Will the recession bring anti-globalization protests back?

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When I was a clueless sophomore and junior in college, 2000 – 2001, the cool thing that was sweeping through campuses was anti-globalization. It was more than just that, but this was the core. (There was also the Nader campaign, the Florida vote fiasco, Enron, and 9/11.) At the time I was incredibly far left (left anarchist) but drifted away from the movement around the spring of 2003, the last big protest being against the invasion of Iraq. I didn’t have anything to do with it after that, and my views have moved to the center-right.

As this list of anti-globalization protests confirms, I wasn’t unusual. The really large protests took place in 2000 and especially 2001, they were on the decline by 2003, and from 2004 through 2006, they were non-existent within the First World (aside from ritualistic May Day protests). There’s a slight uptick in 2007, and now The Telegraph reports that London is preparing for the biggest protest in a decade. The umbrella group organizing the protest is G20 Meltdown.

Maybe it’s not surprising, but it looks like these things flare up during recessions and abate during booms. The first round took place during the dot-com crash, and by 2004, college students and 20-somethings were too busy applying their dopey open minds to the topics of metrosexual facial moisturizers, which regional real estate bubble they would exuberantly contribute to, and the crunk and post-punk revival music that was out — way cooler than that Blink182 bullshit that was popular from about 1997 to 2002. But now that young people sense bad things ahead, we may be in for another deluge of protesting professors, fliers for International Socialist Organization meetings, and low-status young males lobbing rocks to impress the one cute anarchist chick at the protest.

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24 Comments

  1. Anti-globalization? They may as well protest the earth revolving around the sun.

  2. Robert Prechter has written about this extensively. 
     
    http://www.socionomics.net/whatis/social-mood.aspx#socialmood 
     
    “Social mood waxes and wanes positively and negatively. A positive social mood is associated with a host of social phenomena, such as bull markets, bright colors, short skirts, re-election of incumbents, peace, and deregulation. A negative social mood is also associated with a host of social phenomena, such as bear markets, dark colors, falling hemlines, rejection of incumbents, discord, and regulation.” 
     
    http://futurejacked.blogspot.com/2008/12/socionomic-trendspotting-for-2009.html

  3. 1997-2000 were boom years, but that’s when the movement was building up steam. It died during the jobless recovery to the recession. I propose an alternative anti-globalization killer – 9/11. 
     
    It’s easy to forget now just how much people rallied around Bush and the neocons in that era. Here’s a reminder: http://www.hist.umn.edu/~ruggles/Approval.htm 
     
    Even for the implacable minority that opposed him (not all of whom were the kind of white boys with dreadlocks who protested globalization), things felt pretty hopeless at that time, which would have undermined morale.

  4. When I was in college (around the same time as you) I barely had enough extra money to put meat in my ramen noodles, let alone think about investing in real estate. I’ll propose an alternative reason why there were fewer anti-globalization protests from 2003-2006: 
     
    the focus had shifted to protesting the Iraq war. 
     
    see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protests_against_the_Iraq_War

  5. So we are seeing the Anti-foreign sentiments. Something else to note is that we are also seeing the Make-work sentiments, the Anti-Market sentiments, and the Pessimistic sentiments.[1][2] 
     
    _________________________ 
    [1] Hat tip Bryan Caplan 
     
    [2] I can list examples of each. But if you keep up with the news you’ve probably already seen plenty of examples.

  6. 1997-2000 were boom years, but that’s when the movement was building up steam. It died during the jobless recovery to the recession. I propose an alternative anti-globalization killer – 9/11. 
     
    It was pretty fringe until late 2000, about half a year after the dot-com bubble burst. But you’re right that 9/11 probably worsened things for the movement. 
     
    the focus had shifted to protesting the Iraq war. 
     
    Nah, like I said, it encompassed lots of things when it was popular, just as the late ’60s counterculture did (on a smaller scale).  
     
    “Social mood waxes and wanes positively and negatively. A positive social mood is associated with a host of social phenomena, such as bull markets, bright colors, short skirts, re-election of incumbents, peace, and deregulation. A negative social mood is also associated with a host of social phenomena, such as bear markets, dark colors, falling hemlines, rejection of incumbents, discord, and regulation.” 
     
    Most of that sounds wrong — during the Long Boom of 1947 – 1973, we certainly weren’t at peace. We were more hawklike during the mid-late ’80s yuppie era than during the 81 – 82 recession. And we started occupying Iraq only once the economy had recovered from the dot-com burst. 
     
    Hemlines, iirc, don’t follow economic indicators. The pioneering anthropologist Alfred Kroeber was the first to measure hemlines over time, and the data went back centuries (until ~ 1919, when he did the study). They show very smooth, slow rises and falls, not jerky reactive behavior. I never see anyone mention this pre-Roaring Twenties data, but usually hear about Depression-era theories, so I think it’s an urban legend. 
     
