A critique of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
by Cody Hensarling
When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the center of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated.
— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Charles Hammond 
The Occupy Wall Street movement both fascinates and disgusts me. It is fascinating in the sense that its rapid spread cannot be underestimated. Until OWS came along, I did not believe a left-wing protest movement would ever spread in America on a major level, a la the Tea Party. However, that does not mean that I am thrilled about the development and spread of OWS. I am disgusted by many of the allegations that have been made about the participants of the protests. Everything from public defecation, to sexual assault, to violence against police officers has been reported as occurring at OWS protests. My generation is rapidly moving to join this movement as they have supported nothing else, save perhaps Justin Beiber, and as a result I am forced to evaluate the consequences of such a decision.
The basic desire of the OWS movement appears to be redistribution of wealth. Protestors are complaining about perceived injustices including, but not limited to: the “greed and excess” of the banks, the inability to repay college loans, the inability to get a job befitting certain levels of education, the tax evasion of the rich, and the Jews (http://www.newsmax.com/InsideCover/wall-street-protests-antisemitism/2011/10/18/id/414817). How that last grievance fits into the overall structure of complaints, I have no idea. And while many would be quick to claim that protesting the “Zionist Jews” is not the purview of all the protestors, the obvious counter is that OWS has no unified goals, so individual voices are the only record of grievance that exists for this movement. While I sympathize to a certain extent with some of the issues presented (tax evasion is an issue, but I am sure the OWS crowd and I would have different ideas to fix it), I do not agree with the solutions desired. At the core of all OWS solutions (that I’ve seen) is a loss a freedom.
While some of the protestors are outright Marxists, not all have embraced communism or socialism. The ones that haven’t are still proposing such bold ideas as having the state seize wealth from certain members of the wealth-laden class, reforming society into a committee-based governance system that relies on consensus to make decisions, and having the government forgive all student loan debt. Now, what is most reprehensible to me about these policies is that most seem to be designed to abrogate the responsibility of one’s actions. Students are not forced to take loans, yet to the OWS crowd, they are OWED the forgiveness of their loans. Why? What has anyone done to deserve the forgiveness of student loan debt? Now, yes, there are programs (such as the Peace Corps) that trade partial loan repayment for services rendered, but that does not mean that students should get a “free reset” button on bad economic decisions. For other redistributive policies, the implications are worse, as many believe redistribution of wealth is necessary because the wealthy have “stolen” what “rightfully belongs” to the protestors. This is an odd take on the idea of private property.
When these protestors are calling for justice, calling for the end of the government picking winners and losers (by critiquing wall street bailouts), they are being disingenuous. They want government to continue to pick winners: them. Begging the federal government to accept your offer of less freedom for greater prosperity for oneself (or even less prosperity for others) is a dangerous, short-sighted plea. I would refer the sympathizers of OWS to the Jefferson quotation I cited at the opening of this piece, and recognize that relying on Washington to wield power to improve one’s life is a quick route to a state marked with oppression.
Cody Hensarling is an intern at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.