Letter to the Editor: Why I won’t Occupy
For more than five weeks, angry New Yorkers and others from around the country have been descending upon Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park to voice their dismay at the nexus between legislators in Washington and the nation’s biggest banks. While the links between our federal government and the finance industry are indeed troubling, the protesters’ grievances are at best misguided, and at worst deplorable. The movement, coined Occupy Wall Street, has whipped cities across America into a repulsive frenzy of populism.
The protest campaign, though comically disparate, seems to have two unifying denominators: calls for accountability regarding the 2008 financial crisis and anger over income inequality.
To be sure, the 2008 financial collapse and the government action that followed have had devastating effects on this country. Americans have every reason to be furious. Their outrage, however, should not be directed at Wall Street, it should be directed at Washington. For decades, the federal government has unduly meddled in the financial industry and we are now finally seeing the result. The dire economic situation this country faces is not a failure of the free market, but a failure of government intervention. The dangerous philosophies of the mixed-economy, which have pervaded this country for more than a century, ultimately manifested themselves in the form of the subprime mortgage crisis which precipitated the 2008 collapse. A proper discussion of the subprime mortgage crisis merits many more words than this essay will contain, but, in short, the crisis can be blamed on government institutions Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the ever expanding pool of credit pumped into the economy by former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
The protesters’ other primary grievance, income inequality, merits far less respect. The movement’s trademark thus far has been the employment of the phrase “We are the 99%.” The protesters use this term, ninety-nine percent to differentiate themselves from this country’s top one percent of income earners, whom they seem to thoroughly detest. Though Americans have relinquished far too much economic freedom over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries, the liberty to earn profits by the productive, creative work of one’s mind has thankfully remained in tact. To the extent that America has remained free, it has allowed men to produce spectacular amounts of wealth. Men such as Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, fashion mogul Ralph Lauren, and the late Steve Jobs. These are the men who make up the so-called one percent. These are the men the protesters in Zuccotti Park hate. The Wall Street “Occupiers,” in bemoaning the impressive earnings of America’s top producers, are not demanding equality of opportunity, but equality of outcomes; they are demanding the unearned. This movement does not seek to enable each of us to pursue his own happiness, but to chain down the best among us.
Occupy Wall Street, distilled to its core premises, is driven jointly by economic fallacy and petty envy, and it therefore deserves not support, but contempt.