Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Doug Giles gets things wrong-- world is shocked!

In related news, gravity still makes things fall down.

First off, a disclaimer: I am about the biggest non-activist you are likely to find. I can't stand rallies, dislike crowds in general, and generally prefer a calm conversation to shouting slogans any day of the week. I also am rather skeptical about Occupy Wall Street-- not because its general principles are necessarily wrong, but simply that I don't think drum circles really accomplish anything. Capitalism may have some major problems, but it's what we've got to work with, and I'd much rather see passionate young people working to help others than yelling about how we need to tear it all down, man.

That said, as part of a silly attempt to mock the OWS protestors, Doug Giles inadvertently winds up making their points for them.
from an earth angle, you are truly the fortunate ones and have hit the lifestyle lotto. Trust me, there are stacks of people from developing countries who would love to have what you ingrates whine about. Just ask an illegal alien.
Giles' whole article can be boiled down to: you live in America, hippies! You have clean water, working toilets, electricity, and food. Most of the world would kill to be in your shoes!

To a large degree, he's right, of course-- however that entirely sidesteps the point that OWS is making. The issue is not that the OWS are Christ-like refugees, it's about the comparative power and wealth inequality that exists in America. It's about pointing out that within the same country, there are some pretty major disparities. That's what the 99/1% mantra refers to. Saying, "to the rest of the world, the 99% is like the 1%" doesn't change the disparity; all it does it show that in a world where millions of people don't have clean water or toilets, the fact that corrupt business executives have bidets made of solid gold or go into convulsions when someone threatens to tax them for buying a new yacht or private jet is beyond gauche, it's downright obscene. You think you're scoring a point against OWS, Doug, but what you're really demonstrating is that the richest 1% and their defenders in the US really have no leg to stand on when it comes to complaining-- about pretty much anything.

Yes, I feel lucky to live in this country. I'd much rather live here than, say, Chad. But there are some serious issues happening right now with American society and culture, and the economy is a huge part of it. I was raised upper middle-class and went to private schools my whole life. I'm educated, my family is reasonably wealthy, etc. Since graduating, I've been stuck in a go-nowhere job for four years. I have friends who are in their late 20s-- privileged, educated, hardworking people-- who are still living in their parents' basements. They're being turned away from jobs they apply to because they're vastly overqualified for them. We are perfect examples of how the American economy continues to squeeze the middle-class into oblivion. At this rate, I'm probably not going to be middle-class. I'm probably going to be working poor. I've come to accept that-- but if someone with my education and background is facing the prospect of living poor, imagine what people who didn't have my privileges are going through.

An entire generation of Americans are finishing school, trying to join the work force, and getting the door slammed in their collective face-- and all the while, we keep hearing the super-rich screech about how unappreciated they are anytime someone talks about regulating the business sector or raising taxes on the only people that seem to be able to afford it. I'm not saying I want a Communist state, but clearly something isn't working here. 

Sorry Doug, pointing out that other countries and other people have it worse is not an argument, it's a distraction. And it's a bad one, at that.


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

If you want to have winners, you have to have losers. It's an unfortunate but unavoidable fact of living in a world with limited resources. There isn't enough gold to go around for everyone to have a bidet made of it. There aren't enough private jets for everyone to have one.
The alternative is to make everyone losers. But even then there are winners because when the vast majority of the population is denied wealth, the minority in control will scoop it up. In Communist countries there was also a 99/1% breakdown, only there you were shot for pointing it out.
This is what the OWS movement missed. They believe in affirmative actions, equality of results but that doesn't happen in the real world. You start by confiscating the wealth of the rich and then, in your hyperreligious zeal, you go further and punish them by putting them in labour camps or shooting them for crimes against "universal fairness".
The only system that comes close to working and produces the largest amount of winners is equality of opportunity. Instead of whinging about how someone else made off like a bandit people should be asking: how do I fairly achieve my slice of the pie instead of sitting back in a park and whinging about having it handed to me because I think that it's "fair"?

Anonymous said...

"I also am rather skeptical about Occupy Wall Street-- not because its general principles are necessarily wrong, but simply that I don't think drum circles really accomplish anything. Capitalism may have some major problems, but it's what we've got to work with, and I'd much rather see passionate young people working to help others than yelling about how we need to tear it all down, man."

