Some Occupied Thoughts
For a protest movement to be successful, it usually needs a manifestly just set of complaints. These complaints need to be plausible on some theory of justice, and they need to be widely shared.
In the French Revolution, many of the peasants really were starving, and the urban poor likewise, while the upper levels of the aristocracy lived lives of goggling extravagance. Even the French bourgeoisie — for years co-opted by the Regime with the promise of easy entry into the nobility — correctly sensed that its window was closing in 1789, as fewer and fewer opportunities were opened to them, even as education itself broadened. The government was broke owing to constant warfare, combined with abundant opportunities for the rich to escape taxation. Neither politics nor finance promised any easy way out. The government seemed rigged to favor those already well-off.
Stop me if you’ve heard any of that before. Oh, and this really falls flat:
It hardly excuses recent bad behavior to say that we’re better off relative to almost anyone in history. It also doesn’t help that we’re better off than most people living in the world today.
Consider: If these were justifications, then they would work prospectively, too. We’re relatively well off and so… let’s give even more money to Bank of America? Um. No.
I feel likewise about “We Are the 53%.” Look, it’s fantastic that you are making your way in the world without any handouts, even when that world gives all kinds of favors to the already-rich. I’m proud of you, and that’s not just sarcasm. Remind me to hire you when the economy picks up and I’ve started my long anticipated small business.
You’re exactly the type I’d want, but that doesn’t make handouts to big corporate interests any more acceptable. In fact, you, the 53%, are the ones who should be the most pissed off about these sorts of things. The favoritism hides your natural talent.
Many of you are pissed off. Tim Cavanaugh is certainly correct when he writes that “the media’s open-minded curiosity toward the Occupy movement stands in sharp relief to their dismissal of the Tea Party as a mob of racist religious fanatics.” The contrast has further convinced me of the liberal bias in the media, as if I needed any more convincing.
Someone might do well to set up a Tumblr with signs from Tea Party and OWS protests and challenge the reader to guess their origin. Good luck with a lot of them. I asked my dad yesterday — my so-conservative-he-won’t-buy-a-computer dad — and he readily agreed with a lot of the complaints I’d quoted from the protest signs at Occupy DC.
I rarely link to my Cato colleagues because few things are so boring or predictable as my agreeing with them, but Jim Harper has the right idea: both the Tea Party and Occupy are protesting — in very different idioms — “the unity of government and corporate power against people’s freedom and prosperity.” On that, they’re both obviously correct.
So where do they end up? A widespread and entirely justified sense of outrage doesn’t always yield a workable remedy. Sometimes, it yields a popular but unworkable remedy, and then you’re even more screwed than before.
And sympathy only goes so far. “Abolish money, go back to barter” isn’t going to fly. Nor will “Capitalism = Corruption.” Remember what I started with — the claims have to be widely shared, and plenty of Americans still do think of some form of capitalism as the relatively best option.
In the end, this isn’t my movement, and I’m not the joiner I used to be. The big challenge right now doesn’t seem to be crafting a list of demands so much as crafting a list of demands… that continues to command widespread public sympathy.
I’m pretty sure “find your common ground with the Tea Party” sounds like a deal with the devil. Which by some measures of course it is. Still, I might like the child a lot better than either of the parents, depending on which traits came through.