Occupy Wall Street frustrations are understood, “solutions” are dead wrong
For the last few weeks, protesters have camped out in New York City to express their grievances with Wall Street. The complaints are somewhat familiar and to some extent, I can understand where they’re coming from. They are upset with what they see as government colluding with corporations for taxpayer-funded bailouts during very tough economics times.
The frustration with corporatism is understandable, libertarians and free market conservatives have expressed the same sentiment for years only to take a back seat to the idea that what’s “good for business” is good policy. But as we’ve come to learn, so-called “pro-business” policies aren’t always a good deal for taxpayers. And by that I mean that we truly want a level playing field, but not through excessive taxation or regulation. Rather, keeping government out of the business of picking winners and losers.
But some members of the nascent “Occupy Wall Street” have expressed demands (note that these demands are unofficial), which for all of their supposed distrust of government, these guys have a very utopian idea of what government should be — likely enough to make Karl Marx and Che Guevara proud. Nevermind that they would be economic suicide.
Among the suggested demands for the movement are (with my comments next to them):
- “Restoration of the living wage” and “ending ‘Freetrade’ by re-imposing trade tariffs on all imported goods entering the American market…” (The “living wage” has been a talking point of the Left for decades. This would destroy jobs and drive up the cost of goods and services. But that $10 Big Mac will be awesome. And as far as tariffs go, that has been tried before and it exacerbated our economic problems and drove us further into the a depression. Read up on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act and grow up.)
- “Institute a universal single payer healthcare system. To do this all private insurers must be banned from the healthcare market…” (They distrust government so much that they’re will to trust it with their healthcare? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest fan of the health insurance industry; but there are other alternatives that creating a bureaucratic, European-style healthcare system that will eventually end in rationing of care and government picking who lives and who dies.)
- “Guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment.” (Unicorns!)
- “Free college education.” (With all the knocking of Wall Street for being greedy, these guys sure do want to leech off other people’s money. You’re not entitled to a college education. No one said life was easy or that you wouldn’t have debt.)
- “Begin a fast track process to bring the fossil fuel economy to an end while at the same bringing the alternative energy economy up to energy demand.” (Green jobs!1!! Yeah, see Solyndra.)
- “One trillion dollars in infrastructure (Water, Sewer, Rail, Roads and Bridges and Electrical Grid) spending now.” (Wait, didn’t we do this like two years ago?)
- “One trillion dollars in ecological restoration planting forests, reestablishing wetlands and the natural flow of river systems and decommissioning of all of America’s nuclear power plants.” (Where are we going to get this money, because you guys have spent a lot already and I’m not sure that there will be much left to steal by force through the government tax.)
- “Racial and gender equal rights amendment.” (Why can’t we just respect individual rights? After all, everyone is, first and foremost, an individual. They don’t need special rights to have equality.)
- “Open borders migration. anyone can travel anywhere to work and live.” (Admittedly, I don’t have a problem with this line. Although, I do find their logic sort of contradictory. They want to end free trade, which is just as much a fundamental natural right as the right to migration, through protectionist tariffs; but they want open borders? That doesn’t make much sense.)
- “Bring American elections up to international standards of a paper ballot precinct counted and recounted in front of an independent and party observers system.” (Diebold is evil and must be destroyed!1!!)
- “Immediate across the board debt forgiveness for all. Debt forgiveness of sovereign debt, commercial loans, home mortgages, home equity loans, credit card debt, student loans and personal loans now!” (Yes, because people that knowingly make bad choices should never pay for them.)
- “Outlaw all credit reporting agencies.” (Sigh. Seriously?)
- “Allow all workers to sign a ballot at any time during a union organizing campaign or at any time that represents their yeah or nay to having a union represent them in collective bargaining or to form a union.” (There is a reason unions are backing these idiots.)
Earlier this week at Reason, David Harsanyi offered a very humorous take on these demands and ridiculousness of them in a mock manifesto:
[W]e are imbued with as many inalienable rights as a few thousand college kids and a gaggle of borderline celebrities can concoct, among them a guaranteed living wage income regardless of employment and immediate across-the-board debt forgiveness—even if that debt was acquired taking on a mortgage with a 4.1 percent interest rate and no money down, which, we admit, is a pretty sweet deal in historical context…
…but down with the modern gilded age!