    And dark sober colors are popular during the ’50s and most of the ’60s, during the ’90s boom (all black!) and the recent boom. The colorful mid-late ’80s, I guess, but that’s about it.

  7. Also re: positive economic feeling and war — remember that it’s the economically better off who invade and destroy, across the world. The Romantic theory that the relatively poorer off launch attacks, out of desperation, was disproved when people started studying hunter-gatherers like the Yanamamo. It was the better-fed who attacked the defenseless. 
     
    A Westerner there told the native men about the Romantic theory about why they went to war — to get meat during hard times. Their reply: “Haw haw haw! We like meat — but we like women better.”

  8. As well as the idea of it being related to the social mood, there is a theory linking the degree of social reactivity to the sunspot cycle. Here is one link to a discussion of Chijevsky’s theory. 
    http://www.carolmoore.net/articles/sunspot-cycle.html 
     
    Study of sunspots and skirt fashions going back to 1700 here 
    http://www.montgomerycap.com/universal_economics.html 
     
    The Dow adjusted for inflation peaked at the beginning of 1966 and did not bottom till 1982 – a 74% decline in real terms. So I would not be inclined to lump 66-73 in with 47-66. The experience of the period that followed its peak was very different to the preceding era in terms of unemployment and inflation and Prechter and others have done some interesting work on how this manifested in popular music and other aspects of culture.

  9. The Romantic theory that the relatively poorer off launch attacks, out of desperation, was disproved when people started studying hunter-gatherers like the Yanamamo 
     
    The relatively less wealthy Sparta declared war on Athens, in last resort, and won. Neither did a period of great economic growth occur prior to the French revolution. 
     
    It is not just the rich who cause conflict, the poor do too – if you deny this it is clear your anachist colours are still showing through. :) 
     
    Peter Turchin says economic success causes the parasitic elite class to become over-populated. Eventually the resources available to pay for the elites shrink, the class becomes top-heavy, falls. 
     
    Rising social tension is a sign of elite over-production – duals give way to leadership conflicts and eventually to civil war, as the elite class is reshuffled and pared down to a manageable size. 
     
    With the sudden economic shock of the past year, say, 50% of available wealth vanishing overnight, a lot of people who recently considered themselves part of the world elite have suddenly lost that status. 
     
    Some of them will be willing to slip down the pecking order of life without complaint. But some won’t give up what they believe is their rightful place without a fight. Do the Russians fit this category? 
     
    And that won’t be because they are rich and looking for money – as you know, war costs too much to be profitable – but because they are newly poor but for as long as they still command some influence, won’t accept a lower status. 
     
    I think the historian Niall Ferguson also has argued economic instability – boom or bust – leads to conflict. So it is probably true that the process of entry into the higher class brings conflict as much as the exit from it. 
     
    If we were fair we would say the rich and the poor cause war.

  10. I think Hans Herman Hoppe made a similar argument about wealthy countries going to war, in part of his argument against democratic peace theory (and democracy more generally). 
     
    I’m still quite pro-globalization, but associating with nativist paleos and Kevin Carson style anarchists has made me more friendly toward some critiques of some pro-globalization narratives. 
     
    The popular story is that the anti-globalization movement really hit its stride with Naomi Klein’s “No Logo” (which really seemed silly by the time I’d heard of it) and the “Battle in Seattle”. It wasn’t that long ago that she came out with another book which is both being refuted by and inspiring the current zeitgeist. 
     
    ? It seems to me/The time is right/For another generation/And another streetfight ?

  11. It probably comes down to tribalism. We view “the rich” (implicitly rich businessmen and so on, never doctors or academics) as a particular class. When times are going well, everyone likes a winner, and people read business books and seek to emulate them. When times are bad, we see the mighty fallen, and like to poke sticks in their eye. Similarly capitalism is popular when times go well, but when recession hits, people love to kick an ideology when it’s down. 
     
    Note that at all points it’s the change in status of the person or ideology that matters, not its absolute performance. The fact that capitalism has delivered unprecedented economic growth is irrelevant; it’s the point in the business cycle that determines people’s animal spirits towards free markets.

  12. I don’t remember there being any protests during the recession in the early 90′s. Can anyone tell me what was special about the early 00′s recession that would spark protests?

  13. Also, why protest when you can start your own business?

  14. @kurt9, you said… 
    Also, why protest when you can start your own business?While I would likely agree that that is a virtuous way to think, I doubt most people think like that. It’s not (in this context) about how we think they should think… it’s about how they actually think.

