On Occupying Wall Street, and Other Places

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on October 3, 2011

Be sure to take a look at this “proposed list of demands,” from one member of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which I think is designed to make the reader’s pancreas rupture due to excessive laughter. The pie-in-the-sky rhetoric and contradictory policy demands are something to behold; apparently, it is all right to have open borders for people, but it is not okay to have free trade, lest the people have too much choice in their consumer selections. Corporations are evil, but it is fine to impose tariffs on foreign goods, thus allowing evil American corporations to fulfill their rent-seeking fantasies. Unemployment is a terrible problem, but apparently, if we only raise the minimum wage to $20 per hour (why not $30? Why not $50? Or $100?), we will not only ensure that people will have a living wage, we will give employers no disincentive whatsoever against hiring more people (never mind that pesky concern that employers may not have enough money to hire people at $20 per hour, or that they may actually have to lay people off if the minimum wage goes so prohibitively high). And according to the list of demands, money grows on trees. It must, because the author thinks that we can give everyone a college education, we can afford $1 trillion for infrastructure development, we can afford $1 trillion in “ecological restoration,” and we can afford “[i]mmediate across the board debt forgiveness for all.” About the only things the list of demands forgot to demand was access to the Fountain of Youth, ponies, and a promise that the girl they really like will finally notice them.

It’s easy to make fun of the list of demands, and other bizarre statements from the Occupy Wall Street crowd, but it’s more worthwhile to point out the fundamental incoherence of their movement:

[The Occupy Wall Street protesters] also yelled, “This is what democracy looks like”, a statement so obvious as to be boring. Members of democratic societies are free to protest everything and nothing, as this incoherent group is doing. The NYT recounts a telling scene from the occupation of Wall Street in which a woman gives a pep talk to one of her fellow campers. “It’s about taking down systems, it doesn’t matter what you’re protesting,” she said. “Just protest.”Viva La Revolución!, or something.

Oh, and concerning those Tea Partiers, whom the Wall Street Occupiers likely have oodles of contempt for:

Many of these aggrieved youth believe that the government has become unresponsive, that their voices have been silenced, and therefore protest is the only option. But this strikes me as a fundamental misreading of the past three years. It is likely that few of the protesters have actually taken part in the more mundane aspects of the system they’d like to take down—for example, only 24% of 18- to 29-year-olds voted in the 2010 mid-term elections. And while they were quietly seething, the tea-party movement was showing America what democracy actually looks like, pushing their candidates forward and holding them accountable. When liberals complain that the Republicans are beholden to the tea-party movement, is that not an admission that the system is responsive?

Which is not to say that it is working perfectly. There is no doubt that some of what we are hearing out of the Wall Street encampment is correct, and there have been good suggestions as to how to translate these sentiments into action. But perhaps the biggest reason young people feel so alienated by their government is because they have removed themselves from the process of choosing it. Tea-party people have been known to take over public spaces, too. Then they go vote.

The Occupy Wall Street crowd could learn something from the Tea Partiers. But given the lunatic nature of their policy proposals, and their public actions, I for one hope that they don’t.

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