We demand that a Master of Fine Arts in musical theater writing, with a minor in German, become an immutable human right, because education is crucial and rich people can afford to fund unemployment checks until we find jobs or in perpetuity, whichever comes first.
We demand a minimum wage of $10, no … make it $20. We earned it. And we demand the end of “profiteering,” because there is no better way to end joblessness than stopping the growth of capital. We also demand a maximum wage law, because selfish American dreams need a firm ceiling.
We demand the institution of direct democracy, because if a bunch of people say it’s OK, it’s OK. And everyone deserves to have his or her voice heard. Except Mr. Moneybags, who we demand stop contributing his own money to candidates we disagree with, to issue groups we loathe, and to lobbyists who do not work for organizations featuring “Service,” “Employees,” “International” and/or “Union” in their title.
We demand the end to bailouts and corporate subsidies, unless we’re talking about companies that feature sunflowers or sun rays in their logos, because that’s the kind of morally gratifying institution we approve of, and thus, they should totally be fast-tracked and bailed out with your money to bring the fossil fuel economy (“the economy”) to an end.
We demand the end to a corrupt Wall Street (“Apple” “your 401(k)”) because banks hold too much power. We demand that government consolidate authority so that elected officials can make prudent choices for us. All that cash in banks was printed by the war god Mars and has nothing to do with the voluntary deposits by ordinary Americans, so we do not consider this theft.
We demand the end to health profiteering, because everyone knows that all the wondrous and lifesaving advances in modern medicine were invented in the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos. Smart people work for the good of humanity, not because they’re greedy.
We demand these rights because of the mass injustice of being able to freely protest against racism and corporatism without any real fear of imprisonment in the most diverse city on earth. And to the wiseguy who walked by the other day and claimed that I’d be writing this manifesto with a quill pen on parchment paper if it weren’t for capitalism, we have two words for you: Koch brothers. Think about it.
As humorous at that is, these protesters are serious about their demand for statism. The slogan that they’ve been chanting over the last week or so is, “We are the 99 percent”; obviously referring to the evil top one percent of income earners, a group that earns 20% all income earned, but pays nearly 40% of all income taxes. But this slogan and the “eat the rich” sentiment are troubling because it implies mob rule…that the majority has some sort of inherent right to take, through force, from the minority. Or what Jim Bovard would call “[t]wo wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner.”
Sadly, this populist, anti-capitalist protests have also brought out some startling revelations that if sad by tea partyers would no doubt be features on the nightly news. Rosanne Barr said that the rich should be beheaded, an e-mail using OWS-style sentiment was sent to New York legislators threatening violence should the state’s millionaire surtax not be renewed, and liberal cartoonist Tad Rall apparently called for armed revolution during his visit at the OWS protests. And yet, Democrats have seemingly endorsed this movement, including TARP-backers Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel.
Again, I understand the frustration with colluision with rent-seeking corporations and government, but this is not capitalism. This is corporatism. Most on the Right don’t understand the distinction, which is why I’m afraid that they are going to criticize OWS by giving a blanket defense of Wall Street. They should acknowledge the frustrations with bailouts — not just for Wall Street, but for also automakers or any other industry that wants a free ride, but offer a defense of the free market and its advantages. Under a free market, there is no such thing as “too big to fail.”
If you’re looking for more reading on Occupy Wall Street, here are some articles and blogs that I’ve collected over the last few days:
- Occupy Wall Street: A Story without Heroes (Anthony Gregory, Mises Institute)
- Occupy Wall Street: A Sad Display (Jonathan Hoenig, Smart Money)
- Free Ponies will be the Death of America (Leon Wolf, RedState)
- An Argument Against Taking Occupy Wall Street Seriously (Josh Barro, National Review)
- Hooray for “fear of extremism and mob violence”! (Matt Welch, Reason)
- An Open Letter to the Self-Proclaimed ’99%’ (Bryan Preston, PJ Tatler)
- Occupy Wall Street Is Like a Parody of a Protest (John Hawkins, Huffington Post)
- Why I Love Occupy Wall Street, Part 1 (Jonah Goldberg, National Review)
- Occupy Wall Streeters Hurting Main Street (Jonah Goldberg, National Review)