Wall Street Protesters Need to Clarify Their Goals

Tuesday, 18 Oct 2011 09:29 AM

By Herbert London

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The Wall Street demonstrators have managed to capture the attention of people across the globe. For some, this is the Arab Street transplanted to the USA. For others, it is the anti-capitalist sentiment exemplified by the Obama administration.

However, for me it is seizing the moment to create the Woodstock nation in the mind of an adolescent generation.

This cri de coeur, this outpouring of emotion about greed and exploitation, is a rant against transgressive behavior. What these demonstrators invariably say is that Wall Street financiers are greedy. Too bad these occupiers of Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan never read Adam Smith who argued that greed in the aggregate can have a healthy effect on the economy.

The venting yields even greater fatuous solutions, if that is possible. “We want to change the system,” say the demonstrators. Which system they decry is not clear, not is there a strategy for making that happen.

Is it the free market they oppose? Or is it income disparity? Is it the lack of opportunity or high-paying jobs? Is the entire demonstration a form of puerile Marxism or is there a foundational position at the core of the demonstrations?

A rabbi, I encountered, said it is hypocritical for me to denounce these demonstrators when I haven’t denounced the tea party. Unfortunately, the rabbi seems incapable of appropriate distinctions.

I asked him if he distinguishes between the American and Russian revolutions; if one is more desirable than the other. “Of course,” he noted, “I prefer the American Revolution.” “Then, using your logic, you must be a hypocrite,” I responded.

Alas, the demonstration near Wall Street hasn’t any real focus. It is a display of unhappiness. What the young adherents seem to be saying is life is unfair. By contrast, the tea party has a specific gripe and a specific method for addressing it.

Tea partyers believe that our government has become too large and intrusive. It is their belief that expenditures must be cut to ensure our future. You may agree or disagree with this posture, but it is precise and subject to evaluation.

How is someone supposed to respond to unfairness or sin? Will a new Ten Commandments emerge from the arch in Washington Square Park?

Weather conditions in New York have cooperated with the demonstrators. But wintry conditions are a month or two away. Will the demonstrators remain as devoted to their cause when snow is on the ground? Moreover, how does one remain devoted when positions are unfocused?

One member of the Zuccotti Park occupiers said he left his construction job in Pennsylvania to lend his support to the demonstrators who are clamoring for more jobs. Somewhat confused by this comment, I said, “You are leaving your job to protest for more jobs.” “Don’t you see an inconsistency here?” He didn’t. Being part of the action is what he wants. I suspect he is not alone.

This is a huge, live burlesque show with kids craving attention and getting it from pandering adults. One cop said, “Let them have their fun.” Unfortunately, fun for them isn’t fun for those who live and work in the Wall Street area.

But nature addresses demonstrators of this kind: Winter is coming and the parks aren’t exactly an ideal spot in which to demonstrate when the temperatures approach zero. God is in his heaven and he doesn’t appreciate those who engage in disruption for its own sake.

Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book "Decline and Revival in Higher Education" (Transaction Publishers).






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