I’ve been taking a look at the Occupy Wall Street movement. In Part 1 I just rambled on a bit about the movement, then in Part 2 I started to take a look at the official Declaration of the Occupation of New York City. That document includes a lengthy List of Grievances, and today I’m going to look at the first few of them.
- They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
I’m pretty sure this is completely true. And it’s a perfectly reasonable legal tactic for someone about to lose their home to point out that the corporate entity that initiated foreclosure proceedings doesn’t actually have all the required paperwork. There’s nothing wrong with making the banks untangle the confusion they caused. But it’s an oddly technical point with which to launch a list of grievances.
- They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
The way I see it, it’s the federal government that took the money from the taxpayers, it’s the federal government that gave it to the banks with impunity, and it’s the federal government that didn’t specify limits to executive compensation.
There are also three things to keep in mind about those bonuses: (1) The amounts involved are usually relatively small compared to the bailout itself. (2) Just because it’s called a “bonus,” doesn’t mean it isn’t a regular, agreed-upon part of their executive compensation structure. (3) Just because the company overall is doing poorly, doesn’t mean some of the executives didn’t do an excellent job with their divisions.
- They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
Discrimination sure hasn’t been eliminated, if that’s what this means. Wall Street is hardly the only culprit. (And I’ll bet the top 1% are a lot less racist than the bottom 10%, largely due to the effects of education.)
- They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
I don’t know enough about agriculture to address this one, although I suspect that most agricultural monopolies are government-created.
- They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
Probably true, if they’re referring to using animals for product testing.
- They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
Corporations have no ability whatsoever to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions. Employees can always quit or use the threat of quitting to pressure their employers into giving them what they want. Of course, as in any negotiation, they might find themselves agreeing to less than they’d hoped for. Employees have a right to negotiate, but they don’t have a right to win every negotiation.
I assume that the authors of this declaration are really talking about collective negotiation — i.e. unions. I’m not convinced that the decline in unionization represents anything other than a failure of unions to provide value to employees in the modern economy.
- They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
There’s a lot wrong with that statement. For one thing, the idea that education is a human right might make sense if you’re talking about basic literacy, but it’s absurd to elevate a degree in French Literature or the Performing Arts to the level of a basic human right.
Also, they left out the part where the students knowingly and willingly took on that debt. They took other people’s money, which those people made available with the understanding that the students would pay it back, they then spent the money on a semi-worthless degree, and now they’re trying to back out of their promise to pay the money back. It’s like going into a restaurant, ordering and eating the lobster dinner, and then complaining that it’s unfair to make you pay because food is a basic human right.
That said, it’s important to note that student loans — unlike almost all other debts — are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.
As a society, we benefit from having a bankruptcy process. It does us no good to have people saddled with debts they can never repay. Being deep in debt, they have little incentive to become productive members of society, since the benefits of their productivity will go almost entirely to their creditors. On the other hand, since their creditors aren’t going to get paid anyway, it does little harm to have a bankruptcy court wipe out the debt. The creditors still don’t get paid, but at least the debtor is encouraged to re-enter productive life. There’s nothing about student loans that changes this logic, so I fully support revising the law so that student debts are once again discharegeable through bankruptcy.
That’s about it for now. Next time, I’ll start with the grievance that reveals Occupy Wall Street’s bigoted streak.
Mark is a computer programmer, website builder, photographer, and sometimes journalist in Chicago, where he also writes the long-running Windypundit blog.