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Columns October 8, 2011 //  by  // 34 Comments

Occupy Wall Street movement lacks substance

With news of the “Occupy” movements bubbling up everywhere, from Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Houston, I decided to take a trip through cyberspace to see what it was all about. I initially had hopes that the protests would call to specific attention the dangerous and corrupt symbiosis between the Federal Reserve and the banking industry and maybe even to the destructive fusing of political objectives like “affordable housing” with complex financial engineering. But what I found was, well, disappointing.

The most striking aspect of the movement’s call to action is its extreme vagueness. The word most commonly used is “solidarity,” so one would think that if the movement was about unity of purpose one could figure out what the purpose is. The best they could come up with is a lofty goal to “end corporate corruption of democracy.”

This sounds good, but it hardly means anything. It certainly isn’t a firm principle on which people can come together and agree on a solution.

The first official press release from Occupy Wall Street repeatedly amalgamates “corporations” into a fictitious and homogeneous group that “extracts wealth from the people and the Earth.” But these sorts of blanket statements are patently outrageous.

For example, Corporations like Apple did not extract wealth from people. It created wealth by taking inputs worth a given amount and producing an output that was worth far more. In their pursuit of profit, Apple revolutionized the computer and telephone industry and even made it possible for many of the Occupy protesters to organize and send and receive information in millionths of a second. Although the profits made by many large banks and military-industrial providers are a different matter altogether, the Occupy movement doesn’t seem to get the difference. If they do, they aren’t ones for clarity.

The movement seems to mimic the long-held mantra of the typical Ralph Nader crowd who, for all their good intentions, can’t seem to understand that big government and big corporations are inevitably linked. For all their activism for a stronger government that “protects” its citizens, they have been rewarded with an apparatus more capable and conducive to corruption and swindle than before.

What these utopian dreamers repeatedly fail to understand is that it is not corporations that are the problem; it is the leviathan that enforces its demands upon the people. Government has long been the tool of choice for scrupulous business owners to gain an unfair advantage over competition and to fleece its customers. This is all the more reason to limit the size and scope of government. Unfortunately, the protestors continue to ignore the venerable canon that a government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have.

The collectivists and progressives who have sought to empower the state through “democracy” in order to protect people from business interests have simply made it easier for business to promote its interests through force, while simultaneously disguising it as being in the public interest. Along the way they have created such an absurd maze of rules, regulations, and complex, unaccountable institutions that small potential competitors and citizens are essentially hamstrung by their inability to do business economically without having a huge capital base.

It is extremely disheartening to see a movement that could have drawn serious attention to the rotten synergy between the governmental monetary power and the banking industry instead descend into a Portland-esque indiscriminate attack on profit and wealth creation.

The Occupy movement has, thus far, proven itself to come from a place of ignorance, not of understanding. Hopefully it can wise up, shed the Marxists from its midst, and realize that smaller government and truly free markets and free enterprise are the solution, not the enemy.

Steven Christopher is an economics alumnus and graduate finance student in the C.T. Bauer College of Business and may be reached at opinion@thedailycougar.com.


  • Jenneth

    *clicks link*

    *sees the term "cyberspace"*

    *clicks back button*

  • Oliver

    "Extracts wealth from the people and the earth" may be a blanket statement, but it accurately describes all corporations. They are required by law to maximize profit for their shareholders – when a corporations board has a decision to make, that is always the goal. You are a graduate finance student, so you have another word for extracting wealth from people and the earth – externalizing.

    corporations like Apple use "inputs" like child laborers and workers exposed to H-Nexane, a toxic poison that causes muscle degeneration. If human health is one of Apples inputs, that it seems they are extracting wealth from people, would you agree? Care to try this with any other corporations?

    The solution isn't to make government smaller and it's also not to make government bigger. If you had booked an extra couple minutes on your "trip through cyberspace," you may have seen that protesters are calling for an economy that isn't based on growth. An economy that doesn't focus on GDP, but the well-being of people. What do you think the economy is for anyway?

