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Dont be an asshole: arguments for & against Occupy Wall Street

Posted on October 21, 2011 by Doug Brown | 4 Comments In the media, in conversations, on social networking sites, theres nothing worse than irrational people passionately spewing their irrational nonsense. Especially with Occupy Wall Street. On both sides. Before I proceed, I will tell you that I generally support Occupy Wall Street and like the issues brought up by the intelligent members of the movement. But every time I hear someone scream we are the 99 percent it reinforces my desire to disaffiliate with groups that derive power from numbers. If you said I am similar to 99 percent of the population in terms of income, i would be less annoyed. Ill support people looking to end corruption. Ill support people looking out for the least well-off in our country. Ill support anybodys right to nonviolently protest anything. But I dont want to be apart of the group. In this post, I will analyze some (not all) arguments on both sides of the Occupy Wall Street movement and address issues that I feel are keeping the two sides apart.

Pro-Occupy Wall Street Arguments

Companies are bad, capitalism is inherently evil This argument has been a focal point for many in the OWS crowd and is perhaps the most divisive between the protesters and people who strongly disagree. I think OWS is hurting their ability to reach an even more widespread following by deciding that capitalism is a black or white issue when really there are many shades of gray. There really is a difference between scumbag bankers who take billions in federal bailout money after setting up a system in which they raked in record profits off failed mortgages of the middle-class and working poor, and companies that dont rely on manipulation, but rather providing a product or service that is symbiotic to all parties involved in the transaction. There really are companies that are good. There really are companies who only benefit from having consumers satisfied with their purchases (unlike Citigroup, for example). If people in OWS dont express that there are some companies that are good or at least not evil then it only makes them look like hypocrites to people on the fence about the protests when they see people in OWS use their iPhones, eat in restaurants, or wear clothing they didnt sew themselves.

You're not helping They would do a much better job gaining support if the most radical anti-capitalists of the OWS protesters realized that money isnt inherently evil, but how some corporations choose to pursue money is. Focus on them, not all. This also applies for attitudes towards people with money: the one percent. Stop chanting we are the 99 percent in order rally the masses to vilify people who make over a half-million dollars and using everybody with money as the scapegoat to societies problems. Instead, focus on what the one percent did to make their money: did they do it ethically? did they do it honestly? Understand that not everybody with money is shitty. a lot are, but not all. Focus on the shitty ones. Instead of the OWS protesters angrily chanting we are the 99 percent! how about yelling we arent the people who benefited from corporate tax loopholes and unethical business practices! Its wordy, but worth a shot.

Anti-Occupy Wall Street arguments

Hey freeloading hippies: its the American dream. Get a job and stop complaining I feel that many of the people against the Occupy Wall Street protests have only really looked at the surface level of the movement; much of their distaste for the protesters is essentially symbolic and on an unconscious level from an ingrained desire to be really rich; they identify with Wall Street because they have dreamed about becoming ridiculously wealthy since they were a kid and think that it will come one day. I call it symbolic because they seem to hate who the protesters are, rather than the problems with the system that (smartest of the) OWS addresses.

If a birkenstock-wearing hippy held this chart on a sign, they would be more upset about seeing a hippy If they are conservative and view OWS as a liberal movement, they will be subconsciously inclined to disagree with what they are saying. If they view law enforcement as infallible and see that the NYPD and OWS are clashing, they will be inclined to view OWS as wrong, no matter what. If the protesters look so different from them (dirty, smelly, dreadlocks), then their desires must be different. Its strange when the working-poor the people working hard for long hours just to get by dont understand the nature of the protests and have somehow been convinced to oppose the protest. Somebody I follow on twitter, for example, posted this:

