How Occupy Might Have Succeeded

by Reihan Salam

While reading an In These Times post by charismatic neo-Marxist tyro Bhaskar Sunkara, my thoughts turned to what I continue to see as the central strategic failure of the Occupy movement: it should have framed itself as a broad debtors’ movement that backed inflation rather than explicit debt forgiveness policies. Chris Hayes, author of The Twilight of the Elites (Slate published a favorable review by my friend Hua Hsu), host of MSNBC’s UP, and a leading center-left intellectual, made the case for inflation as the most promising strategy for addressing America’s debt overhang in 2009.

One of the central political virtues of inflationism is that it has a long and storied history, having been a central plank of the populist movements of the turn-of-the-century. In theory, this might have allowed the Occupy brand to expand beyond a relatively narrow population of avowed urban left-liberals to embrace people burdened by underwater mortgages, etc. There is no guarantee that this approach would have been politically successful, but it would have allowed Occupy to speak in a distinctively American vernacular. And this is more important than is commonly understood.