!
The compelling advantages of this underlying goal and demand of being against Empire are:
First, being against the causal cancerous disease of Empire is the totally effective way in laying low Obama, The Democrats, and any other authoritarian or astroturf group of shills that might try to co-opt the Occupy movement —- because all of them, all counter-revolutionary and reactionary groups, are scared to death and will never say they support being “Against Empire” — In fact, they can never even whisper the very term ‘Empire’, because this 1% IS the EMPIRE!!!!
Second, and very important for the 99% of the Occupy movement/revolution, is the fact that being “Against Empire” is totally inclusive of all the important, and valid problems, issues, and reasons that Occupy has organically formed to address problems in our world like; vast economic inequality, Wall Street looting, foreign imperialist wars, domestic spying, oppression, and violence, environmental destruction, killing debt, lack of good jobs in a fair economy, etc. etc.
What the Occupy movement/revolution can learn, borrow, expand from the October 2011 movement is that the inclusive but non-specific answer to the corporatist media and other entrapment claptrapers question of what the goal/demand of Occupy is.
Kevin Zeese and others in the October 2011 movement have leveraged the realistic, attractive, inclusive, and non-constraining message of being against Empire — just as the first American Revolution was a broad and inclusive people’s confrontation against the empire that was oppressing them in all aspects of their lives; economic oppression, political oppression, military oppression, legal oppression, cultural, media, and social oppression by the British Empire.
By suggesting a goal/demand which is nominally focused on one simple and underlying (but never mentioned) cause of all our economic, political, war, environmental, social, legal, and other restraints by the un-mentioned, taboo, but deadly oppression(s) of Empire, the Occupy Together movement/revolution can describe a single goal/cause/demand of being “Against Empire” — and yet inclusively combine all the varied and valid symptom problems and indictments that we, the 99%, have against Empire and the deadly problems that the undiagnosed global Empire serving only the 1% is causing.
In the First American Revolution the visible and detested British Empire was causing all the political, economic, military, social, and legal oppressions to the freedom of the 99% of future Americans in forming their own democratic self-government.
Today the much more guileful, disguised, undiagnosed, and invisible global corporate/financial/militarist Empire — that is never mentioned by the corporatist media — hides like a cancerous tumor beneath the surface and is the proximate cause of the same political, economic, military, social and legal oppressions on we 99%, that the British Empire had caused before we broke free of Empire.
Liberty & democracy
This post has nailed it perfectly. Thank you.
In time, we all came to learn that the Teaparty was a think tank “amusement,” just as we will in time learn that “occupy wall street” is also.
Looks like if we’re going to survive this, it’s back to the farms people.
No economy, no jobs, the playing field is being leveled.
Energy is better spent with learning farming skills… don’t know where to start?
Talk with your elders in the country, they’ll be glad to teach you how to survive.
The gov is not your daddy.. We’re all grown ups now.. so grow up and cut the cord already.
Back to the farms.. feed yourselves and your neighbors for crying out loud.
Farms were the unsung heros during the last depression.. and they will be again.
Not with the way politics control the growing and distribution of our produce. Being a farmer in this day and age is not a lucrative way of life. And there is not nearly enough physical farm land to divide between every American household. It’s ideological views like this that will negatively impact recovery. We can not return to some golden age of the past- it’s impossible.
I see you have no idea what’s been happening to farms over the past few decades. Out where I grew up, most of them are in houses rather than crops and cattle, now. I agree that it’s a darned good idea to start putting in a garden anywhere you can, but unless you already own a house, you’re just doing it for tomatos to put on your hamburgers. It’s not going to keep you in produce from day to day, let alone keep you alive.
I’ll tell you what, though – the Amish have been hurt a whole lot less by this systematic looting of the country’s wealth than any of the rest of us. For what it’s worth.