You're mixing two, and maybe three issues here.

The first issue is whether the Occupy protests are an effective tactic. I think they've had some positive effect in that talking about the distribution of wealth has re-entered the public discourse. On the other hand, I think that there may be limits to these protests in reaching practical political goals, like, say, making sure the Bush tax cuts are finally repealed and the rich bastards start paying their fair share again.

The second issue is whether what they're trying to accomplish is to tear down capitalism. From what I've seen, I don't think that's the case. Some of you youngsters may not remember the good old days of the 1950s through the 1970s. We had capitalism, but workers were paid decently enough that one of Garnel's "losers" (say, a burger flipper at McDonald's) was paid decently enough to be able to afford to live on his own, even in places like New York or San Fransisco. Sure, not in the best neighborhoods, or with an opulent lifestyle, but a burger-flipper could afford a roof over his head and food at his table. I myself lived a very comfortable lifetyle in the 1970s on a graduate assistant stipend of $3,000/year. (That's about $10,000 per year in today's money. Try living in any large city today on $10,000/ year.)

From what I see, the occupy protesters aren't trying to "tear down" anything, they don't appear to advocate abolishing private property, markets, etc., they aren't asking that everyone be rewarded exactly equal, etc. It seems that they're basically asking that we reinstate controls on the financial system that were taken off, and that those who benefit most from the system should bear more of the cost of maintaining it.


Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

CA, the problem with the Occupy movement is that there isn't any coherent, unified message. Yes, there are many people involved with it that just want a fairer piece of the pie but there are also diehard redistributionists involved who want government to forcibly ensure everyone has equal income regardless of education, achievement, skills, etc.
The other issue you raise is interesting. In the mid 90's the Conservative government in Ontario slashed welfare rates and people in Toronto started shouting that this was unfair and they could no longer afford Toronto's rents on the new handouts. Okay, someone on fixed income can't afford Toronto. And they HAVE to live in Toronto why? They can't move out to one of the far more affordable towns or villages an hour away why?
And this is an important point. No, a burger flipper can't live in downtown San Francisco or New York anymore but he can live out in the boonies and, with his limited income now stretched further, being to save and invest so that his fortunes will turn around. Too many of the OWS people seemed to think they have a right to live in an expensive city. It doesn't work that way.
Finally, a "burger flipper" isn't one of my "losers". A burger flipper who insists on living beyond his means because he feels entitled to it, doesn't save, smokes and has cable but then whinges because his lousy salary doesn't cover everything and now he's in debt, that's a loser.

Friar Yid said...

CA and Garnel- I tend to split the difference between your positions. I'd like the Occupy movement better if I had a clearer sense of what its message and platform is-- which either doesn't exist or has not been communicated very well. My impression from what I've read and seen about it is that it suffers from the usual plagues endemic to post-Vietnam liberal protest movements: we don't like top-down leadership, so instead we try to build bottom-up leadership, which means we wind up with no leadership. I also think that protest movements by their very nature (emphasizing style over substance) tend to alienate more people than they attract; but at the same time symbolic and theatrical actions seem required in order to get any attention by the news cycle. It's a no-win scenario.

That said, I think there are legitimate grievances with the way the US economy is presently operating. I'm more than willing to criticize people living beyond their means (including people of my generation, who don't seem to have planned their finances very well). But I feel like it's too easy to claim that the reason so many young people are struggling in the present economy is because they're fiscally irresponsible. Yes, my wife and I live in an expensive city (if my family wasn't here we wouldn't have moved back after college), but we're also two educated professionals pulling in what should be small but decent salaries. I don't mind being financially disciplined (and I'd like to think I am), but it seems like you have to work much harder to make the ends meet these days than you used to-- and Mrs. Yid and I definitely feel the strain (partially because we're so future-focused; we feel guilty spending our savings because it's already earmarked for things like kids and a down payment on a house; we know that if we spend out of it it's going to take a long time to save it back). I don't feel like I want or am asking for a handout, but it's very galling to feel like you're participating in a fixed game-- particularly when people in the media or financial sector act as if people like you are entitled jerks (or even better, Communists) for merely pointing out the problem.

To your point, Garnel: next year we are hoping to move across the bay, where there are more schools, hopefully more work, and where our money will stretch twice as far.