“People before profits!”
“End corporate greed!”
“We are the 99%!”
“Jail Bank Parasites! 90% Tax on the Rich!”
Thus spake the signs of the Occupy Wall Street/Washington/Chicago/LA, Portland demonstrators. There has been much hubbub about this set of demonstrations – is it even a “movement” at this point? The crowds have been relatively small to date, and even the sympathetic press have been hesitant to give it much credence (with the notable exceptions of Nicholas Kristof and Paul Krugman, both of the New York Times, both of whom have imbued it with revolutionary power).
Mostly, as far as I can tell, their intention is to complain about American society – lopsided wealth distribution, too much consumerism, too much cronyism, and a nagging feeling that the nation’s big banks are to blame for the current mess and yet bankers pull down six figure bonuses, even today. Mostly, however, they dislike capitalism.
I think conservatives would agree with some of those views – lord knows, our culture has not developed in ways we would consider optimal, and crony capitalism, thy name is Solyndra. However, to the extent that these folks actually have any policy prescriptions for what ails us, they tend to spring from a place way on the left of our political spectrum – for example, they advocate for things like universal debt forgiveness – student loans, mortgages, credit card debt, home equity loans, everything!
Well, it would be great if everybody got a get-out-of-jail-free card for their personal finances. Then we could all devote what cash flow we have to the pursuit of material happiness (oops, except that’s one of the things we are protesting against). In typical leftist fashion, however, they go no further than that delightful prospect and don’t bother to think through what might be the consequence of such a development. To whit, the utter collapse of global finance, and with it the world economy. Who’s going to loan money to anybody if it’s not going to get paid back?
Similar with the demand, cited above, for a 90% tax on the “rich.” Never mind that the rich are far too resourceful (in both senses of the word) to actually pay that tax rate. If they did, it would smother the entrepreneurial spirit that gave this country the likes of Steve Jobs (whose goods have been ubiquitous at these protests, corporate villain that he was). After all, who would work 90-hour weeks, put their own life savings at risk, and strive to bring an idea to life only to let the government take 90% of the proceeds? Count the thousands of jobs never created.
So they are stupid ideas, useful only to reassure the protesters that they possess some vague moral superiority.
And yet, the commentariat on the left has gotten all hot and bothered about these protesters, thinking that they might be an answer to the Tea Party (odd, how liberals tried so strenuously to discredit the Tea Party activists, calling them racist, astro-turf, crazies, enemies, and so on, and now they are keen to have their own version).
Of course, there is an enormous difference between the OWS crowd and the Tea Party: the latter actually had policy objectives, and they organized to promote candidates who would push for those objectives. Apart from fanciful lefty notions that nobody would seriously countenance, the Occupy Wall Street folks are in the mode of “sending a message.”
Democrats have been leery about getting too close to the OWS demonstrators, but as the “occupation” has persisted, they have become more supportive. Labor has thrown its weight in with them, which immediately lends it credibility for Democrats.
President Obama has been cagey as well, although his rhetoric has been instrumental in awakening this movement, if that’s what it is. He has ceaselessly complained that “the rich” don’t pay their fair share of the tax burden, even though the top 1% pays 38% of total income tax and makes 19% of the income. He constantly harangues against “millionaires and billionaires” when his tax policies actually target people with incomes at a quarter of that level. Just last week he was complaining about banks raising fees to compensate for income lost through Dick Durban’s debit-card price fixing in the Dodd-Frank financial regulation, saying that “banks don’t have an inherent right to … a certain amount of profit” – which of course, they don’t, but controlling that is what competition, not government, is supposed to do.
In all this, he has turned his back on the promise of a post-partisan presidency, which was the gauzy dream that got him elected, and set his face firmly in the direction of stirring up class warfare – “I’ll wear that badge with honor,” he said. And so, one of the results is the idea of “occupying Wall Street.”
It remains to be seen if this crowd of unemployed college kids (many of whom are pulling down $300 – $600 a week to populate the protests, according to postings on craigslist), will find a way to connect with the middle class in America, who hold the key to the 2012 election. They are, of course, entitled to their misguided views, and they have every right to make them known. But listen to their ideas, which include free college education for all, high tax rates, high minimum wages, an economy in which money is distributed by government to the detriment of private enterprise and entrepreneurialism, where corporations and their leaders are demonized as parasites, and where jobs are awarded according to the needs of “stakeholders,” and it is evident to me where they want to take this country: Greece.