how to beat the bank?
May 7, 2008 2:45 AM   Subscribe

How can individuals have the greatest impact in weakening or destabilising a particular country economically?

Do consumer boycots of all country X products have any significant impact? What alternatives are there? Currency market manipulation perhaps? Inspire investors to pull out of a country?

but if the target country is relatively strong economically, such as say the USA, is there any way a grass roots type movement can have an impact?
posted by mary8nne to Work & Money (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
hypothetically, of course, the best thing IMO would be sabotage to key infrastructure. boycots would have only a mild effect especially in a country like the US with a wide range of export markets.

on the other hand, constant economic "downtime" from things like blackouts, water shortages, public transport failures, etc can make a big difference. The CIA has some good tips ;)
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 3:03 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I mean legal options.
(well actually, I believe even inspiring consumer boycotts is now illegal in some countries due to Free trade agreements).
posted by mary8nne at 3:06 AM on May 7, 2008

No one notices that the Kalahari bushmen do not buy Nike sneakers, maybe harassing investors to divest ala the South African apartheid boycotts but that took years and results were questionable.
posted by kanemano at 3:13 AM on May 7, 2008

oh, legal? damn :)
large scale divestment would be my bet then. most western countries rely on foreign investment to keep a lot of industry flowing.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 3:17 AM on May 7, 2008

I'd advise against consumer boycotts. They rarely work; you'd need a large-scale PR which I imagine could be put to use in more effective ways. I've seen some grandly orchestrated boycotts that ultimately yield little effect in the end (at least where I live.)
posted by semi at 3:18 AM on May 7, 2008

I know almost nothing about economics, and this might not be what you're looking for, but as far as I can tell Black Wednesday in the UK was caused by a handful of individuals (taking advantage of a particular situation), and it contributed to the downfall of the Conservative government.
posted by Helga-woo at 3:37 AM on May 7, 2008

that kind of currency speculation or manipulation requires lots of capital though?
posted by mary8nne at 3:58 AM on May 7, 2008

It would be very difficult for a relatively small group of people to significantly weaken a large economic power like the US. Remember, the Soviet Union was a major world power that economically opposed to the US for half of the last century, and even they failed to put much of a dent in the US economy.

Also, even if you could somehow weaken the US economy, you would also weaken nearly every other economy in the world due to the global nature of today's economy. Like it or not, US consumers drive the global economy more than any other group, and when they stop buying due to economic problems everybody loses.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:08 AM on May 7, 2008

A small group of people using clever means to weaken or defeat a large, organized enemy.

That's textbook guerrilla (or asymmetrical) warfare, whether in business or government*, so please at least forgive those who provide 'illegal' answers.

* it's getting close to quaint to separate those two things in America.
posted by rokusan at 4:20 AM on May 7, 2008

is there any way a grass roots type movement can have an impact [in destablizing an economy?]

Speaking completely hypothetically, of course: In a country like the USA, the best way to ruin the economy would be to use that grassroots power to elect a government that is either so inept or so malevolent* that they tank the economy and destabilize the country for you.

* Bonus points for a twofer.
posted by rokusan at 4:22 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is interesting reading, may be related - Ponzi (pyramid selling) schemes almost collapsed the economies of Albania, and the Philippines. By their very nature, they start off with an individual. Christ, they nearly started a war. They set the economy back 2 years in some estimates.
posted by daveyt at 5:16 AM on May 7, 2008

You could invent something like the Internet, give away your Intellectual Property freely, see it become mainstream, watch billions if not trillions of dollars flow into ventures based on it in a speculative bubble, and then watch the bubble burst, taking out billions of dollars in paper valuations. Do something like that about every 20 years, and you'll be hugely effective, and you'll only need a few dozen first mover geniuses to create your economic Trojan horses...

Right now, we're scrambling to deal with the tide of economic havoc wrought by a similar group of financial inventors, who created the sub-prime mortgage lending phenomena. Back in the 80s, Mike Milliken and Ivan Boesky were part of a very small group of Wall Street folks who created a junk bond market that at its peak was worth over a trillion bucks. In the 90s, we had Enron, courtesy of a few insiders.

Really, the history of Wall Street finance since the mid-20th century is an object lesson in how small groups can creatively fleece the American public, and most of these guys weren't even in it to create financial panics. Imagine what they could have accomplished if they were motivated to do so.
posted by paulsc at 5:18 AM on May 7, 2008

"that kind of currency speculation or manipulation requires lots of capital though?"

You're looking for a cheap way to destabilize a government worth trillions of dollars?

No, you cannot have a pony.

