An Israeli View on the Occupy Wall St. Protest
I live in Israel, but I am also American. And in America's "Occupy Wall Street" protests I see a lot of similarities to the recent "social justice" demonstrations that dominated headlines in Israel this summer. For instance, both movements seem to lack a clear set of reasonable demands, which greatly frustrated me because I felt the opportunity for real progress had, in both cases, been squandered by those pushing petty political agendas.
I am a moderate-to-low-paid worker with a boss who lives in the local equivalent of a mansion and takes six-week vacations every year to exotic destinations, all while my fellow employees and I scrape to get by. So I could have easily fit in with those marching through Tel Aviv every weekend back in July and August, or with those currently squatting on Wall Street. But I remained sober enough to recognize that the wild calls to impose greater taxes on my boss and those like him -- simple retribution, as it were -- would not remedy my situation. In fact, doing so would likely hurt me more than him, since a loss of income would simply require him to take home a greater share, resulting in layoffs and reduced salaries for the rest of us.
Nor is the situation being helped by the overriding narrative prevalent in both Tel Aviv and New York that this is a battle between capitalism and social justice.
The problem is not capitalism. Nor is it socialism, for those arguing from the other side. The problem is human nature. Both capitalism and socialism work on paper. It's when you introduce human nature into the equation that problems arise.
In the case of socialism, a lust for power has historically messed things up. In the case of capitalism, it's a lust for money that is the root of evil. Under both systems, human greed is the problem. But greed is a morality issue, and you can't legislate morals.
When combating greed, there are two options, as I see it:
1. Instill better morals and a sense of social justice in our children and in as much of society as we can reach.
2. Come out from under the shadow of greedy business owners and create something new, something better.
Option one is best, but will take at least a generation to fully permeate society. Pressing a greater sense of morality is likely to have little effect on the greedy barons already sitting atop the social pile. So in the short term, it's option two that is the best ticket out of our current mess. And while government cannot legislate morality, it can help us little guys, the so-called "99%," to create something better for ourselves.
What government should do is actually enact more capitalistic legislation, specifically reducing the bureaucracy for those wanting to start new businesses and lowering taxes for small business owners.
I know that for me, and for many others like me, the best option would be to quit my job and start a new small business where I have an opportunity to make more for myself and my family, and to treat any future employees better than my boss treated me. Or to join with and work for someone else taking that path.
Sadly, the mountain of bureaucracy one must climb and the taxes that must be paid upon reaching the summit make doing so just short of impossible for someone starting from scratch. Capitalistic government legislation could clear the path for millions of people to start fresh.
Of course, this short-term solution -- provided the government did its part to help -- is feasible only if the down and out are willing to work for something better. If the goal is simply more handouts, if the only "work" we are willing to do is stand on street corners holding placards, then I'm afraid there are only darker days ahead.
There is an old saying: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
In my view, the first question those of us protesting for greater social justice need to answer is whether we are the kind of men and women who want to be hand-fed for the rest of our lives, or the type of people who want to be given greater opportunity to feed ourselves.
Ryan Jones is a writer and journalist living in Jerusalem, Israel. He is the author of Zionist.com.