Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy America

While the Recovering Bureaucrat was vacationing in another hemisphere, the “Occupy Wall Street” activity started.  In the days since mid-September, similar gatherings have occurred in cities across the country; in fact just yesterday in Sacramento anti-establishment activist Cindy Sheehan was arrested along with 18 others “for unlawful assembly in [César Chávez] park and failing to follow police orders to disburse,” according to a report in the Sacramento Bee.

To this day, it is difficult to discern the aims of the Occupiers.  They seem to be protesting big, bad corporations or something—blaming “Wall Street” for our current economic crisis.  Finger-pointing is an age-old, honorable element of American politics, so there is nothing new here.  And in every decade of the RB’s life, some major issue has called masses of people into the streets, from the nuclear disarmament movement of the 1950s to the anti-Iraq War protests during George W. Bush’s administration last decade.  So nothing new here either.

Their slogan, “We are the 99%,” is a typical content-free exhortation to an emotional response, which in this case is amplified by the decades of the cultural prominence of first television and now the Internet, media that primarily stimulate an emotional rather than an intellectual reaction.  Again, nothing new here.

Equally as normative has been the Mainstream Media response.  Leading the charge is the ever-predictable Paul Krugman, who writes,
There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but we may, at long last, be seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people . . . With unions and a growing number of Democrats now expressing at least qualified support for the protesters, Occupy Wall Street is starting to look like an important event that might even eventually be seen as a turning point.
CNN has similarly sought to promote the protests into some kind of left-wing Tea Party (“‘Occupy’ movement goes global as a symbol of shared economic frustration” is today’s breathless headline).  Every major newspaper has editorialized on the events; unfortunately, given the absence of major demands from the Occupiers, they have had to comment on their own projections.

New York Times Op Ed writer Nicholas Kristof seeks to link the Tahrir Square demonstrations that deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to those occupying Zucotti Park: “There’s a parallel sense that the political/economic system is tilted against the 99 percent. Al Gore, who supports the Wall Street protests, described them perfectly as a ‘primal scream of democracy.’”

The right is as contemptuous of these protests as the left is infatuated.  Acerbic commentator Mark Steyn writes,
Underneath the familiar props of radical chic that hasn't been either radical or chic in half a century, the zombie youth of the Big Sloth movement are a paradox too ludicrous even for the malign alumni of a desultory half-decade of Complacency Studies: they're anarchists for Big Government. Do it for the children, the Democrats like to say. They're the children we did it for, and, if this is the best they can do, they're done for.
On the other hand, National Review editor Rich Lowry suggests that we look into the reality behind the protests, because “The recession has added a layer of joblessness on top of punishingly dysfunctional and expensive health-care and higher-education systems.”
The puerile ideology of Occupy Wall Street is irrelevant to all of this. Goldman Sachs could be dissolved tomorrow and the wealth of the 1 percent confiscated, and it wouldn’t make college or health care cheaper, or create one new job. If the “revolution” yearned for by the protesters is insipid, there’s no doubt that the moment calls for bold economic reforms and a rethinking of health care and higher education.
RB favorite writer Walter Russell Mead is unimpressed.  Although he agrees that the Occupiers are certainly justified for their anger at what appears to be the failure on the part of the nation’s elites to end the recession, he wonders whether they have much of a clue about the 99% they proclaim to be speaking for.
Occupy Wall Street, by contrast, looks more like the usual suspects, the kind of people who have been demonstrating for various causes for the last fifty years.  Change the signs and to many people these demonstrations could be anti-Iraq war and anti-Bush demonstrations, or any of the other leftie causes going back many years.
From a news point of view this is dog bites man: the usual people are doing the usual things.  They are doing it in an unusual place — and over time they may be doing it in unusual numbers.  But leftie protests that go nowhere are part of the background noise of modern American life.  Drums and granola in the park is not news.  Until OWS breaks that mold, expect public interest to remain tepid.
The overriding problem that the Recovering Bureaucrat sees in this activity is that it is just another look at the past with no thought about the future.  It is, essentially, a pursuit of scapegoats, seeking to make one group of people responsible for the financial and subsequent economic collapse when we are all collectively accountable for how we got here.

Behind the Outrage

If we really want to navel-gaze about how we got here, let’s look at one number: $14,844,566,700,000+: the federal deficit.  (Check the deficit counter at the link only if you have a strong stomach whether you can stomach it or not.  The number will have changed by hundreds of millions by the time you read this.)

The shadow side of our postwar era of unprecedented prosperity has been our collective refusal to take responsibility for imprudent investment of its surplus.  Wherever we look, from the United States to China to Africa, we can see the results of our carelessness, our cupidity, and our myopia.

But so what?  Our imperative is to break through the mess by applying the dimensions of our greatness in compensation for our weakness.

In America, this means creating an entirely new embrace of the entrepreneurial spirit.  It means letting go of the old system of national industrial economies and embracing with enthusiasm the new global connected market place.  It means applying an unemotional analysis of what we do best and improve upon it exponentially.

America will not return to its glory days of being the leading manufacturer of the world.  To do that would require slashing wages, watering down useful environmental practices, and waging a damaging trade war with China, Korea, and the other industrial powers of Asia.  The resulting global devastation would not be worth the accomplishment.

Instead, we will have to concentrate on what drove our manufacturing prominence: our unwavering commitment to nurturing the entrepreneurial possibilities.  Just as Henry Ford emblemized our industrial prominence, and Steve Jobs our postindustrial genius, our next opportunity is to bring out the Ford and Jobs in all of us.  As our norm shifts from corporate to self-employment, our governance and infrastructure must conform to the requirements of this entirely new political economy.  And only America can reinvent these.

That is because our greatest gift to the world remains our founding purpose: the embrace of individual liberty, which has resulted in two plus centuries of unparalleled creativity and wealth creation.  Our 20th century manufacturing preeminence came because our capitalists were free to invest in factories and the infrastructure of distribution, and to sell and market creatively and massively.  By and large our tax policy rewarded these activities.

Even the New Deal’s half-hearted war on capitalists failed to permanently derail the American genius and propensity for innovation and economic experimentation.  We came out of the Depression and World War II with all engines ablaze; the dramatic increases in GDP and life expectancy worldwide were driven by America’s embrace of its entrepreneurs, businessmen, and hustlers.  And some of these uninhibited inventors, from Bell Labs and Fairchild Industries to Apple and Google, invented the world that supplanted GM, Ford, and US Steel.

That some of us reacted to these results negatively is to be expected.  A free society of necessity means economic and cultural inequality, because everyone pursues happiness differently.  The Occupiers and their leftwing allies who decry income inequality at the same time embrace our diversity: the problem is they can’t have it both ways.  Our commitment to individual freedom creates our diversity.  People of every nationality and any other category come here precisely so they can live the lives of their own choosing, free of the tyranny of tribe, state, or poverty.

If the United States did not have restrictions on legal immigration, how many more people would move here if they could?

The RB insists that the only way through this mess is to return to first principles and use the tools of connectivity to clarify and promote them.

The joy of creating a new world that amplifies human freedom and holds people accountable for our choices far exceeds whatever fleeting pleasure we may find in blaming someone else for the mess we are in.

This commitment is what should occupy America.

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