The Occupy Wall Street movement has raised important questions about the respect paid to wealth in our society. There is a good deal of unfairness in the American economy, and by deliberately targeting the “top 1 percent,” the demonstrators have opened up a dialogue that is quite useful.
Nonetheless, as someone from a conservative and libertarian background, I find that I am hearing too much talk about riches and not enough about values. It’s worth recalling why so many Americans have respected the wealthy in the first place.
It’s a pretty balanced piece. Cowen says that the typical conservative idea that hard work and discipline will result in economic success has come under serious and reasonable criticism. Excerpt:
The first problem is that higher status for the wealthy can easily lead to crony capitalism. In public discourse social status judgments are often crude. Critical differences are lost, like the distinction between earning money through production for consumers, as Apple has done, and earning money through the manipulation of government, which heavily subsidized agribusinesses have done. The relevant question, in my view, is not about how much you have earned but about how you have earned it. To further confuse matters, many right-wing Republican politicians supported corporate bailouts and corporate welfare far beyond what was necessary to stabilize the economy, in doing so further muddying the difference between productive and predatory capitalism.
The second problem is that many conservatives have become so attached to their cultural vision that they have ceded sound, technocratic reasoning to the left and center. For instance there is a common willingness among conservatives to defend the Bush tax cuts, even though the evidence does not show much of an economic payoff.
There’s more, so be sure to read the whole thing. Cowen points out, quite rightly, that even if conservatives don’t have all the answers, any reform movement to rebalance the economy in productive ways that does not seek to reinforce the idea that working hard and living in a disciplined way will help you get ahead — that movement will fail.