The Occupy Wall Street protests have been dominating the news, and for good reason. Given the state of our economy, our out-of-control spending, and the bailouts for the rich, it makes sense that many would be frustrated with how well Wall Street is doing. Although the bulk of the protesters identify the problems correctly, their solutions and methods leave a lot to be desired.
For example, OccupyWallStreet.org recently put out a list of “demands.” The 13 demands tend to be issues associated with and supported by the progressive left — free education, infrastructure spending, a $20 minimum wage, universal health care, a ban on fossil fuels, free immigration, and taxes on imports to counter the supposed harmful effects of “free trade.”
These “demands” do not represent all of the protesters, of course, but judging from some of their rhetoric, many are sympathetic. These ideas would not only be economically disastrous, but would require an iron-fisted agency to enforce these massive restrictions on liberty identical to the government we have now.
That is because the enabler of the things the movement is against (corporate power, vast concentrations of wealth, and corruption) cannot be categorized in an abstraction like “greed.” Rather they are the product of large, centralized government intervening in the economy. This creates a corporatist environment where corporations grow very large through lobbying, bypass government regulations that bankrupt their smaller competitors, and have their losses socialized by the taxpayer and by their government-granted “personhood.”
What the protesters lack is a coherent and viable alternative to the status quo. They fail to realize that you can’t pick or choose which liberties are to be permitted in society. Civil and economic liberties are two sides of the same coin. When you deny property rights — as nearly every one of their solutions proposes to do — you strangle the prosperity and peaceful cooperation of the free market.
Whatever one’s sympathies to the protesters are, you cannot blame the problems they highlight on capitalism. Free market capitalism is a system of voluntary exchange, private property, free entry, and a sound currency in which no one has the right to initiate force on anyone else.
The protesters (rightly) dislike crony capitalism, but it is the "crony," not the "capitalism," that we need less of. Without the collusion of the federal government and its printing presses, companies would only succeed by providing services in the free market. And unlike the security of annual government contracts, being on top is not a guarantee of wealth or power; the free market is a great regulator. Even with the odds stacked against small businesses, the Fortune 500 never looks the same every year.
Many of the protesters have been camped out for weeks. While protesting “corporate greed” in a private park, they have been relying on water bottles, smart phones, cameras, air mattresses, tents, and the clothes on their back — the very products of the capitalism they misunderstand and demonize.
This is not to lump all the protesters into one group. There are many who have the right idea —such as the Occupy Kansas City protesters calling attention to the Federal Reserve and our disastrous monetary policy.
Instead of large, misinformed public protests like Occupy Wall Street, I prefer the Icelandic crowd that pelted their entire parliament with eggs or how our American ancestors used to tar-and-feather tax collectors; they understood that the root of most problems come from government intervention. I may sympathize with the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters, but not when their solution calls for a leftish version of the corporate state. Besides, I don’t want to “occupy” anything; that’s what governments do.
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