“Make Something”

November 16th, 2011

Marcelo Somers:

Occupy Wall Street (and all the associated movements) completely defies what is amazing about today. I hate it because it’s sending young people every wrong message. Instead of inspiring the youth of today to create amazing things that add value to the world, it’s inspiring them to complain.

That captures my problem with these protests: there’s nothing productive about them. They’re filled with complaints, but no substantive ideas for how to improve things. It’s long on “There’s no future, there’s no future for you,” and short on making things better.

There’s certainly reason to be frustrated. We’re in the middle of a transition between two very different economic ages, and what worked in the last one—getting a college degree, almost any degree at all—is no longer sufficient for success. And, on top of that, we have an ineffective political system that can’t solve big problems, like our long-term fiscal crisis, let alone more every-day issues; we had a terrible financial crisis that resulted in a steep recession, while companies that should have lost it all were given tens of billions of dollars to weather the crisis; still, three years after that crisis, unemployment is dangerously high and shows little hope of improving; and this recession has laid bare economic inequality that makes the recession’s pain feel even greater, because comparatively, the well-off are doing alright.1

Yes, there’s good reason to be frustrated. But what Marcelo’s arguing is that, while we are in an absolutely terrible recession that’s been made worse by a confluence of factors, we are also in a time of incredible opportunity. This transition will be difficult, like all transitions, but it will also open up great opportunities—for the people who are willing to see them and to take advantage of them.

The Occupy movement isn’t interested in that, unfortunately—at least in the broad strokes of the movement. What it’s been interested in thus far is vilifying the well-off as the cause of our economic troubles, insinuating that they profited from the financial crisis and the ruin of everyone else, and it’s all of us against them. That’s an easy story to paint, but it’s not accurate, nor is it productive. How can we make good policy aimed at restoring our finances and getting our economy back on track when the movement’s thrust is anger at the well-off? Good policy does not result from misguided anger. It results from a lucid understanding of the situation, what caused it, and what can be done. Making the well-off pay penance for their perceived crimes is not good policy. It’s the satisfaction of anger and frustration, fleeting satisfaction that does nothing to solve the actual problem.

The movement, if it is going to have any positive impact, has to recognize that. It needs to begin contributing well-conceived ideas for how to make things better, rather than anger and divisiveness. They need to move beyond it, and contribute. Because as it is, it’s going no where.

  1. The much-derided “one percent” were particularly hard hit by the 2008 crisis and recession, actually, but it is a historically bad recession, and the poor and middle class have been hit the worst—simply because they have less to lose. []