The other thing I’d add is something that underlies the basics you’ve outlined. These things, health care that is just there for you, higher education that you can obtain without going into serious debt, the guaranteed income which frees you from worrying about whether or not you’ll be starving/be able to pay rent represent something else: freedom. The American ideology is centered around the rugged individualist, making it on your own, and doing as you please (without harming others). Our economic system makes it so that very few of us can come even close to living it.
Are you free to quit your job and find another? For many, the answer is no. Stick with what you have, no matter how bad it is, otherwise you could wind up homeless, hungry, or simply with a whole lot less choices. You may be forced to move in with friends or others who you will split the bills with (or they’ll simply pay for everything.) Does that sound like freedom?
If you have health insurance (especially if you have a pre-existing condition) can you go without your meds/treatments for a while? What if the new employer doesn’t offer it? What if you cannot afford it on the private market without winding up a pauper? Does that sound like freedom?
Can you take any sort of risks involving physical injury? Skydive? Biking? Some people are worried about getting knocked over in the street because they cannot afford health care (see “The Young Invincibles” for stories.) Does that sound like freedom?
If your job or whole industry gets offshored or just disappears, can you afford to get education or retrain easily? (Of course, the importance of this is now questionable, given that degrees now simply serve as a filtering mechanism for HR in a job market where there are 4+ people for each job opening. If everyone had a PHD, Starbucks would be loaded with them. The debt issue, though, is extremely serious.)
Beyond all the obvious problems, we have this underlying one. A few have the freedom to live, the rest have the freedom to starve.
You could OCR it like such, only without the extracting from video bit.
Like the Freddie DeBoer you quote, I worry about the 90s nostalgia that haunts this; but like you, I see many other political genealogies that shoot through these demands. (It’s unsurprising that we are so complex). These ideological tensions are necessary in anything like “99%” if it’s to be representational of anything near 99%: it includes those who lost their jobs, savings, and homes in the last few years, and those who have never had something like an opportunity a job, savings, or home. It also includes many people who have not thought to identify with the movement at all (my favorite chant at a recent Chicago march, was to traffic and pedestrians: “You are the 99%!”)
Great piece, though I am terrible with data. How can we understand the terms expressed in these data (“jobs” “loans” “student” “health”) as being themselves incredibly multivalent? Not just in a free-fall relativist sense of ‘meaning,’ but in terms of complex histories through which these terms have been salient in different ways to different people at different times?
Unfortunately this country loves a handout and no one wants to work unless it is under their optimal conditions. Grow up people college isba waste of money unless your a doctor, time is to not be lazy and sit and complain, it’s time to Bethesda change you want to see in the world. You complain about the environment but your protestors leave nothing but trash around. People want a hand out and they want less taxes they want with out working for it. I am 22 years old I have lived on my own and across the country from my familysince i was 17. So if you imagine me being some rich republican you are wrong, I’ve worked for everything I have and I’m successful and comfortable all by living within my means and enjoying the things life offers for free. Just some food for thought get of your computer stop complaining and geta job and a clue
Personalizing your economic experience and expecting it to accurately generalize across the entirety of a nation with 300+ million individuals is nothing but idiocy.
Unfortunately your personal experience has given you a lack of compassion for the suffering of others. Some of us have experienced the opposite effect; luck gave us the ability (that is, family resources) to make personal mistakes and not be punished with poverty or desperation, and because of that we have compassion for those who had through no fault of their own had no access to such help.
Perspective can be a blessing or a curse.
When I was “Dom”‘s age I also believed it was possible to live well on the smell of an oily rag. At 22 one has the privilege of youth. Wait until life has had the chance to throw some of its curly ones at Dom: once expensive-in-the-US illnesses start to develop and make themselves known, once his/her teeth are starting to need major work, once s/he’s been through a few downsizings or “rightsizings” of her/his industry, and the thousand natural shocks which flesh is heir to. Oh, and having children eventually has a multiplier effect – those trips to the ER which you never saw coming the morning before; the unbelievable cost of education – etc
This hits close to home because I basically make two mortgage payments each month. My massive monthly student loan payments mostly go to interest each month (why are any student loans even allowed to accrue interest?) I can’t ever seem to claw my way out of the hole.