I have 3 jobs 3!!! People need to get off the fucking streets and get a job #fuckoccupywallstreet#manthefuckup This is a common sentiment among anti-OWS people. How do they not realize that Wall Street is not on their side? How are they not upset that there is a growing disparity between the income of the poor and middle class and the income of the richest of people who use corrupt practices for unchecked wealth? How do they relate more to hedge fund managers, bankers, CEOs, predatory lenders at Citigroup, Bank of America, AIG, Merrill Lynch, than the people raising awareness about those corporations systematically manipulating the financial well-being of the least well-off in this country? Do they not realize if these people would take the money out of your wallet and punch you in the nose if they could? Yes, a lot of the protesters are obnoxious. Yes, you probably wouldnt want to hang out with those people. Yes, they rarely shower and wear tight jeans and some have ironic mustaches. They might be extremely annoying, but they generally share values as the poor and middleclass people who oppose them. Part of it, I think, comes from people who have been told of the American Dream all of their life but fail to think deeper about its meaning. If you work hard, eventually youll become rich; thats all thats to it. If people are rich, they must have done something to deserve it, they must have worked harder than everybody, pulled them self up by their proverbial bootstraps, and that should be respected. To me, the American dream isnt Wall Street firms stuffing a portfolio with risky mortgage-related investments, sell it to unsuspecting customers and bet against it. The American dream isnt mortgage fraud. The American dream isnt Wall Street funding risky loans as a tradeoff for the higher fees and interest rates they could charge (meaning the more loans these companies sold, the higher the bonuses that everyone from account executives to corporate officers received). If thats your definition of the American dream, youre an asshole. If thats your definition of earning your income, youre a pretty shitty person. Stop being shitty. Its especially annoying when I hear people mimicking pundits Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter using the same key phrases and themes that these people disseminate daily on their extremely popular radio and TV shows: protesters are freeloaders. protesters are stupid. protesters shouldnt be listened to. protesters stand opposed to everything great about America. Lets take a look at these people; lets see whos interests they have in mind:

Rush Limbaugh: signed a $400 million contract with Clear Channel, a publicly traded company with billions in revenue every year. Glenn Beck: made $40 million in 2010 and could make $100 million this year. Sean Hannity: signed a 5-year $100 million radio contract in 2008.

Im not criticizing Limbaugh, Beck, and Hannity for making money. Im just pointing out that they make millions upon millions of dollars every year from companies that make billions upon billions every year on Wall Street. If I was paid $100 million by Marlboro, you could be damn sure Id do everything in my power to convince people that cigarettes are healthy. You could be damn sure Id try to

convince the public that people who oppose tobacco are crazy and their arguments arent legitimate. I would find the dumbest anti-tobacco people and convince the public that they are a true representation of their group. That is why so many critics are quick to point out the clowns of the OWS (they are there, no denying it), the worst of the OWS, the dumbest of the OWS, and fail to show the reasonable, rational people who have thought out ideas and read gripes about the system. There are positive mentions of protesters in many media outlets, but Ive found that many of the people so adamantly opposed to the movement seek out those pundits that already agree with their world view. Cognitive dissonance at its finest. Theyll complain about how the protesters are freeloaders because they pay little, if any, taxes while glossing over the fact that the only reason they dont pay taxes is because they dont make money; like poverty without taxes is easier than their $100 million contract with taxes. They get their listeners, most of whom dont make significant money, to turn against the poor and to idolize bankers who would fuck them over in a second if they had a chance.

Summary of arguments/quick points

Pro-Occupy Wall Street

Stop being clowns. Stop wearing silly hats and costumes. put the bongos away. Youre making people who would be supportive of your movement go the other way. Stop looking at things in black and white way. There are gray areas. Stop vilifying people solely for having money, and focus your signs and messages on people who unethically made money off manipulating the system that fucks over the middle class and poor. Some corporations arent shitty. Some profit off making great products / providing great services in a mutually agreed upon and beneficial manner.

Anti-Occupy Wall Street

Look beyond the hippies. They look like idiots but they have better intentions for the country than the people who would give you a mortgage that they know you couldnt pay back, bet against you paying it back, and then profit off you being miserable. Look into the motives of the pundits looking to paint the protesters as crazy people with illegitimate points. Odds are, they dont have you in mind. The rich vilifying the poor because they dont pay taxes is something only assholes would agree with. Its like healthy people vilifying the crippled because of the sweet parking spaces and elevator privileges. The American dream is not to fuck people over and get rich at any cost. Dont be an asshole.

