Occupy Wall Street Misses the Point
I had the opportunity to appear on America’s Nightly Scorecard with David Asman this week to talk about the Occupy Wall Street movement and what its future holds. While I believe that some of the issues that have brought these people together have some merit, the conclusions they draw and the targets for their ire are terribly misdirected.
One of the issues with the Occupy Wall Street people is that they are very amorphous. There are a lot of people involved, all of whom want different things and who focus on different issues. But the most common thread is anger at the bailouts for Wall Street in the aftermath of our most recent economic collapse. They’re angry that in the middle of a major recession that has been disastrous for many Americans, big business and big banking have been thrown financial lifelines.
What is it that the people involved want to see done? I’ve watched and listened to interviews with many of the protesters, including one who appeared on the Nightly Scorecard before me, and what I hear is that they want “change.” If you really press for specifics, you’ll probably hear about forgiving student loan debt and support for government social programs. A poll conducted by Douglas Schoen, a pollster for Bill Clinton during his presidential campaigns, found that 65% of the protesters “say that government has a moral responsibility to guarantee all citizens access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement—no matter the cost.”
A large number of the protesters, and a group that has grown as the protest swells with support from more and more radical groups, oppose capitalism. They believe that capitalism is behind the problems facing our country, and that capitalism has made things great for “the 1%,” while making things worse for “the 99%.”
When I look at the Occupy Wall Street protestors, the issues that concern them, and their proposed solutions, I think they’re missing the point. They think bailouts are wrong, rewarding failure while leaving the rest of us out to dry? So do I! But when they then take that premise and conclude that capitalism is the problem, they’re completely misguided: they don’t know what capitalism is. If we were operating as a capitalist economy, there would be no bailouts for bankers. There would be no bailouts for auto companies. There would be no corrupt loans to favored industries. Businesses would succeed or fail on their own merits. Opposing the bailouts isn’t an anti-capitalist argument, like these protesters seem to think! Opposing the bailouts is a capitalist position!
And when it comes to these massive government programs to take care of us from the cradle to the grave, where do these people think government gets its money from? Government doesn’t have some big stockpile of money that it uses to pay for programs. Our government only gets money by taxing it from other, productive people. You can only get tax revenues when people have jobs providing income to tax. You can really only increase tax revenue by pursuing economic policies that create jobs and wealth, as we’ve seen over and over again in history.
In our financial crisis, the places we went off the rails were the very places where we went away from a capitalist model. We had government intervening in the economy to guarantee and encourage bad home loans. We had banks and big corporations that knew they could act recklessly, because they knew the government would come bail them out if their risky activities didn’t pan out. Capitalism is the government leaving businesses alone, to succeed or fail on their own. What we had was government and big business in bed together—corporatism.
Capitalism is the cure for our illness—not the disease itself. The Wall Street protesters are young, uninformed people fresh out of college who are spouting anti-capitalist rhetoric without really understanding what the real problem is. They don’t have the work experience, the life experience to come up with the solutions we need. If they really want to be productive, they should move their focus from Wall Street to Washington. Yes, Wall Street and big corporations took billions of dollars in bailouts—but it was Washington that offered the money. What business person is going to turn down billions of dollars? Protesters might argue that Wall Street never should have taken the risks in the first place, but the reason they were willing to do so was because they were government-backed risks! If the government hadn’t guaranteed them in the first place, no sane business person would act so recklessly.
Our problems have come from big government. What we need in our system is more capitalism, not less. With more capitalism, more meritocracy, the best rise to the top and are rewarded, while failures are cleared away to make room for the next person with a big idea. The Wall Street protesters are right when they say our system is broken and needs to be fixed, but their prescription is just a doubling-down on the same failed policies that got us into this mess in the first place. If they want to see how demonizing business and glorifying cradle-to-grave social programs works out in the long term, they should pay a visit to Greece, Spain, and Portugal.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of the American economy. The economy grows when we are able to grow. We’re the ones who have been playing by the most capitalist rules of all so far—if we fail, we fail, because government isn’t interested in bailing us out. We haven’t had much of a voice, because we don’t write the big checks come campaign season. But here at OneMoreCustomer, we’re building a small business coalition that will provide a voice for entrepreneurs. We’re partnering up with people who exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit, on any side of the aisle, and we’re going to make sure people know that it’s all about jobs, it’s all about small businesses, and it’s all about entrepreneurs.