I encourage everyone to read Bastiat’s “The Law.” You can find a free copy here.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has entered its second month. Protests have risen up across the country. So far, they have no concrete message or list of grievances. They seem to object to the preferential treatment Wall Street that the financial sector received in the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse. Government should bail out Main Street, not Wall Street, the thinking goes.
That said, there is no unified message. Many on the Left have tried to brand it as a progressive Tea Party. But this is not an apt comparison; the Tea Party arose out of the bailout culture and campaigned against out of control government spending, the national debt and expanding entitlements. OWS has no such agenda: they object, in no particular order, to “corporate greed,” “the rich” and “the Jews” and want government to forgive student loan debt and stop home foreclosures.
The OWS movement looks, in some ways, like the anti-austerity riots in Europe (primarily Greece) and the union protests in Madison, Wisconsin, this spring. These are antithetical to the Tea Party movement; whereas the Tea Party wants less government, OWS want more government.
Democrats, so desperate for grassroots support, have largely embraced OWS while overlooking its radical elements (the Marxists, neo-Nazis, environmentalists, anarchists and the anti-Semitic elements). This political calculation is not, as former Bill Clinton pollster Doug Schoen points out in the Wall Street Journal, without serious political risk.
Democrats must win over their base as well as political independents if they hope to retain the White House and Senate while winning back the House of Representatives in 2012. The appeal to OWS shows them reaching out to the former; unfortunately it might alienate the latter.
That is because the OWS crowd is made up of radical elements outside the mainstream of American politics. Sure they might express a popular sentiment-discontent with the U.S.economy, concern about the middle class condition and outrage at increasing inequality-but many of their solutions are outside the mainstream.
Schoen’s polling of 200 OWS protesters shows the left-wing nature of these factions:
98% support civil disobedience to advance their agenda.
31% support violence to realize their goals.
65% insist that government has a moral responsibility to ensure all Americans with a college education, a secure retirement and health care for life no matter how costly these social democratic programs might be.
The OWS is the apotheosis of social-democracy; to achieve these ends, socialism must be put into place. That is, government must continue to grow and reduce the private sphere of the economy until it can provide these entitlements.
What is wrong with that? You ask. After all, America has largely become a social-democratic state. We now ensure a pension for seniors-Social Security, health care for seniors-Medicare, health care for the poor-Medicaid and prescription drugs for seniors-Medicare Part D. The government pays for K-12 public education. It loans money to students wishing to attend college. It provides loans that allow Americans to buy homes.
Why not grow a little larger to do a little more? The OWS ask. That is a natural response to those who spent their lives in this administrative-entitlement state. And it is a natural outgrowth of the socialist ideals which have permeated the national consciousness since the New Deal’s inception in 1933.
Over the last 80 years, citizens have looked to Washington for security, for employment, for a guaranteed income and a basic standard of living. This has created a tremendous burden on the federal government.
This burden has caused a popular uproar against government since the economy collapsed in 2008. Washington has (seemingly) reneged on its social compact, i.e. it has not “provided” positive liberty for its subject in return for the peoples’ tax dollars. Any wonder why the right track/wrong track and congressional approval numbers reflect such pessimism among Americans.
Sentient Americans know government is too big and is doing too much. Just last week, Washington announced another trillion dollar deficit. Government is spending 25% of GDP and taking in about 19%. The Left say raise taxes; conservatives say raising taxes won’t do a thing. Raise the rates to 90% and you’ll collect 19% of GDP. Maintain them and you’ll get 19% of GDP.
The empirical evidence is clear; social-democratic states are unsustainable. Look at Europe. A bankrupt Greek government can no longer provide goodies to its subjects. That is why there is rioting in the streets of Athens. Similar stories are found in Britain, France, Spain,Portugal and Italy. These governments are all broke. Germany must bail out its profligate neighbors if the European experiment will continue.
Yet OWS protestors want to continue down the social-democratic path. It is pure madness.
This reminds me of the Austrian libertarians who helped form the conservative movement, primarily the two principal progenitors: F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Hayek warned in The Road to Serfdom that central planning-socialism-would inevitably lead to totalitarian rule because democratic means were incapable of producing socialist ends. Mises claimed that ceding free enterprise to the coercive state would lead to a nightmare, and chastised those who sought collectivization (this warning can be read as an indictment on the OWS crowd).
His Bureaucracy noted:
They call themselves democrats but they yearn for dictatorship. They call themselves revolutionaries, but they want to make government omnipotent. They promise the blessing of the Garden of Eden, but they plan to transform the world into a gigantic post office. Every man but one a subordinate clerk in a bureau, what an alluring utopia!