Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The real significance of the protests

Paul Krugman wants to start a narrative of "plutocrats panicking" over the occupation protesters. They could, he implies, change American politics. It's not clear to me that critics of the protesters are doing anymore than beating up an inviting target. The protesters are preternaturally silly and piling on people who still cling to the inanities of the sixties is easy content.

Krugman doesn't know (but hopes) that the protests will change American politics. That seems unlikely right now but, if they do, it will not be for the better. The occupation protests are straight up demagoguery. The protesters are either incoherent (rants about "corporations," "we are the 99%") or call for incredibly stupid and destructive things (guaranteed "living" incomes or debt forgiveness.)

The protests are less about a program than they are about a psychology. They are fueled by the frisson of opposition and manned by the usual suspects. To be sure, there is real economic uncertainty. If you borrowed $100,000 for a degree in Comparative Literature, the prospect of paying it back with your earnings at Noodles is frightening. Unemployment is scary. Underemployment is frustrating and there is too much of both.

But the protesters have no solution. The "movement" largely reduces to a claim that other people have something that I want and should be made to give it to me. It's easy to rail about a few people who are very wealthy but the notion that the nation's economic problems can be solved by taking their stuff away doesn't bear the slightest scrutiny. You can't balance the budget that way. You can't solve sluggish economic demand. Maybe the world would be a better place if Steve Jobs and Bill Gates couldn't become filthy rich by revolutionizing the way we live amd work, but I don't think so.

There is a reasonable critique of government bailouts and the overheated financial industry but it's a complicated one that can't be reduced to narratives about greed (although greed is certainly part of the story)or unfettered capitalism.

I think that the occupation protests will wither away but expect continued emphasis on the class warfare theme by the Democrats and their allies. Without an unexpected economic turnabout, the President can't run for re-election based on his record. He needs a scapegoat - someone to blame and some body to fear.


Jeff Simpson said...

Agreed nothing would be more destructive than allowing people to stay in their homes who are under water. Kick those families out, lets make Ayn Rand* proud!

*Disclaimer: the Ayn Rand who publicly hated any kind of help to citizens whatsoever, NOT the Ayn rand how used SS and medicare at the end of her life.

Anonymous said...

It is your sincere HOPE that they wither away. Sort of like the feedback on this once vibrant blog?

Tom said...

Anybody who's under water can stay in their homes as long as they want, so long as they can pay for it.

But as far as "nothing would be more destructive" (to the housing market) than letting people keep material possessions they can't pay for, yeah, I would agree. The market would be a lot better off in the long run if you let the market bottom out, erasing the artificially inflated "value".

Anonymous said...

"I think that the occupation protests will wither away"

That is what people thought about the Tea Party...the two groups have a lot in common...

Coyle from the 209 said...

I see Jeff Simpson is screwing around on company time again.