Occupy Wall Street

Day 50 Occupy Wall Street November 5 2011 Shan...

Image by david_shankbone via Flickr

I am not sure what I think about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

On one hand, I think that the financial sector of our economy has definitely gotten out of hand. However, I don’t believe that working with finances, or investment, is necessarily wrong.

Banking is an essential component of a capitalist society, and while capitalism is not perfect, it’s the best way of organizing an economy that humans have come up with in several thousand years of trying (unless you think we should all return to a hunting-gathering society, but that’s another argument and blog post all together).

Yes, there are better ways of caring for the least-fortunate members of society than straight-up capitalism, but that is a matter of nuance, in my opinion. There is nothing wrong with people using their creativity and intelligence to make money, but there is something wrong when company heads make millions of dollars while their employees make much, much less. There is something wrong when companies rack up millions and billions of dollars of profit in a year and don’t return that to the economy, either in the form of wages to their employees or in the form of infrastructure investment (building a new factory, perhaps).

I appreciate the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and their counterparts around the country, for exercising their First Amendment rights. And while some, like this Economist correspondent, argue that there is no explicit right to occupy public spaces, there is a long history of long-term public protests in this country. Examples can be found in this history of strikes and occupations at Alternet, and this history of the Bonus Army at Wikipedia. It has been too long since large groups of people spoke out against the direction our society is taking, as the gap between the richest and the rest of us grows.

However, I am deeply worried by protesters’ statements that democracy is broken in this country, and that is why they are out protesting.

I assure you, if voting worked, we would all be home right now.

Brendan Burke
Head of de-escalation security
Occupy Wall Street
New York

That is all well and good, but how exactly are they planning on making changes if they aren’t planning on participating in the democracy we’ve got?

I firmly believe that our democracy is not broken, we simply have extremely poor choices of candidates. The mainstream politicians are polarized and uncompromising, and no other viable choices have appeared (except for the Tea Party, but they seem to only be increasing political polarization, leaving nothing for moderate independents).

However, I do not believe that the system as a whole is broken. Anyone can go down to their local elections office, register as a candidate for the office of their choice (you may need to gather some signatures first), and start campaigning, being sure to follow local and federal rules about campaign donations. Yes, it sounds complicated, but I don’t believe it is any more complicated than opening a sole proprietorship business, which I did in 4 hours two years ago on a Sunday afternoon (with a little more time the next day at City Hall and my bank, which weren’t open on Sunday).

If the system were broken, there would be armed thugs outside the polling stations. There would be mysterious disappearances of people who register as candidates. People would lose their jobs, their limbs, their lives, for voting for the wrong candidate. These things happen all around the world in supposed democracies. We don’t know how good we’ve got it here.

The outward trappings of the system look broken, in that huge amounts of money are involved, rentseeking behavior follows, and Congress cannot pass a budget without threatening the country’s economy and finances, but I believe that this can all be fixed with a large enough influx of candidates and elected officials who will change the system.

Protests are a good place to start, but from that we need new candidates and parties who will work to change the system for the better, from within. If this is the eventual destination of Occupy Wall Street, then I’m all for it. But if it is a thinly disguised movement towards mob rule and/or a dictatorship, then I’m against it.

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  1. Aaron Klein exposes #OccupyWallStreet’s White House ties with new website. « YourDaddy's Politics
  2. Occupy Wall Street « Lizbeth's Garden | Occupy Wall Street Info
  3. More on Occupy Wall Street « Lizbeth's Garden

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