I’m in grad school but have been trying to keep making these payments because I want the debt to go away faster.
I’ve had perfect credit my entire life, but when I finally settle somewhere longterm and am safely in a house that I’ve bought, I’ve considered defaulting on these loans. They’re just too big. Now that I’ve typed that I think I’ll go ahead and not use my real name on this post.
Can’t default on student loans. Declaring bankruptcy and the like doesn’t discharge student loan debt. Basically the only way they’ll forgive your loans is if you die or are crippled (and if you had someone co-sign, even that defense won’t work as it will just be passed on to them). Sorry.
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Your observations of the We Are 99% tumblr are extremely insightful. Identifying their grievances as those of the a peasant class is spot-on. I would also argue that this serf mentality is a tremendous liability in the pursuit of Occupy Wall Street’s disparate array of demands.
“These are the mentalities of a serf; a politically disenfranchised child who has, through decades of paternalism, become incapable of conceiving of government without first envisioning his place in its hierarchy.” (http://www.general-population.com/2011/10/99-paternalism/)
this is soooooooooooo lame……………..fuck the left
Great post, Mike. Thanks for doing all that work.
My guess is that as this movement catches on, the balance of issues priorities and age demographics will shift. Older people are losing their American dream as well. But it will still be about jobs, health care, debt, security, family and hopes for a decent life.
I think these guys captured some of the sentiment:
Wow and no mention of root causes. How about that.
Great song, Dan. Right on. Another Tennessee Ernie Ford song comes to mind also … I owe my soul to the company store ….
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Great respect for the cause, and for your work, Mike. But from a text analytics standpoint (pushes glasses up on nose), you can’t just “take the most common words,” after removing some arbitrary number of stopwords. You need to use Dunning’s log likelihood to assess which words here are overrepresented relative to their frequency in some other “background” sample.
Text analysis has a statistical methodology, just as economics does. But that being said — thanks, and keep fighting the good fight!
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That kid deserve better that than. I hope our leaders will now perform their duties in bringing humanity to a place where it’s supposed to be.
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I thought the purpose of the tumblr was to document what life is like for the 99%, to show what it means to be part of the 99%, not to suggest what to do about it. Consequently, the “people are too beaten down to demand real change” analysis is off because it misreads the purpose of the site. Also, later posts will be influenced by earlier posts. If the first 25 signs documented personal stories and did not focus on solutions, then I’d expect the next 250 to do the same.
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So where would we be if accounting had been mandatory in the schools since 1960? Is the mis-educational system designed to produce people to be used and thrown away?
60 years of listening to economists who can’t do algebra.
Just so you know: Sharing of work by shortening the workday is the modern day equivalent of diversion of the land.
That is division, not diversion
Mike – this is excellent but I’m just deeply troubled by the lack of an aesthetically pleasing word cloud.
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Here’s another RESTful OCR/Image Recognition API – http://blog.metalayer.com/post/11278120238/hacking-imagery-and-photos-with-imglayer
Mr Konzal at your suggestion I did spend some time going through the picture posts on We Are 99% Tumblr. Whoa that was wrenching. But thank you for a great post.
Made me think that someone who had a job (a politician), who surrounded him- or herself only with other people who had jobs (say, other politicians and lobbyists), might have very little understanding of our unemployment predicament. Basically, in a non-agrarian society such as ours with very, very high land entry costs across our nation, if you can’t have a job, you can’t have a life. That is what those pictures show.
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There is a serious sample-selection problem in the data that is used for the analysis and conclusions: where are the OWS people who don’t have the time, the wherewithal or the hardware to post at We Are 99% Tumblr?