The past three years have been, to put it mildly, a little depressing for Americans. Weve seen an economic collapse unmatched in generations shred our finances and job opportunities. Weve watched as unemployment ticked slowly higher and our wages stagnated. We looked to Washington for some sort of solution, and they responded by bickering like children, starting fights about things that dont create jobs, and some of them were even bald-facedly making a shit ton of money off our misery. And then for a brief moment in Zuccotti Park, it seemed like Americans were finally fed up with the bum deal theyd been getting from big businesses and Washington, and decided to do something about it. The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests spread across the country, and then across the world, as people filled the streets to protest the unholy marriage of big business and government; a system that gave billions in bailouts, then ground to a halt when someone proposed something as preposterous as better benefits for the average American. The protests have persisted for months, even through repeated clashes with police. It seems now that OWS isnt just a flash in the populism pan, but may actually be a genuine movement out to represent the interests of the common man, after all, how can you stop the will of 99% of the country? With ease and a lot of money, is the unfortunate answer.

Money Still Talks Louder Than Anything Else

One of the biggest and most salient points coming out of the somewhat muddled ideology of the OWS protestors is that big business has far too great an influence on government. This leads to policies that benefit the biggest campaign contributors, since its their money, not their constituents votes, that ultimately guarantees re-election. Its a difficult argument to refute, especially after you see the massive amounts of money companies put into their lobbying activities, and the subsequent benefits they see in legislation. OWS protestors have even proposed a constitutional amendment to allow only public funding for political campaigns. Why it wont have any effect: Because money always finds a way into politics. Sometimes, money isnt even needed, only the promise of future wealth. The disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoffs favorite tactic was to simply dangle the possibility of a lucrative private sector job and doors across Washington would open for him. Not a cent needed to go to a campaign to get what his clients wanted (or were talking about Abramoff here so whatever lined Jack Abramoffs pockets). So say we go scorched-earth and ban anything resembling any sort of lobbying activity (presuming this would be possible). Well it turns out money doesnt even need politicians to get what they want. A good example is the recent row over taxes on sugary drinks to fight obesity. The industry that makes their bread and butter off of these drinks went directly to the public with PR campaign blasting the tax. Even the loathed Citizens United v. FEC decision thats predicted to open gigantic floodgates of private money onto Washington, was argued over a documentary that ostensibly just presented the facts about Hilary Clinton (the films

claim to impartiality was dismissed by the court). As terrible as Citizens was for the flow of private money into Washington, the dicey problem it raises is how do you determine if something is fact-based or politically motivated to influence an election? Could a documentary about poverty in America that rightly criticizes Republican policies be considered politically motivated if its aired the week before an election? The point is, something needs to be done, for sure, but even if OWS does manage to get a legitimate mouthpiece in Congress, the money will always find a way to get what it wants. It may be possible to fix, but its an steepest, most treacherous and ancient edifice to surmount on the way to better politics.

The Average American Doesnt Have a Lobbyist

The second giant, systemic hurdle OWS would need to overcome in order to significantly affect big business, is the fact that business will always have vast, lucrative interests theyre willing to spend gobs of money on. The average American has vast, sweeping interests that involve what is on TV tonight. There is no counterpart to the interest of business that is fighting to preserve worker rights, income growth, and greater benefits. (If your response here was our Representatives are the counterpart and we pay them in votes, you are so adorable). Wait that sounds familiar, could we be talking about these Unions I hear Republicans say are the root of all our economic ills even though neither myself or anyone I know has ever been remotely involved with them? Why it wont have any effect: Unions are dead. The latest figure stands at 11.9%, of American workers, the lowest in 70 years. And this isnt just some nefarious plot by big business to rob Americans of their protections (though they try their damnedest), the truth is many Americans are voluntarily abandoning Unions especially in government. Its a classic example of a Public Good that everyone enjoys the benefit of in this case worker protections, higher wages, shorter work weeks etc that no one is willing to pay for. Like a superhero that is now irrelevant because he threw all the criminals in jail, Unions struggle to get the average American to understand their importance in a world where working conditions are halfway decent. Problem is, all the criminals escaped from Arkham in 2008.

