Being stuck in traffic is more bearable if the other lanes are moving. If all lanes are jammed for a long time, tempers flare. And if the police eventually arrive and let a few selected cars get out of their lanes and move through a special path, a riot is likely to ensue. This in short is the sentiment that propels the Occupy Wall St protests, and we should take note.
The traffic jam metaphor for the political consequences of economic mobility was originally proposed by Albert Hirschman, the noted economist, to explain changes in tolerance for income in equality in poor countries. The idea is simple: even a modicum of social mobility – sparked by economic growth – buys patience and political stability in developing countries. As people see their neighbours improve their lot they are willing to wait for their turn.
This idea is now in theory applicable to some of the world’s wealthiest nations – except that the Occupy Wall Street crowds, the protesters in the City of London, or the Italian and Greek protesters are getting out of their “cars”, and clashing with the police not just because they see their “traffic lane” horribly jammed. It’s also because they are moving backwards. As they watch wealthy elite gets richer, they are getting increasingly angry. Continue reading »