In your “data” collecting, you’ve missed many valuable individuals, and as a result your numbers are skewed. And that does a disservice to the whole OWS 99% “movement” (or whatever it might be called). Drawing conclusions that a majority of OWS participants are within a certain age demographic and use certain vocabulary merely gives ammo to the 1% and their supporters that the OWS crowd are simply unhappy twenty-somethings who want a job, a hand out and student aid.
Do a proper sample and you’ll come away with a much more representative age curve; talk to people off-line and you’ll hear different words and emotions that aren’t skewed toward those on-line.
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I look at this picture and see child abuse — this poor child has to freeze in the winter because his mother would rather buy a data plan and post to social media than buy him food, clothes and birthday presents. People ask what’s wrong with this country — well, its women (and men) who have their priorities screwed up. Since when does a data plan come before food and clothes for your child?
Maybe she’s posting from the public library. You can use the computers and have internet access for free there… for now.
A person can get a phone with a data plan these days more inexpensively than they can buy clothes and food, especially for growing children whose clothing doesn’t fit them for more than a few months at a time. Because it is “an electronic gadget” does not make it all that expensive. I just got a new computer, an upgrade from my old computer. I only bought a new CPU, not a new monitor or keyboard. My total expense for this was under $300. My last weekly grocery bill, buying off-brand items with no “extras” like snacks, etc. was close to $200 for a family of 3. No comparison, “Jester.”
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Wow, that 4-year-old boy has the handwriting of a 35 year-old woman!
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Jester: What makes you assume she has a data plan? Public libraries have internet kiosks, and the cheapest of phones come with cameras now. Also, you’re assuming she couldn’t get winter clothes for her child: accepting donations or hand-me-downs because she can’t afford to buy isn’t something she’d be proud of.
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This is great.
There needs to be more of this. More intelligent discussion based on actual information.
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“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 sent a post to the 99 percent tumblr which was about the “‘idea that a job should “mean something””. Specifically: that the meaning of professions – Teacher, Doctor, Lawyer – which used to have their own, independent values – Education, Health, Justice (excuse the antiquated capitalization) – is being thinned out into a simple numbers game, what the word “market” has come to mean. I see this happening to my profession, teaching, as a system which connects student test scores (which are speciously connected to success in the college admissions market and the job market) to teacher’s scores (and sometimes even their salaries or jobs), using market discipline to make teachers focus on test scores (on tests the teachers do not design) as they compete against each other. The same thing happens when health is managed for profit. Lawyers, well….
Anyway, my post had a simple message, stuck to the topic of teaching, and followed the requests of the tumblr moderators: put write something short on a piece of paper (mine was very short and sweet!, include “occupywallstreet.org” and “We are the 99%” (which I did although I think these numbers are silly as a mantra), and also the unwritten rule of hiding but peeking out from behind the paper (why?).
But my contribution was not approved, not published.
I suspect they only want the same kind of unreflective, apolitical individual complaints. Of course this only provides fodder for the “53%ers” who are in exactly the same situations and repeat in each post their flipside of the same apolitical “argument”: “Don’t complain”.
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What is the ideology of our economists?
42 years after the Moon landing they can’t figure out that planned obsolescence has been going on in automobiles for years and can’t tell us what we have lost on the depreciation of that junk each year since 1969? Of course corporations may not want to hire economists talking about planned obsolescence. So our economic theory is built on the lies that serve the economic interests of economists.
“Economics is extremely useful as a form of employment for economists.” – John Kenneth Galbraith
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This is fantastic.
My friends and I can’t help but think that a lot of the criticism waged against OWS, and a lot of the aggression coming from OWS, is just a distraction from one basic problem; that of increasing income disparity. Charts have been circulating about the recent report from the Congressional Budget Office that demonstrates the widening gap (here’s one stolen from the pages of The Atlantic: http://bit.ly/sCXVN4). How does the country fix this? I’m struggling for an answer.
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