Book Review: Occupy World Street

Occupy World Street: A global roadmap for radical economic and political reform
Ross Jackson
Green Books
2012
336 pages

Don’t judge a book by its… title. This book was surely completed before the “Occupy” movement burst onto the world’s television screens and twitter feeds, to incomprehension, consternation, condemnation and condescension from mainstream media. This book is not (and does not claim to be) an assessment of the strengths, weaknesses and trajectories of the Occupy ‘movement.’ Of course, that doesn’t mean the book is useless, just that you should know what you are getting.

So what are you getting? Three fifths of the book is about the mess we are in and how we got here. Then there’s a bit about how it could work, and a final bit – unconvincing to this reviewer – about what a sane global governance system would look like. The author Ross Jackson made a lot of money as a hedge fund manager/currency exchange outfit boss. This money was ploughed into the Gaia Trust, “a Danish-based foundation that supports the Gaia Ecovillage Network and Gaia Education as well as hundreds of sustainability projects in 40 countries..” So when it comes to how finance works, he knows what he is talking about.

In the first section, Jackson outlines “the Assault on Nature” – our species’ growing ecological footprint, overpopulation, global warming, mass extinctions, genetic engineering, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, endocrine disruptors, peak oil etc. He then cites Joseph Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies” to good effect.

Much of this will be familiar to readers of similar books. Jackson is far fresher in his second section “Drivers of Destruction.” His explanation of where neoliberal economics has come from is masterful, and his third section “The Empire” is downright unusual for its willingness to call US/UK imperialism what it is. The sections on the Iranian coup of 1953 is only several pages, but they are pure dynamite. Other examples of real-existing-capitalism versus democracy – Guatemala 1954, Chile 1973 – follow, and on page 157 there’s an excerpt of a CEO explaining his motivations that will have the hair on your neck standing up.

The penultimate section deals with Lovelock’s Gaia Theory (with a classy shout out to Lynn Margulis too), case studies of businesses that have learnt from natural processes, and an inspiring section to permaculture. Finally, Jackson, in what was for this reviewer the weakest section of the book, tries to re-imagine the Global Economic/Political Governance structures, with a Gaian Trade Organization replacing the WTO, a Gaian Clearing Union, Development Bank, Court of Justice and so on. There’s even, shudder, a Gaian council – a small elected council of ‘Wise elders” with the power to overrule any Congress resolution or law not deemed to be in the long-term interest of the planet, and to mediate conflicts when requested. This from the man who has just written about what happened to Mossadegh and Allende…

The strengths – he writes well, he is very very well-informed, and he has intellectual boldness and clarity. What’s not to like?

The weaknesses – Mr Jackson I think under-estimates the speed and shocks with which climate change will hit us, and the impossibly narrow window we have for reducing carbon dioxide emissions (yesterday would have been too late). A glossary would have been nice.

Though he does it well, he spends far too long spent on outlining the problems (three fifths of the book), and not enough on the nitty-gritty of how his proposed institutions might be brought into existence.

He would doubtless say that it isn’t up to him to be so specific, and would point readers to his www.occupyworldstreet.org which he wants to “serve as a focal point for dialogue, blogs, articles, establishment of working groups, coordination of local initiatives, and all manner of input.

Marc Hudson
mcmonthly@gmail.com

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Monthly Magazine/newsletter about all things climate and resilience in Greater Manchester.
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