Protestors have “occupied” a square near Wall Street for weeks. Hundreds of them were arrested, some 700 while blocking the Brooklyn Bridge. The movement may be spreading to other American cities. At least one demonstrator says: “This is a revolution.”
They complain of joblessness and the inequities of global capitalism, though the sources of their distress vary widely, from having to pay back student loans to the depredations of the internal combustion engine. At this point their immediate, tangible adversary appears to be the New York Police Department. It is easy to make fun of disaffected middle-class kids with Apple computers camping out in Downtown Manhattan. They bask in media limelight while taunting working-class cops. Still, we should try to understand the matter.
According to OccupyWallSt.org, the website that contains the demonstrators’ messages and daily activities, this is a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions” who are united by a determination “to no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.” They say they are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactics to achieve their ends.
Commentators point to parallels with the Arab Spring, but in fact there is a sharp difference. Egyptian protestors had a definite goal—-to get rid of Mubarak and install a new government. Other Arab rebels similarly want to change their government.
By contrast, the Wall Street occupiers are largely in agreement with President Obama. He has repeatedly proposed increased taxes on those with higher incomes, most recently as a jobs initiative—-it is the protestors’ one clear-cut demand that the rich pay more taxes. Public labor unions pledged help for the occupiers. Unions are major backers and also beneficiaries of the Obama administration. Despite some anarchist and even libertarian rhetoric, these protestors are in effect supporting the current US government.
They don’t want to change the administration, except maybe to move it further to the left. To the extent one can read a program into mostly nebulous grievances, they want a Robin Hood scheme implemented by government, not that far off from mainstream left-liberal aspirations. Nothing new in that. Such policies have been instituted since the 1930s—one should add, with massive unintended consequences.
In particular, interventions to correct perceived injustices have led to a much larger government and an immense increase in special interest lobbying. As long as the government gives out substantial goodies to some and imposes significant damages on others, it creates big incentives for interest groups to shape policies to their own benefit—-as Hayek predicted.
The protestors declaim against the money influence in politics and show their radical chops by confronting NYPD on the streets. But they and their union allies stand for the same corrupting unlimited government that is in place.
Theirs is not a revolution so much as an early support rally, done on the sly, for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.