Like the Tea Party, the Occupy Wall Street movement began out of a growing sense of frustration with the way society seems to operate. And this is where similarities between the movements end. The Tea Party had clear goals: lower taxes, shrink inefficient and burdensome portions of government, and allow individuals and private entrepreneurs to flourish. The Occupy movement, on the other hand, seems to be united against the “greed” of the one percent for the ironic reason that they want more. The protestors have a right to be frustrated with the current system, but their demands reveal a profound disrespect for freedom and ignorance of the real culprits in America’s “rigged” system.
Last week, pollster for former President Clinton, Douglas E. Schoen, published the results of the first poll of the movement. After interviewing hundreds of protestors, his firm found that, “what binds a large majority of the protestors together . . . is a deep commitment to left-wing policies: opposition to free-market capitalism and support for radical redistribution of wealth, intense regulation of the private sector, and protectionist policies.” Given their obsession with the belief in representing the 99 percent, their agenda appears to be nothing less the dissolving of income inequality in the United States, Yet the protestors have identified no way to accomplish this by increasing the wealth of the 99 percent. To the contrary, in lockstep with Obama, the movement supports forcing the one percent to become part of the 99 percent instead of the other way around.
Americans used to deny people rights unjustly based on race, religion, and sex. Today, the Occupy Wall Street Movement with the support of Democratic leaders seeks to trample on income minorities. Their claim is that what’s yours should not be yours because it should be mine. An endorsement of the OWS movement in The Nation, the self-proclaimed “flagship of the left,” stated, among other things, that “private ownership corrupts democracy” and governments should “focus on public goods . . . rather than on private liberty and personal property.” Clearly, then, the Occupy Wall Street movement and its Democratic supporters have shifted the progressive movement radically to the left, placing the organization of the state above the free decisions of its citizens. They scream for the equality of wealth and then do everything possible to shred equality of liberty. It fulfills what de Tocqueville predicted more than a century earlier, “Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom; socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number.”
To give the movement some credit, the latest crisis displayed clearly that the current system is broken. The problem is that the current system is not based on capitalism and free enterprise but government coercion. To give one example, Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Member Peter J. Wallison noted in his dissent from the report of the majority of the commission, “the sine qua non of the financial crisis was U.S. government housing policy, which led to the creation of 27 million subprime and other risky loans—half of all mortgages in the United States.” Through legislation passed by Congress during the 1990s, the government required Fannie, Freddie and later regulated private banks to reduce mortgage-underwriting standards. The subprime mortgage bubble existed only in the United States not because of universal greed but because of U.S. government policy. Wall Street was far from blameless, but the root cause of the entire collapse was a misguided U.S. policy designed to give the less fortunate homes they couldn’t afford.
We all have the inalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness because we are human; governments do not provide them, but they can prevent us from obtaining them. To forsake liberty for the sake of equality is to give the government unlimited power as the great distributor, and, as Hayek argued in The[MMS1] Road to Serfdom, “in this way a democracy may set up the most complete despotism imaginable.” Conservatives believe in society because they believe in the creative power of millions of individuals that make up this truly exceptional nation. When the government rejects the individual for the so-called expertise of regulators, things fall apart. Agreeing to hate the one percent who pay 38 percent of income taxes accomplishes nothing, and sacrificing liberty will only take the nation to serfdom. If the Occupy movement truly wants to be the source of positive change in the United States, it should join the Tea Party and occupy government. The quickest way to fix the system is to elect a government humble enough to let each individual succeed, or fail, on his own merit.
Derek J. Bekebrede ’13 is an economics concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.