The Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City’s Zucotti Park have now dragged into their fifth week, as well as spreading to other cities throughout the Western world. Hundreds of adolescent protesters (and not a few geriatric ones), many sporting Nike runners, Adidas “hoodies”, Calvin Klein jeans and playing with Apple iPhones while simultaneously denouncing the evils of Big Business, must obviously be in posession of some higher kind of logic that eludes me.
Rampant hypocrisy aside, I’m guessing that all this is somehow being inspired at least in part by the Flower Power movement of the 1960s. That was a generation which, right or wrong, at least had something concrete to protest against—they did not want to be conscripted into the military for the purposes of fighting a land war in South-East Asia, a war whose rationale with which they did not agree.
What are this current mob protesting about? Certainly, they appear to regard Global Warming as yesterday’s news. According to the Wikipedia article on the protests, it started, at least, over the percentage of “National U.S. Income” that ends up in the pockets of the richest one per cent of the population. Right now, the proportion has risen to the same level it was just before the Great Depression, and has not equalled since. The implication seems to be that this inequity presages a new Great Depression.
Even I, a non-economist, can see the obvious flaws in this argument. Quite apart from the fact that national income is as loaded and flawed a term as global temperature, I have never read, anywhere, that the Great Depression was caused by the rich earning so much more than the poor. And what of the 1970s? During this decade, according to the graph, the disparity was at its lowest. Was this, then, a period of economic boom times for the United States? Hardly.
Or are they implying that the lowest-paid workers today are being underpaid for what their jobs are worth? That would be a more coherent protest, even if incorrect. So—which would you rather be: a mine worker in 1928, or a mine worker in 2011? I’ve already made this comparison on this blog; due to technological innovation, a more highly-skilled workforce and freedom to negotiate workplace enterprise agreements, a typical mine worker in this country today earns the kind of money that enables him to support a family in luxury unimaginable to his predecessor three generations ago; to pay off a house in a decade, own a couple of cars and a boat, send his children to private schools and afford the occasional overseas holiday. Nice work if you can get it—and you can.
Put another way; how many government jobs were there in 1928 which ideally suited someone incapable of producing a useable good or service, but who held a degree in sociology? And how many such jobs are there in government today?
At least this young fellow found a slogan which could easily be adopted by all his fellow protesters:
Of course, whenever there is this amount of media attention afforded a movement like this one, driven as it is by a youthful though incoherent naïveté, darker forces will attempt to subvert it to their own ends. Socialism is the usual suspect in these cases, and you don’t have to look very far to see some rather familiar messages among the placards.
Workers, eh? Erm… how many mine workers (or doctors, or plumbers, or shopkeepers) would you guess are “occupying” Wall Street right about now? And how many college students majoring in sociology, politics or—worse, in my book—nebulous “management” subjects whose career-academic teachers have brainwashed their students into believing they have some kind of right to rule over those who actually produce:
We have a president who tells us to do the right thing, to go to school, to get a better life, but I’m not getting a better life. I am a new college graduate and I have $50,000 of college debt built up while studying business management at Berkeley. I can’t find a job to pay it off … Look around us, Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs — they got us in this position in the first place. The banks get a bailout but what about us? Where’s our bailout? … A lot of my friends are here. We have good degrees, we have worked hard, but now what?
In other words, someone out there owes them. Just like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs successfully appealed to the U.S. government to bail them out. Ahh—now I think I get it: the Wall Street protesters aren’t fighting these parasites, they’re fighting to join them!
When these people finally get the message—and if they don’t get it sooner, they will get it later, perforce—that the world owes them absolutely, precisely nothing; when juvenile college graduates are once again prepared to start out in the mail room, and learn about business from the ground up, instead of presuming their hollow degree gives them the right to a status they have not yet earned; that if they want to make a living in this world, they had better start producing a good or service of value to others; that careers made rent-seeking in taxpayer-funded government bureaucracies, consultancies, qangos and other assorted boondoggles are the real “unsustainability”; that both the absolute and relative size of government’s slice of the pie needs to shrink dramatically and, when it finally does, there will be more jobs, more opportunities for new businesses, and a higher standard of living for everyone…
When all that happens, who really gives a damn how much the richest one per cent make?