What will the future recession look like?

Steve Horwitz recently posted a news update – several students at the New School are sitting-in in a department building as a form of protest. Admittedly I don’t know the situation or what is underway, but the occurrence has me thinking about how political activism in the near future may be similar to political activism of the recent past.
With the civil rights flavor of our recent election still in my mouth, this incident makes me think of the influence such activism had on our political landscape since the 1950s. On the one hand, we look at our contemporary history and see a romantic narrative of protests, marches, and civil engagement but there is also a darker side of these same events – police brutality, rioting, etc. Such were the qualities of modern revolutionary activism that caused James Buchanan to deride the ideals of anarchism a few decades ago.
Such spurts of civil disobedience are often interpreted as irrational and or chaotic. I would beg to differ, civil disobedience, violent protests even rioting can be understood within a context of rational choice – which is to say that they are often the predictable outcome of certain institutional structures and the incentives that they create.
The naive college student so frustrated about the Vietnam War that he marches upon the University Dean’s office, violence erupts and police cart off several protesters to jail. Obviously the student knew his actions would not truly end the war, but he marched on anyways – Was he irrational? An urban neighborhood is so enraged by recent cases of racially charged police brutality that they riot and destroy their own houses and businesses – are they irrational? An inmate on death row is so filled with helplessness as to his future that he hangs himself in his cell, while other inmates cover their own cell walls with feces – Are they irrational? I would answer not necessarily in all three cases.
These cases are similar in so far as the actors are all attempting to achieve ends far beyond their own control at the same time they only have a narrow range of activities (means) at their disposal. Yes their behaviors seem irrational because they carry a high probability of personal cost and a low probability of personal benefit – BUT what is the alternative? The college student wants to do something. Something has to be done about police brutality. Inmates are desperate for control in a controlled environment. Given that these actors are compelled to do something, what will that something be? With only a few viable courses of action these actors do what they can, given their extremely limited means.
The reason why I felt compelled to write on this topic today is because of a sneaking suspicion that I have that our political climate in the near future is likely to look like something similar to the protesting days of the past. Such conditions of helplessness, frustration, and a lack of control are likely to be exaggerated in a world of expanding statism. The individual is marginally less influential upon his own welfare as more of the division of labor is turned over to state control. Several people have written that the Obama presidency, as are all presidencies, will be one of promises made and promises broken, thus leaving behind several groupings of people frustrated and helpless as to the real conditions of their economies, their liberties and their lives.

1 thought on “What will the future recession look like?

  1. Are not the claims of irrationality simply an underspecification of what the individuals are maximizing? For example, marching in demonstration probably has a very large expressive component, it is a fun social activity. There is also the issue of signaling and nested games, even if demonstrating will not instrumentally bring the troops home, it can be a powerful signal to the relevant peer group.

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