Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Be a Good Republican and Support Occupy Wall Street

Are you one of the many good, decent hardworking Americans who are registered members of the Republican Party and who view the Occupy Wall Street folks very negatively? If so, I'm guessing you believe that the OWS protesters are freeloaders who expect others to pay for their own foolish decisions, and who begrudge the higher standard of living enjoyed by people who work harder and smarter than others. The reason you joined the Republican Party is no doubt because it opposes such freeloader thinking and champions the contrary view that people should take responsibility for their own lives and work to earn what they desire to possess.

I don't intend to argue with you about your values. In fact, I agree that freeloading is wrong and that people should take responsibility for their own lives and work to earn what they desire to possess. I merely want to say why someone with those values would want to support the OWS movement, and why Republican leaders who condemn OWS only pretend to share your values.

The OWS movement says that the growing economic inequality in America, and the huge power and wealth concentrated in the 1% of the very wealthy, especially bankers like Goldman Sachs, is wrong. Are they right or wrong? Well, if they are taking the side of freeloaders, then they are wrong. But if they are complaining about freeloaders getting away with it, then they are right. Which is it?

Are the real freeloaders in America the people in OWS, or people like the Goldman Sachs bankers? Financial analyst,  Daniel Amerman aptly captures the essence of the immediate cause of the recent financial crisis as, "near criminal insanity of investment bankers writing themselves massive bonus checks for effectively standing in a circle and making promises to each other that none of them have ever had the capital to back up." [http://danielamerman.com/articles/2011/QuickEuroA.html]  is what the bankers' trading in derivatives and credit default swaps (CDS) and all of the other arcane shenanigans was all about.

Financial analyst, Clive Maund, CFA, describes what the bankers did this way:

"[T]he hopeless economic mess that we find ourselves in today is the direct result of the ballooning of debt and derivatives over many years by opportunistic and irresponsible banks and other companies in the financial sector, with the support and collusion of cronies in government and throughout the business community, with the result that the debt and derivative mountains have grown to such monstrous proportions that they are bringing the world economy to a dead stop, verging on collapse. The banks and financial sector companies are on the hook for massive losses and after years of garnering huge profits from deals associated with this debt pyramiding, are now scrambling to push all of their snowballing bad debts onto the ordinary citizen. They have already succeeded in doing this in 2008 - 2009 in the US with their 'too big to fail' mantra and to put it crudely, the average US citizen has been well and truly shafted..." [http://www.clivemaund.com/gmu.php?art_id=68&date=2011-12-04]
By getting the government to bail them out of their bad debts, the bankers did what the OWS folks are accused of: "expect others to pay for their own foolish decisions." And boy did they! The combined Bush and Obama bailouts were estimated in July 2009 by Neil Barofsky, Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, at $23.7 trillion dollars. The audacity of this mother of all freeloading is made even more evident by the fact that there was never any justification for it except the bankers' greed. As Dave Stratman writes,

"But weren’t these bailouts and the consequent austerity programs necessary? The answer is no. The gigantic bailouts were only necessary, explains John Hussman, President of Hussman Investment Trust, because Bernanke and Geithner and their backers in Congress chose to protect the bondholders of the “too big to fail” institutions rather than the public. The usual—and legally required—way of dealing with failed banks is to fire and replace their management, use their shareholders’ and bondholders’ capital to correct their balance sheet, and sell the bank's good debts to a solvent institution. This is the method used recently in the case of Washington Mutual, the largest bank failure in U.S. history, and hundreds of other cases. Neither depositors nor taxpayers lose a penny in this process. Hussman points out that the bonds backing the “TBTF” banks in question represent more than enough capital to restructure the bank balance sheets and discharge the toxic debt."
Republicans, of course, respect people who work harder and smarter and they do not begrudge such people the fruits of their honest labor, even if those fruits are very substantial indeed. But the bankers taking home their multimillion dollar bonuses were not doing honest work. I don't think good Republicans like yourself have in mind con artists and swindlers when they speak of working harder and smarter, do they? There is no justification for these bankers living in extreme luxury enjoying a life style ordinary working people can only dream of. They did not deserve to receive the bonuses and bailouts. This is why they are rightly called freeloaders.

But what about the OWS folks who are complaining about having mortgages greater than the value of their home, or about having their home repossessed by the bank? What about the OWS youngsters complaining about having crippling debts of sixty thousand dollars or more as the price of a college education in a society that does not offer them a decent-paying job? Does their wanting some relief from these debts make them freeloaders too? Well, as in the case of the bankers, the answer to this question depends on whether they deserve to have what they are asking for.

Do working class people who work 40 hours a week and often more to produce the wealth of our society deserve to have decent homes to live in? Do students who study at a college and earn good grades and graduate with a degree in order to be better educated and better able to contribute to our society deserve to receive such an education without having to go deep into debt? Do people who contribute their fair share towards producing the wealth that, as a complex society, we produce together, deserve to enjoy the benefits of what they help produce?

Republicans support the military, so let's answer the above questions by considering how they are addressed inside our military forces. Soldiers are expected to do various things, including learn new skills. But when they do what is expected, they are not required to go deep into debt to pay for their housing and education. Why should this same principle not apply to civilians? The principle is, "From each according to ability, to each according to need." This idea comes from the Bible. "Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostle's feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need" (Acts, 4:43-35). It is an anti-freeloading principle because it requires "from each according to ability." This is a very reasonable and just principle. The OWS folks are simply asking that it be applied to everybody.

What about the idea that people should take responsibility for their own lives? We've seen how the bankers, on the contrary, have demanded that the public take responsibility for their lives by paying for their undeserved lives of extreme luxury, but what about the OWS folks? There is nothing about the concept, "taking responsibility for one's own life," that excludes cooperating with others to do it, is there? When people join together to right the wrongs of society, isn't that a valid way of "taking responsibility for one's own life"? When people form an army to take responsibility for making their own lives secure against an enemy threat, aren't they "taking responsibility for their own lives?" The OWS folks have joined together to right some terrible wrongs in our society. They have succeeded in placing the wrongfulness of growing economic inequality and concentrated power in the hands of bankers and the very rich on the public agenda, something that nobody before them came even close to accomplishing. If this isn't an example of "taking responsibility for one's own life" then what, pray tell, is?

In all of the above I have been addressing the concerns of good Republicans, by which I mean Republicans who take seriously the values that the Republican Party claims to champion. But there are bad Republicans too. These are Republicans who only pretend to champion the Party's stated values. Bad Republicans are in the leadership of the GOP. The reason they condemn the OWS movement is not because it goes against the values of good Republicans, but because it exemplifies them. Bad Republicans actually support freeloading when it is done by the very rich. I urge you, because you are a good Republican, to support the Occupy Wall Street movement. I also urge you to read "Thinking about Revolution" and ask yourself if the values it espouses are not really much closer to your values than those of the richest 1% whom your GOP leaders support.