Occupy Wall Street

I am always dubious of large protests. Maybe I watch too much of World’s Wildest Police Videos. People are dense enough alone. Put them in large groups and stupidity explodes like a skyrocket.

Thus it is with Occupy Wall Street. There is something wrong–very wrong–with Wall Street, but from what I have seen so far, OWS has no clue what it is or what to do about it.

So far, the movement is long on energy and short on clarity. People are mad at the big banks, I think. They are also mad at people who make more money than they do. The latter is at least clear, even if it is driven more by envy than genuine moral concerns.

We are not sure what they want because they are not sure what they want. I have heard everything from abolish all existing debt to a cafeteria list of Marxist prescriptions. So far, though, I have not heard a single cogent remark about why our financial system is in such disarray.

For those OWSers who care to listen in between trips to the Porta-Potty, I have a message. The banks are culprits only because government enables them to be so. No bank operating under laissez-faire capitalism could possibly accumulate the kind of power that our big banks have today. The market would have killed them off long ago as they engaged in insanely risky behavior. Instead, you and I bailed them out so they could go out and do it again.

A more appropriate setting for a protest would be the Capitol and the White House. I am confident that few squatting on the pavement today actually want less government. It appears that they want much more of it–more regulation, more redistribution, more laws, and distinctly less individual freedom. Those who think that channeling Marx’s ghost is liberating are hopelessly and dangerously confused.

So what will become of the Occupiers? Unlike the Tea Party, which emerged with three identifiable principles–lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, and limited government–they do not have a core set of beliefs. Not only does that make the movement difficult to pin down; it makes it volatile.

The Occupy Wall Street bunch reminds me of hippies from the 60’s, who excelled at destroying something, anything, and were completely bereft of any ability or desire to create something useful and good. People back then in their 20’s were pretty much overgrown teenagers, prone to simmering just a bit longer in the stew of resentment they held toward their parents’ rules. The result was a dismantling and denigration of pretty much anything that didn’t originate in the mud of a countryside love-in. Their greatest accomplishment was tie-dye.

Today’s protesters seem to have the same vacant eyes and vapid speech that protesters five decades ago had. Zombies looking for a purpose are not the makings of constructive social change. Let us hope the virus plays itself out before they do any real damage.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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