Marching for Shackles and Chains
History is littered with popular uprisings which overthrow one dictatorship only to turn around and embrace another. From the French Revolution near the turn of the 18th century to what many fear to be happening in the Arab world today, revolutionaries generally know whom they are against, but they fail to define what they are against.
The "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrators are the latest in this line of misguided and eventually unsuccessful revolutionaries. Ostensibly, the protestors rally against "greedy people," "Wall Street," or "the rich." But those targets are imagined villains -- the illegitimate faces of an authentic threat.
The true threat is concentration of power. Because the Wall Street Occupiers, along with their union and celebrity backers, identify the source as personal instead of systemic, their solution is to give different people a similarly abusable authority.
Since Occupy's protests are against the wealthy, it's important to note that the power of millionaires and billionaires is more pretended than real. Walmart, the largest company in the country and led by a cadre of billionaires, cannot get one dollar from the pocket from the poorest person unless that dollar is given willingly. No Wall Street investor or bank, no matter how large, can force a client to invest or deposit money. The humblest consumer retains power over even the biggest businesses.
But what about TARP? demands the Occupier. The insurance companies and banks forced us to give them our money. It is true that TARP recipients covered up a lot of their mistakes with taxpayer money. It was a truly unjust program. But the Occupier's solution to the injustice of the TARP is hardly an improvement. So preoccupied with Wall Street villains and the banks' secondary role in bailouts, the Occupiers seek to promote the power of government -- ironically, the very entity which forced us to loan hundreds of billions to Wall Street in the first place.
But the rich are getting richer while the rest are left behind, counters the Occupier, adding, America has the most lopsided distribution of wealth in the world. First, wealth is not distributed; it is created. A tree in an obscure forest, oil in the ground, or the farmer's seed has little value until someone makes the tree into 2x4s for a home, recovers and refines the oil, or cultivates the seed.
A person accumulates a large pile of wealth by first creating many small piles of wealth (in the form of goods and services) for scores of others. Great wealth results from a person making many things more valuable -- not from arbitrary or pernicious distribution.
Nor is it true that "the rich" are getting richer. In the eye-opening book The Millionaire Next Door by Drs. Thomas Stanley and William Danko, we learn that 80% of America's millionaires are first-generation wealthy. The Forbes list of the nation's wealthiest people (all billionaires) shows that 70% of the "Forbes 400" are self-made. It's not the rich, but the productive who get richer, regardless of where they are on the socioeconomic ladder.
The economic troubles that beset us now are not because of the rich, a rigid class system, Wall Street, or some other capitalism-related boogeyman. Recessions occur because we cannot predict the future. The business cycle isn't a result so much of capitalism, but of humanity. The question is what to do about our human shortcomings.
The Occupiers rally against the imperfections of the collective wisdom of 310 million people, but they would install a system that uses only the wisdom of a president, a few dozen advisers, and, at most, a few hundred experts. America would go from the occasionally uncomfortable kettle into an intense and unrelenting fire.
Haven't we already witnessed the results of this philosophy? Aren't we living it right now?
We are mired in mid-teens unemployment, stagnant economic growth, and oppressive debt because for over a century, too many revolted against pseudo-villains and empowered real ones. Too many knew whom they were against but failed to realize what they were against. Too many sought to avoid the adversity inherent to humanity and instead chose the shackles and chains offered by earthly messiahs.
Joseph Ashby is a contributor to Jonah Goldberg's latest book, Proud to Be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation. Joseph can be heard Thursday mornings at 7:35am CST on the KHUB Morning Show with Matt Price.