The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.
Last year, you may recall, a number of financial-industry barons went wild over very mild criticism from President Obama. They denounced Mr. Obama as being almost a socialist for endorsing the so-called Volcker rule, which would simply prohibit banks backed by federal guarantees from engaging in risky speculation. And as for their reaction to proposals to close a loophole that lets some of them pay remarkably low taxes — well, Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group, compared it to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
As I understand it, her case for reasonable regulation does not ignore, but rather reflects, people’s preferences. We don’t want to be misled or cheated, but the complexity of modern contractual arrangements can baffle even the most educated among us. So we collectively opt for a framework that protects us against those who have more time and expertise to devise deceptions than we do to ferret them out. No, government shouldn’t make our choices for us, and we shouldn’t ask it to. But it does have a legitimate role in ensuring that the information relevant to those choices is accurate and intelligible.
More to the point, says Galston, Warren is not arguing for collectivism, but for the Burkean conservative position that we all have a moral debt to both the past and to future generations. Says Galston:
If we don’t adequately provide for their future, we are breaking that bond. A decent political community has the right—indeed the obligation—to honor that bond—if necessary, by compelling individuals who refuse to look beyond their own immediate concerns to contribute their share to the common future.
This is collectivism? Good grief. As the Catholic writer Mark Shea points out, you don’t have to embrace the Occupy Wall Street crowd to grasp that they are onto something, that there’s something truly disordered about our society’s economic arrangements. Seriously, could Burke even get a hearing among American conservatives today? Or is he to be seen as some sort of proto-commie?
Speaking to several of these protesters today, I met MBA students who cannot find jobs (one even told me his GPA at business school, a respectable 3.2) and law students in a similar predicament. As money gets wasted in epic fashion overseas for desperately flawed ‘provincial reconstruction teams’ in Iraq and risible ‘Government-in-a-Box’ initiatives in Afghanistan, these kids are staring at mountains of debt and an equally daunting lack of viable employment prospects (the MBA student was underemployed working as a barista at Starbucks). So there are intelligent faces and voices in these crowds—not just aimless rabble-rousers out for a rise—and I can sense this movement becoming more contagious (for instance, I detected among several of the more junior police officers perhaps some degree of sympathy for the protesters). To some extent, after all, these are our young screaming out in need, meriting not kettling and reprimands, but job prospects and dignity.
… [W]e are hearing a plaintive cry similar to that echoing amidst the Arab Awakening, that is to say: “Enough!” (not too dissimilar, really, from Occupy Wall Street’s chant: “We Are The 99%!”). I mean, how can it be, after the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression, involving very large doses of financial chicanery indeed, that nothing really of substance vis-a-vis legally actionable import came of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (who even remembers its name, in sharp contrast to Pecora)? Or that the ‘too big to fail’ issue has now only been aggravated further? Or that the CEOs of many of these banks could not even today explain to their own shareholders what products twenty-something employees are peddling, or indeed trading, not necessarily just the SocGen and UBS follies which speak more to criminal activity by specific perpetrators (albeit with likely gross negligence by higher-ups) but respecting complex derivative products that I would bet large swaths of varied C-Suites have nary a clue about (to Paul Volcker’s appropriately sardonic point about financial innovation and the ATM being its apogee). Is it any wonder people believe some of the banks are still too large to be effectively managed, still pose systemic risk, and still require more disciplined regulation than what will doubtless prove a materially watered-down Volcker rule (not to mention Dodd-Frank), given the President is apparently more focused on money-raising in Manhattan than laudable use of his bully pulpit a laRoosevelt?
While I will readily confess I find it odd as something of a Burkean that I am sympathetic to these protesters, they are not looking to trot out the guillotines, in the main (although I did spot a “Behead the Fed” sign!), but rather, they have smelled the radicalism of the blows dealt the integrity of a representative democratic system poised by the almost unfettered oligarch-like behavior among too many elites wholly disconnected from, yes, the 99% they speak of. They are acting to secure conservative aims of re-balancing a society that is becoming dangerously unmoored and increasingly bent asunder. They want accountability and dignity and prospects. Their leaders have failed them. So they have taken to the street to lead themselves. It will not be easy in the months ahead (the encroachments of winter alone will prove a big test), but they have started something that has real potential, and should be lauded for it, and indeed urged to carry on. If so, they may accomplish something, even possibly something historic. In this goal, in my view, they should not immediately fall prey to pressure that they must issue some long laundry list of ‘demands’ that might risk ideologically ring-fencing them some and/or stealing the spontaneity of their movement, while resisting too close associations with old-line standard-bearers of the left like the unions. They have created something quite new on the American political scene, and should stoke it during these early days in a manner strictly of their choosing.