Well there was a brief, small protest around the corner from my office this noon. By small, I mean about 20 protesters and by brief, I mean that it lasted only a bit longer than it took me to leave my office in the 200 block of East Mason walk a block and a half to the Cousins at Water & Wells and order a sandwich. I believe the demand was to "Arrest Wall Street" accompanied (at least while I was there) by simultaneous fist raising and turning of the head to the street that evoked - I'm sorry - a bad old movie about Zombies. There was something weirdly lifeless about it. Maybe it was too cold. Perhaps it just happened when I was there.
One of the things I didn't quite get was why I heard so many police squads (I counted four) arrive so quickly before I left my building. As I passed by, the cops were standing around and watching. Certainly this pathetic little protest didn't require that.
But it has since been reported that some jamoke came into the M & I/BMO Harris branch which was the target of the protest and screamed about a hostile takeover. I guess the Occupants wanted bank employees to have a more sophisticated sense of "hostile" rooted in an 80s "Michael Douglas in Wall Street" kind of sensibility. Unfortunately, at least one teller did not and chose not to ponder whether they were in actual or nerely metaphorical danger. Thus the cops.
So this brought to mind attempts to equate the Occupy Protesters with more recent demonstrations of a grander provenance. Are they like the tea partiers? Local libertarian Nick Schweitzer thinks so but I can't see it. Nick focuses on the one thing that the groups have in common - oppostion to bank bailouts and then argues that they differ only in who they are angry with. The Tea Partiers disliked the government for passing out the cash and the Occupants are miffed at the corporations for taking it.
That'd be more impressive if the two groups weren't drawing diametrically opposed conclusions out of this anger. The tea partiers want the government to stop passing out dough and acting like the National Cruise Director. The Occupants want it to give even more - only to different people. The tea partiers response to government absolution of the irresponsible is to call for responsibility. The Occupants response is for absolution across the board. The one group wants more limited government. The other is rigrorously statist.
It is sort of hard to reconcile calls for limited government with demands for across the board debt forgiveness, a guaranteed living wage without regard to, you know, work, free college education in whatever you want, etc. One the Occupants hang-ups if corporate personhood because, as we all know, the development of a limited liability vehicle to facilitate the aggregation of capital and placing it at risk has just destroyed the country in those dark, cold years since the early nineteenth century. The problem they have with "corporate personhood" is that they believe - largely incorrectly - that it renders corporations immune from state control.
The two groups can't find common group because, at the end of the day, there isn't any.
But Nick tries to make a case. Nicholas Kristof, in Sunday's New York Times, just waves at one. He claims that his interviews with OWS protestors "rhyme with my interviews in Tahrir earlier this year." That is a rather startling assertion. Kristof would never - could never - explicitly equate protests about bank bailouts and the fact that a fairly small number of people make too much money with an uprising against a police state. We'd all laugh at that so he uses some meaningless phrase like one thing "rhyming" with another. It's a variant of a fairly common Times trick in which people like Framk Rich and Paul Krugman catch "whiffs" of something (usually racism) which they can't actually demonstrate to be there.
Even that vaguery requires cover so Kritsof immediately quotes Al Gore as calling the protests a "primal scream." Of course, a scream communicates nothing but distress so this permits it to "rhyme" with just about anything.
Kristof wants the 2012 election to be about inequality but to what end? Even if one is disturbed about concentrations of wealth, it is "simple math" that no feasible tax increases on the rich are going to do much to balance the budget or improve the lot of the middle class. There is not an insubstantial prospect that they would actually make things worse.
There is a problem with crony capitalism, but the Obama administration and Democrats are hardly in a position to raise it. It's what they do. Socialism is in the sense of the government owning the means of production has gotten a bad name because it turns out to be a complete and utter failure. So the left today advocates running the economy through the government through a system of regulation, subsidy and taxation. It is more about control than simple command.
When you're picking - or trying to create - winners and losers in this way, crony capitalism becomes the order of the day. To be sure, they call it things like "industrial policy," "green jobs initiatives," "public-private partnerships" and "stimulus." Nut, however well intentioned, the bottom line is the the disbursement and withholding of favor. Say what you will about advocates of limited government and free markets but they tend not to want to engage in the kind of market interventions on which crony capitalism thrives.
Kristof refers to Robert Frank's book The Darwin Economy which I've started to read. More on that to come.