  • Rational

    Finally someone, the author, who understands the ties between corps and government, well said. An economy that is not based on growth is an economy that will die. The well being of people is also tied to a growing economy to provide jobs (income and purchasing, medical needs, transportation) for without this people will eventually live in caves since no one is any longer producing the financial means to pay for the well being of the people or the size and employess of the government.

  • Rational

    Finally someone, the author, who understands the ties between corps and government, well said. An economy that is not based on growth is an economy that will die. The well being of people is also tied to a growing economy to provide jobs (income and purchasing, medical needs, transportation) for without this people will eventually live in caves since no one is any longer producing the financial means to pay for the well being of the people or the size and employess of the government.

    • Silverrocket

      If growth is a prerequisite to an economy, then we are indeed in deep, deep trouble my friend…if only because we live on a finite planet. I might suggest that we try to anticipate this at least a LITTLE. I guess wars could knock things back down a bit so that we could start the whole thing over again. Unless of course, we've made the planet unlivable by that point….and yes, I do have a good paying job, have multiple degrees, and pay taxes out the ass.

  • Andrea Passaglia
  • Rob

    The author… maybe you should write about iphones or something you are smart enough to comprehend.

  • Sam

    An economy that is focused on the well-being of the people can and will still grow. It's people over profits, not people instead of profits. Capitalism can still progress, but the people who ultimately fuel the capitalist system as producers and consumers will no longer tolerate, permit, or enable that progress to destroy them. There is no good reason companies can't continue to pursue profits as a secondary priority, while making their primary priority the protection of the people and the planet. And there are thousands of good reasons why they can't continue allowing shortsighted mindless greed to guide their actions. People first, profits second!

  • Richard H

    "Whatever?"

    Whatever.

  • Richard H

    "Whatever?"

    Whatever.

  • Raf

    A "journalist" who investigates in cyberspace. What an absolute hack. 1% of the people on our country owns 40% of the wealth, 20% owns 80%, bottom 50% owns less than 5%. Since 1979, the income of the top 1% increased by 289%, average worker 16%. I wonder what this could be about? WE ARE THE 99%.

    • spanky

      get an education and improve your lot in live.

      stop your bitching and moaning!

  • Hal

    Steven, you're a joke buddy. Your column is written from such a blindly biased and non-constructive bubble that it cant be taken serious by anyone who matters. Are your articles just put out there to try and spark controversy? Your so called "column" lacks substance, logic, and credible references. Its pieces like like this that keep alumni like me from giving back to the University of Houston. Its obvious your trying to make a name for yourself by being the mouthpiece for all those oil multinational corps that reside in that region of the Texas. C'mon now, I understand its an opinion piece but is it really necessary to always write from a bubble?

  • Bauer Alum

    How does one enforce "people over profits"? For the owner(s) of a corporation, what is the incentive that would drive a mindset like that? And what consumer would pay the extra costs of implementing a mindset like that? Would you be willing to pay an extra $5 for a combo meal at Burger King if that franchise owner paid their employees a living wage (say $20/hr)? Of course not. Almost no one would. That Burger King would be out of business in no time while the franchise owner down the street who pays minimum wage laughs all the way to the bank.

    The concept of "people over profits" sounds great. But I don't think there are many people will pay for it. Consumers (the 99%) care more about their cash than they do about someone else's living wage.

    • silverrocket

      just go take a look at the German's economy…and they have strong financial regulations, strong environmental protections and typically good benefits…hmmmm…naw, we gotta strip government to the bones, and let the goons run roughshaw over the planet and the people. If it isn't clear WHY we have the problems and you are simply "anti-government" then you have made no effort to look at the last 50 years between the Depression and the early 80's, or you don't WANT to. If government has been the problem, how has the economy survived during environmental regulation and taxes typically running around 40%, and up to 90% for corporations? Explaining this is getting old, and it has become clear to me that people just don't WANT to see the facts. I'm done explaining, I;m done attempting to state the obvious. I'm done paying higher tax percentages that Buffett, and I'm going to the streets. SEE YA!