  15. “and low status young males lobbing rocks to impress the one cute anarchist chick at the protest” 
     
    Hey Hey, Ho HO, the IMF has got to GO! 
    I have some footage that C-span took of a ‘non-violence’ training for the 2000 IMF protest in DC. There is one impossibly cute girl from the Pacific Northwest, and a couple of cute dreadlocked girls. It’s fascinating to watch as Peace Activist “Starhawk” leads a session on “active listening.” The poor sappy beta male is telling his life story about how Knoxville Tenn is real conservative, trying to appease the dreadlocked chick, who’s eyes really appear to be glazing over. The alpha behind her is talking to another cute chick, with lots of demonstrations of breaking through barriers and yelling at police, very animated and it’s all about him and his struggles. As dreadlocked beta’d chick is looking around the room for something interesting, alpha protester is getting a spontanious deep hug from his dreadlocked cutie. 
     
    Then another really aggresive guy comes in late, oblivious to all the peace training and just basically ignores everything while he talks. The guy is talking about taking the violence up to another level, the “Eurocentric myths of American democracy”, and really destroying the system. He was really at the far end of the spectrum.

  16. I noted during my shopping since the last September to this March that the ruling colors of clothes were combinations of white, violet, grey and black.  
    What does it say about the political-economical climate of this winter? Aren’t these colours interpreted by psychologists as colors of depression?

  17. Remember what prediction means, though: you could look to another time and have a good guess about the colors used there as well, not just an observation about what happened after the banks started falling. 
     
    Here’s what was fashionable for the same period of 2005 – 2006, when the euphoria was high: 
     
    http://www.style.com/fashionshows/collections/F2005RTW/ 
     
    I looked through most of the really influential names, and they’re all very sober in color — as they have been since roughly forever. Again, this whole monochromatic minimalist color palette has been the norm throughout the ’90s boom and the recent boom, in addition to the two recent busts as well. 
     
    Conclusion: popular colors have little to do with macroeconomic trends.

  18. I’ll add that I’m very sympathetic to the idea that macroeconomic trends can show up elsewhere in the social / cultural realm. But when you look at cases that involve 30 steps of removal from the measured change in the economy, the influence doesn’t appear to be real, or the effect size is too tiny to bother noting down. Fashionable hemlines and colors are an example of this. 
     
    But if you stay close to the economy, I think you do see more pronounced influences. For example, I think you find — not necessarily more upbeat music, but more innovative or wild-sounding music, starting a year or so after a recession ends, and lasting a fair fraction of the time until the next recession. 
     
    The logic is simple: when music industry firms are struggling to stay afloat, they don’t want to take any risks on new or crazy sounding music. Once they’ve recovered and joined the next round of irrational exuberance, though, then they’re all in favor of promoting the next big thing.

  19. This is why I avoid far-left groups; I might turn into a far-right winger. I don’t want to be a wacko like David Horowitz, who went from being a violence-loving Trotskyite to a violence-loving “Judeo-Christian” ultra-nationalist type. This seems to be the general trend; most of the neocons were ex-far-leftists, as there’s a utopianism and willingness to use violence that far-left and far-right share with each other.

  20. “The logic is simple: when music industry firms are struggling to stay afloat, they don’t want to take any risks on new or crazy sounding music. Once they’ve recovered and joined the next round of irrational exuberance, though, then they’re all in favor of promoting the next big thing.” 
     
    This doesn’t work for the UK. The second-greatest pop era in the UK (punk, ska, New Wave, New Romantics-electropop etc.) ran from 1976 down the slope of a bad recession into about 1981-2. 
     
    The ‘rave’ music of the recovery was much less distinguished.

  21. “Haw haw haw! We like meat — but we like women better.” 
     
    I read that somewhere recently – where was it? 
     
    My first guess is The Blank Slate, or was it Before The Dawn
     
    C’mon, help me out!

  22. “And dark sober colors are popular during the ’50s and most of the ’60s,” 
     
    Colors were pyschodelic and primary during the 60s, not dark. You obviously did not live during that era, but I must direct your attention to catalogs, magazines and album covers produced then. The 90s were on the dark and muted side though.

  23. The Sixties didn’t begin until 1965 or so. For me, it was hearing Satisfaction on a jukebox after coming in from sailing. The feeling of a modulation of the Zeitgeist, a resetting of the Matrix. Only after that point did popular colors become psychedelic and skirts short.  
     
    And the whole (counter-) culture became politicized. You couldn’t just like rock ‘n roll, drugs and sex. It had to make a political statement.

  24. @kurt9 
    “I don’t remember there being any protests during the recession in the early 90′s. Can anyone tell me what was special about the early 00′s recession that would spark protests?” 
     
    The difference was, in the early 90′s the leftist groups were recovering from the fall of the USSR. They were looking for something to protest against to keep their status.

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