Here’s a really interesting article by the conservative City Journal financial writer Nicole Gelinas, arguing that however misguided and puerile many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters are, they’re actually standing up for capitalism, and ought to be sympathized with. Excerpts:
But the protesters’ affection for [Steve] Jobs isn’t necessarily a sign of bad faith or ignorance. Rather, it could be a healthy discernment, however poorly articulated. The point is not that Jobs was “this different, quiet billionaire,” as one protester put it, but that he lived by the rules through which free-market capitalism should work. When Apple released a product that people rejected, such as the Apple III or the Lisa in the early eighties, the company suffered the consequences. Apple could not expect tens of billions of dollars from the U.S. Treasury or from the Federal Reserve to save it from its own mistakes. Apple was nottoo big to fail. Before the iPod, the company was struggling. Apple had to make itself too good to fail—and that’s exactly what it did.
Contrast the capitalist world in which Jobs lived with “capitalism,” as the U.S. government has applied it to the big banks against which the Zuccotti Park crowd is—imperfectly—protesting. If you’re a bank or an insurance firm, and you create a product that your investors and your regulators can’t understand in a crisis, you aren’t punished, as Apple was when it released products too complex for its customers. Instead, you get rewarded with bailout money. It’s hard to argue with the Zuccotti protesters’ manifesto on this point: “They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity.”
In the past few years, surviving banks have “succeeded” not by giving people needed or wanted products, as Apple did, but through their ability to hold the entire global economy hostage. Imagine if Apple and Microsoft executives, instead of competing against one another, had banded together to deliver taxpayers an ultimatum: give us tens of billions to stay afloat, or else we’ll blow up the whole economy. Does anyone think that strangers would be leaving flowers, photos, and bitten fruit?
If this is capitalism, we should all be protesting it.
Preach it, sister. Gelinas goes on to say that the incestuous relationship between Washington and Wall Street brought on the crash, and continues to allow this pseudo-capitalism run of, by, and for cronies and insiders to sit there like a time bomb. Gelinas — who, remember, is a conservative writing for a conservative publication — cautions:
Politicians of both parties should be wary about painting the Occupy Wall Street protesters as “dangerous” or as wagers of “class warfare,” asMitt Romney did earlier this week. They should be careful, too, in confusing the hard-core, overnight campers in Zuccotti Park with people who go to work every day but share the protesters’ post-TARP alienation. Tom Dematteis, a pizzeria owner and Navy veteran, told theWall Street Journal Tuesday that “it was his first time protesting and he didn’t plan to camp out,” but that “he believes the financial system . . . doesn’t work for average Americans.”
Along those lines, Prof. Lawrence Lessig says:
“If this movement can be identified as a fight against the corruption that our political system has become, then it has the potential to bridge left and right in a way that could become much more generative, much more important, because people on the left and people on the right look at the crony capitalism of this system and they look at the way in which money from Wall Street bought the regulatory infrastructure that led to the collapse of 2008. And even worse, after the collapse of 2008, the same money blocked any reform of this regulatory infrastructure. Both the left and the right can look at this and say ‘there’s something deeply wrong with this system.’”