Discover more from ~$ matt > /dev/null
Occupied by Occupy Wall Street
The Occupy Wall Street movement has been moving (at long last) to the forefront of mainstream news, and it’s been interesting for me to see the reactions from people across the political spectrum. By and large, I see conservative Republican types dismissing it as hypocritical hippie nonsense, and liberal Democrat types welcoming it as a long-overdue response by “normal” people to Tea Party propaganda. From my perspective, both sides are approaching the problem from perspectives that are far too limited.
First of all, as a small government libertarian, I make no apologies for the fact that I believe that there are very few things the federal government can do better than truly free private enterprise. I believe that corporations have the right to make a profit, and I believe that over-regulation stifles innovation (any politician who wants to use that as a campaign slogan can feel free to do so). So why on earth would I support Occupy Wall Street?
While I don’t agree with everything in the movement’s first official declaration, I think that this could potentially become the tipping point in the battle between corporate interests and the rights of private citizens. “Corporate interests” is something of a vague and controversial term, so allow me to define it a little bit more narrowly as companies that use lobbying, bribery, and unethical practices to secure unfair or disproportionate advantages through legal means.
The key phrase there, of course, is “legal means.” When a company manages to use tax loopholes to avoid paying income tax, it’s unethical but (usually) quite legal. When a DoD official quits his job to go work as a lobbyist for a defense contractor and uses his contacts to land a multi-billion-dollar weapons contract, this is also unethical but legal. I could keep giving examples, but you get the point.
The intersection of private enterprise and government regulation is where I would say most of the unethical business practices in America arise. When the housing bubble collapsed, the crash wasn’t the result of corporate greed, or the result of government meddling in the financial markets, but rather a combination of both. Separately, government power and corporate power are fairly easy to handle. The problems start when political power becomes a corporate tool.
At any rate, back to Occupy Wall Street. I would disagree with anyone who dismisses it as a protest by radicals — there are a lot of normal, everyday people there who are just utterly fed up with the direction our country is taking. I also think that this protest bears a strong resemblance to the ones that sparked the American Revolution:
In the late 18th century, the British government became deeply entwined with the interests of the East India Trading Company, a massive conglomerate that counted British aristocracy as shareholders. Americans, upset with a government that used the colonies to enrich the East India Trading Company, donned Native American costumes and boarded the ships belonging to the company and destroyed the company’s tea.
The bottom line for me is that anything which increases the Separation of Corporation and State should be applauded by liberals and conservatives alike.
However, I am deeply concerned by the official response to the protests so far. Last night, hundreds of Boston riot police arrested and dispersed protestors in Dewey Square, using less than civilized methods:
At 1:40 am the police barreled through the first line of defense the occupiers put up, an old veterans group carrying flags known as Veterans for Peace. While officers began arresting occupiers and tearing down tents they kept pushing others back, sometimes throwing them to the ground.
Like it or not, America is increasingly becoming a police state, where the cops have the power to act with increasing impunity and decreasing accountability. Our country hasn’t seen sustained protests in years, so I’ll be interested to see how the government reconciles heavy-handed police responses with the right of citizens to assemble peaceably. Sadly, I think that the biggest lesson we’ll learn from Occupy Wall Street is just how few rights we have left in a largely authoritarian state.
(Photo credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)