A libertarian looks at Occupy Wall Street, part 3

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.

About Mark:
Mark is a computer programmer, website builder, photographer, and sometimes journalist in Chicago, where he also writes the long-running Windypundit blog.
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  1. bob l
    Posted November 29, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    A very logical digestion of an otherwise indigestible situation.

  2. socrat
    Posted December 1, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Wow your endurance in taking each line of the NYC Declaration is commendable. I commented on the NYC page for the Declaration but just did not think it would be good for my health to go thru each item because they are so filled with absolute untruths and nonsense. Over all the Declaration is a prime example of how uneducated people are today. Below I have put my comment from the Declaration page.

    “What an astounding bunch of nonsense this Declaration puts forth. And the comments of the people here only reflects the pathetic state of history education in this country. It is clearly a socialist propaganda that has nothing to do with our democracy. This fiasco did not occur because of Capitalism you dummies. It happened because of the monumental failure of Congress to represent the People and the failure of the People to exercise their right to vote. We are by far the freest nation in the world and the richest. We, the People, have failed ourselves in continuing to refuse to exercise our right to vote. We have done more damage to our democracy by failing to hold Congress to task. We continually re-elect the same corrupt politicians who are responsible for the unleashing of the banking system’s greed. The banks did it in the Depression and they did it again as soon as Congress allowed them to in 1999. The banks are very predictable, past behavior predicts future behavior. All of you had better get back to school and learn the history of the founding of this, the oldest, democratic republic. Start by reading the Constitution and then the Federalist Papers. It is not the economic system stupid it is the nature of power in government. This has always been the truth and always will be. The answer is not about scrapping Captialism, it is about keeping Congress under control by the people. The only solution is term limits and the only way for this to happen is to demand the States to use their power under the Constitution to call a Constitutional Convention. And do not give me that crap excuse for doing nothing that the States will not respond or that politicians will not respond. Demand that they respond – tolerate nothing less! You all should be occupying Washington and your State governments not Wall Street!”

  3. Posted December 1, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    I think part of the problem is that the folks at OWS can’t tell the difference between capitalism and crony capitalism. To be fair, that’s partly because crony capitalists try to pretend they’re honest capitalists who just want one little favor, you know, to “protect infant industry,” or “level the playing field,” or “prevent unfair competition,” or — and this is the one that brings the liberals on board — to provide subsidized services for the disadvantaged.

  4. Marty
    Posted December 3, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    good job pointing out that it comes down to the govt. as I study the fed, though, I feel this is a root cause of the grievances. Hopefully, this ‘end the fed’ movement picks up steam and the ows crowd joins it.

  5. JdL
    Posted December 13, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    As a society, we benefit from having a bankruptcy process.

    Disagree. A debt freely taken on by an individual should not be dischargeable by the wave of a legal hand, I believe. I do agree that it’s cruel and counterproductive to force someone to devote most of his income to discharging old debt(s), but would prefer to see those debts to remain “on the books”, to be whittled away over time, even if they can never be fully repaid.

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