Thursday, October 20, 2011

It was just a call for help

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.


Nick said...

Thanks for the mention, but the link you associated with my name does not go to my website. It goes to

Nick said...

To address your actual points. You're right in that they're not identical in how they want the solution solved. But that doesn't mean that common ground can't be found.

I still believe that Crony Capitalism is at the heart of the anger by both sides. The Tea Party groups are saying... small government. The OWS groups are saying "more government restriction" and "I want mine too". But that doesn't change the problem.

If we want to stop the bickering, and actually get at a solution, we have to willing to say... Let's try to figure out how to stop this one problem we both agree on. That problem is Crony Capitalism.

This won't just require OWS to rethink some things. Tea Party groups will too, since they seem to place disproportionate blame on the government, and not on corporations who lobby for special favor and regulations that hurt their competition.

There is room for both groups to move, and I think both groups *need* to move a little to solve that real problem.

Rick Esenberg said...

But the solution is to stop protectionist regulation and handouts. I do think that the Tea Party folks are, for the most part, fine with that. The OWS people seem not to be angry at crony capitalism, but capitalism. I would not expect to see Bernie Sanders morph into Ron Paul even if they occasionally rail at the same things.

Sorry about the link. I'll fix it.

gnarlytrombone said...

Thank Jeebus for those sensible taxpaying teapartay-ers.

Dad29 said...

The Crony Capitalism matter IS a commonly-held item between TEA and the Occupy crowd (those who are actually sentient.)

From there, as Rick proposes, divergency occurs. The TBTF Banks are not only neck-deep in cronyism, they're literally over their (capital) heads in it.

But to propose that "give it to us" is not an easily-accomodated solution.


Anonymous said...

"Certainly this pathetic little protest didn't require that."

Professor, why doth you criticize those exercising their 1st Amendment rights? Because YOU think it is an exercise in futility? Let our citizens overall make that the polls.

Besides, such disdain only furthers the divide. Shame on you! SOME of the Occupiers are trying to "get theirs". Dad29 is right for once...the common link is crony capitalism, not the system itself!

Nick is measured in his position. That line of thinking goes a LONG way with moderates from both sides of the aisle who are sick and tired of the constant partisan b.s.


Tom said...

There's nothing incompatible with respecting free speech and criticizing what is being spoken or how it's being spoken. It was a pathetic protest. My neighbor's driveway collects more people on the weekend just by opening up his beer fridge.

Rick Esenberg said...

I am not criticizing them for exercising their first amendment rights. I am criticizing what they have to say. In other words, I am recognizing that they have said something and exercising my own first amendment rights.

The fact that something can be characterized as "moderate" or seen to be "splitting the difference" doesn't make it right. The idea that there is any substantial common ground between the Tea Party and Occupants strikes me as highly implausible. I think they are rooted in two very differenct world views.

John Foust said...

Different world views and confusion of message? To indulge in similarly hilarious stereotyping, one group wore hats dangling with tea bags and rode Medicare scooters to rallies to declare that Obama was a Kenyan secret Muslim intent on creating death panels to kill Grandma.

There have always been plenty of left-Libertarians, and by many accounts, they did constitute a large fraction of many OWS protests.

The battle between the GOP and Libertarians has been going on for fifty years. The left-Libertarians hold their nose when associating with social conservatives, no?

John Foust said...

From Forbes and the Examiner, a discussion of whether the Tea Party soothes by exclusion, and the home versionof "How Are the OWS and Tea Party Different"?

Anonymous said...

Maybe, John, you can hit both groups up for donations for your son Caleb's anti-H IVmeds.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Shark, care to delete the deranged anony's 1:27 p.m. post, which constitutes a personal attack? I'm sure your blog does not want to be associated with such a vile personal attack. You and the posters generally keep it clean.


Nick said...

FYI... Doesn't look like the link got fixed :(

If you're not going to link to my post, then please don't associate my name with someone else's work which I don't necessarily support as my own.

Thank You.