14 December 2013

Occupy the SEC and Administrative Politics (2)

I posted here (and then updated) on the impact Occupy the SEC has had on the rule making process among Federal bureaucrats charged with regulating the financial services industry. Rather than update again, I will add a second post. I do so because the outcome this week raises important theoretical questions.

First, here is a press release from Occupy the SEC on the  newly adopted version of the Volker Rule. They offer a middling grade - let's call it a "gentleman's C-." But, second, given what research carried out by the Sunlight Foundation reveals about access to the regulators, it is surprising that we ended up with that a good a deal. The graphic above suggests who the 'real' players were. And, of course, this leads to an interesting social science question: how is it that access like this does not translate into a total gutting of the regulation?

Second, it is interesting to note that this success, this willingness to plunge into the details of bureaucratic politics, raises significant issues regarding the general political lessons we derive from rise and demise of the Occupy movement. It is common to characterize Occupy as a movement with no point, no demands, no interest in engaging in tired political activity. For instance, political theorist Bernard Harcourt* credits the movement for "resolutely resisting the call for specific demands and constantly reinventing itself" and suggests that, in so doing, "the movement liberated itself from imposed stereotypes and projections, and from others' prejudgements - from the tyranny of facile solutions and narrow-minded policy talk." Harcourt specifically invokes the refusal to become bogged down in debates over the Volker Rule as an example of this admirable propensity. Such engagement might simply issue in "a set of demands that could easily be met, yet amount to nothing." What does this say about the work of the folks who have been participating for years now in Occupy the SEC?
* Bernard Harcourt. 2013. "Political Disobedience." In Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience. University of Chicago Press, pages 48,61. The paper originally appeared in 2012 in the journal Critical Inquiry. You can find an early, abridge version of the argument here at The Stone blog from The New York Times.

PS: In light of the above, it perhaps might help to look back on the early Adbusters announcement from 2011. 

 In the same volume (cited above) in which Harcourt's essay most accessibly appears, anthropologist Michael Taussig chastises "the politicians and the experts" as follows:
They see OWS as primitive and diffuse because it has no precise demands - as if the demand for equality were not a demand, at once moral and economic, redefining personhood and reality itself. ... What the experts want is for OWS to submit to the language of the prevailing system. Yet is it not the case that merely to articulate such is to sell out the movement?" (39-40)
But if, as seems clear the demand for equality is one (a demand that is), then what follows is how to make equality real. The various occupations did so prefiguratively. On that I agree. But, the occupations succumbed to a concerted effort to clear them and to reclaim and secure the various "public" spaces in which they had appeared. What was left behind was the task, among others, of subverting the barriers to entry surrounding the category "expert." Enter Occupy the SEC.

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