      • Bauer Alum

        Germany is a state in an economic union. So comparing it to the US is akin to comparing North Dakota to the EU. Germany has benefited greatly from its currency (euro) being devalued by the PIIGS (which all put people ahead of profits). This devaluation has made its exports artificially cheap. If Germany had its own currency, its exports would increase in price by 10 to 30 percent, putting a significant dent in its economy. But even in its EU utopia of devalued currency, Germany is about to have to bail out the PIIGS, and face the consequences of people before profits economics.

        Sure, there are lessons that can be learned from Germany, but comparing Germany to the US isn't fair. If you want to compare the US to the EU, then I'm all ears.

        • Bauer Alum

          And as for the 30's thru the 80's: That depression thing in the 30's was awesome for the working class. The 40's; global war is pretty fun, I suppose, unless you died. But hey, blowing up, firebombing, or nuking every manufacturing base in the world, except ours, is a great way to ensure economic superiority for the next couple of decades. Except for the economic malaise that still occurred in the 50's. And the social strife of the 60's with university students being shot by national guardsmen, I hear that was fun. But the 70's, with the stagflation, oh boy, that was great. Please bring those good times back.

          While the 80's, 90's, and early 20k's weren't perfect, they seem pretty nice by comparison.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000265288602 Alex Colvin

      A Burger King worker making $20/ hour could — I hope– afford a $10.00 hamburger, certainly his customer could. This is difficult math for you? Here's a formula: 20×40 = 800./wk X 4 =2400/ mo. Yes, if he scrimps, he can buy a Supersized Whopper meal –(less his employee discount.) I'm sure people making 2400/mo occasionally throw caution to the wind and buy a $10.00 meal. As for people over profits being bad, try earning profits without a workforce. See how that works out. Whole civilizations have gone extinct in the name of greed. One has but to look at what wrecked the Mayan culture, for example. Learn the lesson, or do nothing and go the way of the Mayan. They exhausted their workforce, while exhausting their natural resources. Sound familiar? Or more closer to home…Detroit. Archeologists already know that "conspicuous consumption" was the leading cause of the Mayan collapse. So, keep up the greediness; our frequent use point will be our undoing.

  • Ben

    Here's a hint, don't use scare quotes for anything if you want to be a real journalist… It makes you look like a sarcastic fuckwit.

  • Tim

    This author's dim view on the occupation is probably best explained by Albert Einstein, who once wrote, "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly."

  • Chucky

    Totally agree….private ownership of the Federal Reserve by bankers is the most serious root of corruption & abuse of wealth by the top 1%. Folks need to read more in order to comprehend who holds the power & is abusing it. Apparently few people know that the Federal Reserve Bank is privately owned (not owned or operated by the US Gov't),. Of those who know that it's privately owned, far fewer can connect the dots and understand what private ownership & private control of our money supply by shysters since 1913 adds up to.

  • Brian Dear

    As a former Cougar and current entrepreneur with an education web startup based in Shanghai, I couldn't agree more with the author. What these Marxist nostalgists who are protesting (and some of the commenters on this column) fail to realize is that putting people before profits is absolute nonsense. When the guy down the street who sells me a bag of rice starts giving it to me at his cost instead of at a profit, then the economy collapses. Why the heck would he wake up at 6am every day to sell rice if he was not going to be better off at the end of the day?

    Innovation is driven by the hope for success. I find it nearly hilarious that people complaining about profits are typing those same sentiments on a computer — an invention that never would be in our living rooms without some guy(s) taking a chance. In my current company, I'm making no profit and financing our development out of my own pocket while I work as a teacher to pay the bills. If I was just doing it for the "good of the people," there's no way I'd sleep 3 hours per night so I could stay up late writing code to make our product something that could make life better. There's no way I'd pay the contractors who help me with the CSS, UI design or pay Heroku for hosting or pay Apple for computers if I didn't have the hope that I would make a profit. I would just teach my students and let our innovations simply die on the vine. Multiply that across an entire economy and we'd be struggling to find seeds to plant for food or fibers with which to make clothes.

    Perhaps these protesters ought to cancel their Facebook, Twitter and Google accounts. Those products wouldn't exist if there were "people over profits." Go sit naked around a fire someplace and fight over dead raccoons instead — that's we're we'd be without profits.

