Thursday, 24 November 2011

On Occupy Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been fairly big on the internet for a while now, especially on Reddit, and I've been meaning to write this for ages because I've slowly been getting more and more annoyed by a lot of the crap coming out of it, and a lot of the really bullshit anti-government and anti-capitalist crap that various people spew over Facebook and various other parts of the internet that I spend meaningful amounts of time on.

Before I commence ranting I'd sort of like to be clear on something:

I am white and middle-class, I went to a fairly esteemed private high school (on a scholarship, but an academic one rather than an income-assessed one), and from that I've gone into a degree in Cambridge that will quite potentially put me into some sort of consultancy or financial managements position on a salary that's probably more than I'm worth. My family isn't particularly rich, but both of my parents are employed, and we have a nice house, two cars and generally seem to be fairly sound financially (at least as far as I know). I'm not raised as one of the 1%, but I'm definitely not in the bottom ranks of the 99% either. I'm not claiming to speak from a position any different to what I am.

Having said that I am generally pretty left-wing and liberal when it comes to politics. I voted for Labour in the last elections and dislike the Tories pretty strongly. I hate FOX News and The Daily Mail. I support socialism, and I agree with a large amount of what some people in the Occupy Wall St (or OWS as I shall refer to it from now on because I can't be arsed typing it out every time) are saying. I believe America should have socialist healthcare, that it should put measures in place to tax the rich and redistribute the wealth to the large number of citizens it has that live below the poverty line. I think that certain American corporations (and corporations in other countries for that matter) are far too powerful and that laws need to be put in place to restrict what they can get away with. I think that the cost of higher education in the USA is totally ridiculous and should be brought down. There's plenty I agree with - quite strongly in fact.

The thing is, whilst some of the people at OWS are there for sensible reasons, and are making fairly valid statements about how the US could potentially be improved, there also seem to be plenty of people backing the movement or participating in the protests who are, in my opinion, complete idiots who really have no idea what the hell they're claiming to be angry about.

For example, banks get a lot of hate these days, when really they shouldn't. I remember supporters of Bitcoin claiming how Bitcoin would eliminate the need for banks, and I considered this to be a totally stupid "advantage". If you need to buy a house, then you need a bank, because you're sure as hell not going to want to or be able to borrow that kind of money from anyone else. Banks play an absolutely key role in our society.

The issue with the current economic situation is not the financial institutions themselves, but the poor government regulation of them. If these institutions need to take risks to make money, and the collapse of these institutions has widespread ramifications, then it is up to the government to limit the amount of risk they can take - there's nobody else with the capability to do this.

Sure, companies could be responsible, and could not stretch the boundaries of ethics or risk management to try and make money, but most of these companies sit in a competitive environment where if they're not taking advantage of lax regulation then some of their competitors are going to anyway and they'll get driven out of business. The problem is not companies doing bad things; it's governments not putting the restrictions in place to stop companies doing bad things, because it only takes a couple to overstep their mark and suddenly everything is in the shit.

Another thing I find gets an irritatingly bad press are bailouts of companies and financial institutions. I read a quote by Richard Dawkins once along the lines of "Evolution is universally accepted by people who understand it and universally rejected by those who don't", and I feel that this applies perfectly well to government bail-outs and stimulus packages. To take another quote, from Liverpool FC owner John Henry:

There seems to be this really daft suggestion that bail-outs only exist so that the heads of failing companies can keep their pockets lined and keep their bonuses at the end of the year.

It's not. The whole point of bail-outs is to try and stop or at least slow the free-fall of the economy and keep things from complete collapse. When the US government agrees to bail-out General Motors, it's because the collapse of GM will just maintain the snowballing landslide of companies going out of business. If GM collapses, then that's 200,000 people instantly unemployed, and any company that acts as a supplier to General Motors (probably a lot of companies) is almost certainly going to go bankrupt as well, because they'll rely on GM for a large portion of their revenue. The same goes for the UK government bailing out RBS - Northern Rock caused enough carnage when it went under, imagine what would happen if RBS (and NatWest, because they own that too) disappeared? These things have almost nothing to do with the companies themselves, and certainly don't have much to do with their CEOs, but are about keeping jobs and hundreds if not thousands of other businesses afloat.

Plus these bail-outs aren't completely lost money. Most of them are loans that are expected to be paid back at some point, or money given in return for a stake in the company that can later be sold off when it (presumably) becomes profitable enough to sell again. It's not like governments just throw money out the window on these sorts of things - it's just that nobody else can afford to do it, and it's seen as a responsibility of the government to look after its citizens and do stuff like this anyway.

Somewhat similarly to the student protests, the sorts of people that I find really depressing on these sorts of things are the people who don't really know much about what they're really protesting and are largely just bandwagon jumpers or people who enjoy being somewhat rebellious.

There are people who are protesting genuine socio-political issues in America. People protesting issues that genuinely cause the social divide, make living standards difficult for the poor, and which could be easily rectified (and in many cases already are rectified in plenty of other countries). Except these people are somewhat drowned out in a sea of idiots complaining that some people are too rich or that banks are evil or that the government doesn't know what it's doing or some other herp derp bullshit that doesn't really say much other than "some people have more money than I do and I don't like that".

Suddenly there's this social bandwagon of ripping on capitalism, or the media speculating that this crisis is the 'fall of capitalism', and even as a fairly socialist-leaning person I think that's total bullshit. The notion that OWS is some sort of protest against capitalism is the main reason I think it's a really stupid thing, and despite some people holding valid views at the protest it's not helped by the fact that some people at OWS rallies seem to genuinely think that's what it's all about.

Fundamentally people going to these sorts of things and protesting against capitalism are almost universally ignorant, hypocritical, or both. The capitalist system is the system that has provided such a high standard of living in the West over the last half a century, and the number of people who seem to be suddenly condemning it and cursing it because it's failed to provide the same standard of living to everybody in the last few years is just stupidly staggering.

A lot of this hate on banks, stock traders and capitalism is equivalent to hating on a man who has given you £100 every month for your entire life, just because they've refused to give you this any more. It's totally ungrateful and unappreciative of what market traders and capitalism has actually provided the western world with.

I do think it's bad that some people have extortionate amounts of money whilst other people struggle to just buy food and shelter, but at the same time I think it's extremely close-minded for westerns to bitch at the current situation given that the overwhelming majority of "the 99%" are still a shitload better off than most people living outside of the bubble of the first world. These people are claiming that they are being unfairly exploited by a group of people in their country, yet despite this they are still maintaining a standard of living far higher than people in the rest of the world, largely because of the exploitation of foreign countries by the US and the EU. The 99% still stand on wealth gathered by screwing over large portions of the rest of the world.

These sorts of complaints aren't what OWS is meant to be about, but it's what a large number of spoiled, ungrateful and stupid individuals seem to be trying to make it about. Heck, even some people who are somewhat closer to the mark than others are still creating lists of demands that are completely over the top and totally infeasible:

The original OWS is about egalitarianism, about how the best education, healthcare and company contacts are only available to the extremely wealthy, and regardless of talent or hard work it's almost impossible for the lower classes to break into that 1%. They're not about banks making lots of profit, or the core principles of capitalism and excessive consumerism being evil for society, or Facebook violating your privacy, or about how it sucks that people in Wall St still have jobs when your daddy just got laid off and you can no longer afford to have an iPhone 4S on release day. And I really hate that there seem to be enough idiots out there who are doing a decent job of turning it into all of the above.

1 comment:

  1. That "scholarship" still cost me a small fortune.