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Passing Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street, Part II

December 14th, 2011 by Inspector · 6 Comments · Uncategorized

Some more passing thoughts on OWS:

Their primary impetus seems to be that someone read Marx and told them that the rich are taking their wealth from the rest of us. This was untrue in the 19th century when it was written (excepting government-backed monopolies which were anti-capitalist, anyway). And it was a baffling confusion of capitalism and the feudal system. But, more to the point, it is patently ridiculous in this day and age. The problem is, the writings that these people are ultimately basing their complaints on predate the modern age of the welfare state and its progressive tax systems.

Don’t get me wrong – we need to abolish both as the immoral and impractical monsters that they are. But, since they are here, they do make the cookie-cutter Marxist complaints of OWS a bit of a poor fit. Not only don’t the rich steal their wealth from the rest of us, but they pay the largest share of the taxes in this country, by a wide margin. Both in terms of percentage of their income, and in absolute terms. Even accounting for people like Warren Buffet.

But let’s back up for a minute. Theirs is, on a much more fundamental level, a silly idea.

Not just wrong, but silly and childish, because anyone whose knowledge of economics consists of more than what-some-guy-who-once-read-Marx-told-them knows that wealth is something that is created. Created by men, that is, and not popped into existence in a magical pie that is simply “out there” for no reason which then gets “distributed” through some Byzantine process.

Wait, magical pie? Am I the one being silly? Then, what pray tell do they mean by their claims of “unjust distribution?”

As Thomas Sowell pointed out many years ago, a great many Leftists confuse the statistical term of “distribution;” i.e. the statistical frequency of occurance, such as that of wealth – with the other definitions of “distribution.” Specifically, the ones in which someone or something is actually doleing out quantities, as in a soup kitchen. This definitional error deliberate obfuscation of the English language is responsible for the Leftist call for “redistribution.” If wealth isn’t being created, earned, and exchanged, as it is in the real world, but rather “distributed,” (as if from a Magical Space Pie) then they can simply “re-distribute” it if they don’t like the outcome.

But of course this is the real world, and wealth is created, earned, and exchanged. The wealthy, in fact, generate wealth where there wasn’t any before. (excepting, of course, cheats, thieves, and lobbyists) It is not “distributed,” unless you are using the statistical definition. And the only way that the concept of “redistribution” makes any sense at all is if one believes in the Magic Space Pie (MSP) theory of economics.

There are other implications to the MSP theory, as well. For instance, Occupy Wall Street and their ideological forefather Marx would have you believe that if any given capitalist did not exist, then the MSP would have given the capitalist’s wealth (“distributed” it) to the poor, who would thus be better off.

The opposite is true: if that capitalist didn’t exist, his wealth wouldn’t either – or at least the vast majority of it wouldn’t have ever been generated. This is because that wealth didn’t come from a Pie. It came from the capitalist. If he were gone, the poor would be infinitely worse off, as without that wealth, there would be that many less jobs, and that much less competition for labor, so their wages would be lower, and their consumer goods more expensive or simply nonexistent. And, as I said before, the higher share of taxes that our hypothetical capitalist paid wouldn’t exist either, leaving those poor with an even worse government debt and tax burden.

And if you think I’m exaggerating, just look at their signs and stated grievances. For many of them, it is probably worse than even the MSP theory. All they know is that there are some people out there that have money, and other people that don’t. They don’t like this, and think there should be a forcible transfer.

That’s it.

There’s no concept whatsoever of who made that money. Just that, with no investigation into whether anyone deserves the money they have or not – whether they earned it, created it, stole it, or had the Magic Space Pie “distribute” it to them, OWS protestors are willing to say that it isn’t “fair” that some people have more of it than others. On stark, naked envy alone.

In truth, if their goal was to make things more *fair* in this country in terms of wealth and taxes, it would involve decreasing the taxes on the richest 1%, who pay a higher percentage for no reason other than being more productive, and *increasing* them on the roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of the population who don’t pay anything at all.

So they have it exactly backwards.

Ah, but what about the fact that the government did funnel money into AIG, Solyndra, the auto bailouts, and so on? Isn’t this an example of the rich getting rich by stealing their money?

Why, yes. In fact, it is.

But notice what I said, there: “The government did funnel money.” The government takes massive amounts of wealth and gives it out as bailouts. So these geniuses protest Wall Street. Not the government, who actually did it. The most horrendously anti-capitalist acts of Corporatist Cronyism in recent history are perpetrated, and their solution is to abolish capitalism; to give that same government more power and demand that it engage in more “redistribution.”

They’re so caught up in their erroneous worldview that they simply must blame corporations, and can’t blame the government, even though the government is painfully, obviously, at fault.

