A libertarian looks at Occupy Wall Street, part 4

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, and in Part 3 I delved into the List of Grievances. Today, I’m going to look at one particular grievance:

  • They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.

Here in the United States, I am one of the lowly 99%, but on a world-wide basis, I’m firmly in the top 1%.  The U.S. census considers a family of four to be poor if they earn less than $22,000 per year. That’s an average annual income per person of only $5500 per person. Yet on a world-wide basis, an income of $5500 is above the 85th percentile. Someone living at the U.S. poverty line is still living better than 85% of the people in the world. The United States is a very wealthy country, and even in the midst of the current economic crisis, we all benefit greatly just by living and working here.

So when an American corporation outsources its labor to the third world, they may be taking jobs away from an Americans, but they are also giving jobs to people in one of those poor countries. On the Occupy Wall Street homepage they proudly claim their internationalism, “The revolution continues worldwide!” Yet now they’re complaining that comparatively rich Americans are losing jobs to comparatively poor people in other countries.

It’s as if they think Americans are inherently more deserving of jobs than people in other countries, which is pretty bigoted for an international revolution. I wonder how their brethren in other countries feel about that? (Then again, looking at the Occupy Together Actions & Directory page, of the 489 actions listed, only 75 are taking place outside the U.S., and 22 of those are in Canada.)

There’s another problem with this grievance: It focuses entirely on people’s roles as workers but completely ignores their role as consumers. When manufacturers reduce their production costs, they don’t get to pocket all the money they save. They’re in competition with other suppliers of competing goods, and those suppliers are also cutting costs. In a free market, competitive pressure will force them to pass on nearly all the savings to consumers.

(Even the Occupy Wall Street types implicitly acknowledge this whenever they complain that big-box stores like Walmart drive smaller stores out of business. The other stores go out of business because they can’t match the low prices.)

We don’t work at jobs because we want money. We work at jobs because we want the stuff that money can buy. We like getting a raise because that means we can buy more stuff, but we can also buy more stuff when the prices go down. That’s just two different ways of looking at the same productivity growth. Looking at only one side of the equation distorts the Occupiers’ view of economic progress.

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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