    Innovation requires a profit motive. There's no way anyone would risk their home, their finances, food in their kids mouths to create anything if they were thinking people over profits. My own personal profit motive is currently supporting 2 developers, 1 designer as well as marginal jobs for the vendors we're using for services. You take away my motivation: profit and that's 3+ people who are no longer making any money. And, 3+ people who aren't eating out at restaurants, buying things, thus leading to even more people without a means to support themselves.

    The Soviets (and Chinese) tried that "people first" idea and it resulted in a dying economy featuring starvation, famine and life reduced to almost primitive, survival levels. The Soviets collapsed and the Chinese are quickly becoming a significant profit center in the world economy. The Chinese are light-years better off now than they were 50 years ago — because of profits.

  • workingwoman66

    While the current Occupy movement may seem disingenous to those who research only sites agreeable to their pre-conceived opinions, I suggest reviewing the beginnings of the civil rights movements, the women's rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, and the gay rights movement. I've been there and I have a 35-year old t-shirt, 47 years of working, and, at 66 am still working. Already, issues are coalescing, and Keith Olberman's site presents one of the earliest summaries of the movement's demands.

  • Nick

    Work will set you free.

    • Nick

      I was being sincere. It will set you free.

  • Nick

    Work will set you free.

    • Eduardo

      That's quiet offensive. "Arbeit macht frei" was the German phrase that was inscribed in the heads of those that were kept in German concentration camps during the holocaust. It was a lie then.

      If you actually meant this and were bring sincere then I suggest you actually educate yourself on history as any student who's taken 8th grade US history knows that what this phrase means.

      • Yosef

        Perhaps it was satire.

  • Alex

    You may recall A. Jackson, and his issue with a corrupt banking stystem and its influence in politics. . It was hardly a a notion to be considerd as sounding "… good, but it hardly means anything." It was an issue then, and is today. For those of us who watch the news, you will recall that leaders of the NY (orginal) protest just recently received their 501 (c) (3) staus from the IRS and, to millions of vewers on camera, admitted it will take strong leaders to help focus and direct their contiued efforts. IOW, they know they need focus. But besides that, the movement is just, fair, and, by God, timely.

  • Annie

    Steven,

    I know all about corruption in the government, the federal reserve, the NWO, and such, but if you take someone who has been asleep into the cold waters of truth they will go into shock. What's important is that people discuss the issues and educate the waking ones so we can stand united against the tyranny in Washington, Wallstreet, and globally.

  • Jared

    "I initially had hopes that the protests would call to specific attention the dangerous and corrupt symbiosis between the Federal Reserve and the banking industry…"

    Actually, this past Saturday the Occupy Houston group tried to rally in front of the Federal Reserve Building on Allen Parkway, but the police shut them down. You should do better research.

  • Samuel Pena

    See… its not the Government that is the problem its the people that can't understand how things work. The Reason he searched cyberspace is because that is what the common person is talking about and blogging about and if they don't fully understand how everything works (this can be seen through their broad generalizations) then how can the average person be taken seriously by the government. The average person in their eyes is ignorant, and has to sense of democracy other than to vote for American Idol. The average person to them is someone who is easily persuaded and they use the ignorant American voters to get re-elected and promise them welfare and Obamacare and that voter is too ignorant to realize where all the money and all the politics to coming from, all they care about is their benefiting from it, and before you know it they want bigger government and more stuff because all they think of it, is how they are benefiting from it and not how much it is hurting us as a whole and in the future.

  • Bauer Alum

    If I say that we should blame the people who took out mortgages they couldn't afford as much as we blame the bankers (2 stupid parties to a stupid transaction), the occupy folks will talk about how the people shouldn't be blamed because they aren't as financially literate as the wall streeters.

    But then 2 minutes later, the occupy folks will claim that the people are smart enough to know what needs to fixed.

    Please pick a side. Either the people are smart, and therefore as much to blame as the bankers, or they are innocent ignorants and should rightfully be ignored by the powers that be. But they can't be ignorant victims yet smart enough to have the solutions.

    • John

      These aren't mutually exclusive.

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