Then again, these are people whose economic theories essentially rely on Magical Pies. They’re going to be blind to a great many things, because their entire world view is full of dangerous nonsense. And not just any nonsense: self-reinforcing nonsense.

Ah, but that is a topic for another day.

6 Comments so far ↓

  • c andrew

    Inspector,

    I think that the Magical Space Pie is a good concretization of the magical thinking that is rampant on the left. In school, I used to argue with some die-hard communists – not in hopes of convincing them – but to short circuit their attempt at appealing to the masses.

    Their big argument against rich people was that “nobody should have that much economic power. They abuse it and people suffer.”

    My rejoinder was, “So you have a problem with an over-concentration of economic power. How does giving one institution a monopoly on economic power in addition to their already existing monopoly on political power mitigate your concerns?”

    But of course, to leftists, it’s all a-okay if the concentration of power is in the hands of a government whose policies they agree with. They apparently didn’t learn anything from Trotsky’s experience.

  • Inspector

    Oof, don’t get me started on the whole conflation-of-political-power-with-so-called-economic-power thing that the Left does.

    But of course, to leftists, it’s all a-okay if the concentration of power is in the hands of a government whose policies they agree with. They apparently didn’t learn anything from Trotsky’s experience.

    A good point, and one that I’m hoping to address in my upcoming follow-up piece about Leftist thinking. Their worldview of self-reinforcing-nonsense prevents them learning from receiving feedback from reality, no matter how dire and clear cut – and that includes history.

  • Jim May

    I’m surprised at how much commentary there is on OWS that doesn’t address the fact of envy.

    All this screaming about capitalist greed, without noticing that this alleged greed was just as present and active when times were good. But hardly anybody ever mentions greed then — let alone the distinction between greed for the earned versus greed for the unearned — which tends to follow from the real bugbear driving OWS: envy.

    It is pretty plain that envy is the issue, not “greed”. All this shackling and fettering (see how often people unselfconsciously decry “unfettered” capitalism — do these people even know what fetters actually are, and what they represent?) is what brought us to this pass, and anticapitalist envy is the emotional driver of it.

    OWS is an envygasm.

  • Jim May

    I include my own commentary in the above, as I myself only made the connection some time after my “Twenty-Five Tents” post.

  • Jim May

    Aaand on reread, I see Inspector did note “envy”. So if I’d read a bit more carefully I’d have seen that he beat me to the punch 🙂

  • Inspector

    Hehe.

    But notice how I have it, basically, as a small aside. I think it’s one of those issues that is so obvious, that I don’t feel fueled as a writer/advocate to address it.

    The other issue is that it is so tied up in their own morality, that it can feel like just calling them on hypocrisy. Which is often satisfying, but is tricky business.

    Take, for example, when Republicans chastise Al Gore for living in a mansion and flying around in jets. Yes, it is absolutely hypocritical with his environmentalist positions. But there’s not actually anything wrong with what he’s doing on a fundamental level, since his environmentalist positions are *wrong*. So when you call him on his hypocrisy, you do risk accepting his premises, or at least sounding like you do.

    Now when I say that it’s tricky, that isn’t to say that it can’t be done – if the proper care is exercised. So let me try that.

    I would say that most of them are indeed driven by a fairly naked envy. And in that sense, the emperor has no clothes, because as Jim notes, almost nobody is calling them on this. And I think that we can properly say that envy is indeed a vice. It is counter to the virtue of independence, because it is focused on the wealth of one’s neighbors, which shouldn’t be something that someone should be overly concerned with.

    And second, it is a desire for the unearned – indeed, a greed for the unearned.* Which is the sense in which greed can legitimately be called a vice. They’re the most openly greedy group of people in American politics, and not in the good way.

    Ultimately, this is just one more way in which The Left embodies the very things that they attack their opponents as. Their constant refrain is that their opponents are Fascists, greedy, cronyist fat cats, unscientific, ignorant, “closed minded,” going to screw over the little guy, warmongering, and antisocial. But THEY are Fascists. They are greedy, cronyist, and advocate policies that in fact screw over the little guy. They advocate junk science (including socialism, the ultimate junk science!), making them the ignorant ones. They are every bit as closed minded as their most fundamentalist biblical-literalist counterpart. Their society creates a war among the classes and is therefore the most antisocial of all. Leftist presidents have gotten America into more wars than anyone else.

    And so on. That is the very nature of the Left.

    So yes, good point Jim. Very good point.

    *At least, apart from the fact that some of the “wall street” that they oppose did receive government favors, but since they leave the government out of the blame for this, they’re ineffective in making this point and so we can safely ignore it when discussing the fundamentals of this movement.