Fixing Income Inequalities and Balancing the Budget Will be Messy, Messy Fights
Another big criticism heard from the OWS camps is that the highest earners control a vastly disproportionate share of the wealth in the US, and the influence that brings with it. They then are able to use this influence to make even more money. The gripe here isnt that rich people have money, a certain amount of inequality is to be expected and even lauded in any well-working capitalistic system. The point is that with the cost of college ballooning, and government programs designed to help the poor evaporating, the meritocratic system underlying capitalism is disintegrating. On top of that, the government has a massive debt burden that would preclude any large-scale plans to even the playing field. Why it wont have any effect: Because helping the 99% get better access to education, healthcare, unemployment insurance and other programs that have proven economic net benefits requires money. And that means a fight over a budget that needs to first be balanced. And that means a shit hurricane with shit

hawks dropping shit bombs over Washington. No less than Warren Buffett has warned as such. Just to get the budget back to sustainable numbers involves cuts to medicare, medicaid, the military, and, yes, tax increases. This means that any money going into, say, more Pell grants to help with college expenses is going to come from a very limited pool of funds that everyone in America will be fighting tooth and nail for a piece of. When even something as obvious and simple as more funds for disaster relief following Gods personal vendetta against the east coast this year nearly causes a government shut down, OWS certainly has its work cut out for it. The response to this is usually something along the lines of make the wealthy pay their fair share. While its true that wealth individuals, and big businesses especially, pay very low taxes compared to history and the rest of the world, its not going to cover the gap, and if it gets too high theyll just find ways around it.

No One Understands the Budget

On paper, balancing the budget is actually really easy. Seriously, take a whack at it using this New York Times calculator and in a few minutes you can probably come up with a plan that balances moderate tax increases with cuts that dont absolutely gut social programs or the military. It seems pretty reasonable looking at these numbers that some of the more modest fixes to education and social programs demanded by OWS can be achieved with relative ease. Why it wont have any effect: No one understands the budget. The average American thinks that foreign aid ranks above medicare spending when in fact it constitutes less than a percentage point. The same is true of NASA, which commands a whopping 0.5% of the budget, while Americans believe its as high as 20%. Ask a Republican presidential candidate how they will bring the budget into line, and theyll start by attacking the National Endowment for the Arts, which has a budget of $154 million, or 0.004% of the total budget. Thats about the cost of a single F-22 Raptor a year, of which the air force has 173, after spending $66 billion to develop themroughly enough money to fund the endowment for the next 400 years. Obviously, were dealing with some pretty screwy numbers here. But what does it have to do with big business? Simple, because no one understands how much money we do or do not have to spend, whoever shouts the loudest that This will hurt/help economic growth and hurt/help our industry will be the most right since apparently the majority of Americans have no ability to judge the difference. There is some hope, however. A 2005 study that showed respondents the composition of the Bush budget plan found that they were quite reasonable and proficient in coming up with a balanced budget.

They Arent the Tea Party (And Thats a Bad Thing)

In light of all these huge systemic obstacles to OWS changing the dynamic between money and politics in America, we can take heart in the idea that at least a discussion is being started. Hopefully politicians will see angry, disenfranchised Americans in the streets and begin to think that maybe these people will in fact vote against them in the next election. Or, you know, vote at all. At the very least, OWS is shifting the conversation away from the Tea Partys cut everything rhetoric to a lets examine how to make life better for the 99% rhetoric. That has to be a good thing right?

Why it wont have any effect: In order to enact the large-scale regulatory, tax code, campaign finance, etc rules that would have an effect on big businesses, OWS still needs asses in congressional seats that share their views. The Tea Party shifted very quickly from (cough) grass roots (cough) to a well-funded, well-organized group backed by powerful interests. They went straight for the ideological foundries of Americas political parties: the primaries. In this way, they controlled conversation surrounding the 2010 elections from day one, and made sure that their views werent lost in the swarm of other powerful interests in a partys base that influence primaries. Rallying in the streets has and will continue to alter the political conversation, but OWS is going up against powerful and well-entrenched corporate interests. Unless OWS is committed to winning elections, no policy will result, and things will only change in small ways very slowly. Or not at all but well be told that the problem has been addressed so we can all stop worrying and go back to wondering whats on TV tonight.