Whether the capital comes from a large number of people of modest means or a few really, really rich people, in the aggregate it's going to require a lot of money/wealth. If anyone could easily overthrow the government / ruin the economy / etc., don't you think the anarchists or eco-nazis would have already done that in the US?
posted by toomuchpete at 5:26 AM on May 7, 2008

Rumors and panic are an outside possibility. Situations like this can cause great misery for a single company, and discomfort for a nation's export business overall. However, actually destabilizing a country this way seems to be highly unlikely unless many factors come together in some sort of perfect storm: a really wild, brazen controversy hitting the reputation of a small country dependent on one big export that they now can't sell, for example. The cite above hardly put a dent in Japan's overall economy.

Doing it half by accident and with a lot of evil luck is a possibility--actually having everything in your devious plan occur exactly so seems very unlikely.
posted by gimonca at 6:34 AM on May 7, 2008

The attacks of Sept. 11th cost our country hundreds of billions of dollars, perhaps trillions in lost revenue. The effect was felt nation wide. In Chicago for instance, the city is only just now coming out of an economic down tick directly related to attacks.

Markets themselves are surprisingly resilient. Remember these are systems which transcend national boundaries to interface with free democracies and autocratic regimes alike.

Individual corporations however can and do collapse. Eron is one example, though they folded from internal rot. Phillip Morris famously changed their name to Altria in part because of negative connotations associated with Big Tobacco. Where did those negative impressions come from? Mostly out of public backlash.

Still, take a case like Nike. It's a surprisingly successful manufacturer of shoes who's brand is almost legendary. Nearly all of us probably own a pair right now, or at the very least have owned a pair. Yet we all know that they are manufactured in countries where workers have no protections. We all know this, yet it doesn't seem to be enough to cause to exert any real pressure on the company. It seems then that we only respond when we think it's ourselves who are getting screwed... not some poor sob who had this misfortune of being born under a non-democratic regime. Then again perhaps there has been no real organized effort to point this out to the larger society... much to Adbusters chagrin.

So, unless you want to unleash nerve gas on Wall St., it's unlikely you can attack an entire market economy. However, targeting individual corporations seems to have some effect and is worth examining.
posted by wfrgms at 8:10 AM on May 7, 2008

You should do a little reading on George Soros, who is "famously known for 'breaking the Bank of England' on Black Wednesday in 1992".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:59 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

but if the target country is relatively strong economically, such as say the USA, is there any way a grass roots type movement can have an impact?

No. Sorry to disappoint you, but unless you can manage either some big-time market manipulations or a particularly destabilizing violent attack, you're just shaking a tiny fist at a giant. And even if you can manage one of the above scenarios, we (the U.S., that is) will probably be fine in the end. I'm sure it sucks to be a frustrated revolutionary, but fate's cruel like that sometimes.
posted by bepe at 10:12 AM on May 7, 2008

Become a stockbroker, become well-connected, buy a phone.

I read a news story last week about a stockbroker who manipulated the commodities markets significantly by sending a text message to other brokers with a "rumor" about said commodity. Shot the price up, he benefited, and he's now facing fraud charges.

Extrapolate that out to an nth degree, recognize that the market is in an era where fear and speculation trump fundamentals, and you can wreak havoc to your heart's content.

(Sorry, but my google-fu is failing me right now, I'll provide a link if I can find it.)
posted by doppleradar at 10:39 AM on May 7, 2008

The problem with grassroots, populist/democratic movements is that they make incremental changes that affect a lot of people, which means that they tend to be pretty stable within the larger governmental structure.

Or, to point out what you're up against: the stability of a society comes from its institutions. The institutions of Western governments were (mostly) set up explicitly to prevent destabilization (because destabilization is generally pretty damn unpopular), so you need to either be in a position to hasten the demise of a long-standing (but rotted) institution or you need to accept that any change you foment will be fairly small (which doesn't mean that it's not meaningful).
posted by klangklangston at 10:52 AM on May 7, 2008

A relatively small number of people, by picketing and thus slowing down the rate at which fuel trucks could leave a few key refineries, were able to bring the UK to the brink of disaster (ie 48 hours until running dry - supermarkets stop getting food deliveries, etc etc, but obviously at that point the govt gets serious about averting the crisis. (Unless you live in New Orleans)) .

They didn't need to stop the trucks - fuel production/distribution has almost no slack to soak up disruptions, just slowing them at the refinery gates meant fewer fuel deliveries which meant stations running out of gas which meant panic buying which meant more stations running out quicker. Results were felt all around the country.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:32 AM on May 7, 2008

OK, thanks for the tips!

I think I know what I'm going to do. I just need to get my hands on some kind of Zombie type Undead infection. now that would really shake things up.
posted by mary8nne at 5:53 AM on May 8, 2008

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