Posted by: bkivey | 29 November 2011

A (Very) Little Sympathy for OWS

In a conversation with a colleague he mentioned that he knew a retired couple who had returned to the workforce because the economic crises had essentially wiped out their savings. So a couple of jobs that might have gone to younger workers were filled by people who had returned to work. I hadn’t considered that ramification, but multiplied by tens or hundreds of thousands, and magnified by the shrinking job market, it’s easy to see how folks in their twenties might resent the current situation. The social compact has been that the opportunity for upward mobility exists because jobs for younger workers would be available as older workers retired. Now large numbers of people are finding those opportunities blocked as older workers can’t afford to retire or return to the workforce. Someone just out of school isn’t going to be able to compete with a person with decades of experience willing to work for the same wage, and, if anecdotal evidence is correct, is a better worker.

That said, OWS is a tremendous display of wasted energy. In the first place, they’re protesting the wrong people. It wasn’t ‘the rich’ that created the policies that put us where we are now. The economic permissiveness of a society is shaped by government. There is an argument that while the US may in theory be a republic, it is in practice an oligarchy, as wealthy individuals and corporate interests contribute the money that gets candidates elected. One can hardly blame people for looking out for their own interests, and while politicians might demonize ‘the rich’ on the one hand, they’re quick to accept their money with the other. Perhaps OWS should take a closer look at funding sources for politicians that are always talking about ‘helping the working class’.

While it’s  true that over the last several years the economic pie has shrunk, the OWS solution is to eject people from the table, rather than look at ways to expand the pie. Far too many people believe that if a particular individual has a large amount of money, that somehow limits opportunities for others. It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference how much money one or several individuals may have; those people aren’t keeping tabs on everyone else and denying them opportunity.  If one looks at just about any given field, most of the barriers to entry, assuming one has the necessary education, are in the form of government requirements. For example, where I live, someone offering handyman services must be licensed with the state Board of Contractors and be bonded and insured. So someone with a truck, tools, and years of experience cannot legally offer their services without spending thousands of dollars on state requirements. The theory is that the requirements protect the consumer, and in some cases that’s true, but they also prevent honest, competent people from working.

It seems that a better use of the OWS energy would be to assess their skills and abilities in light of the current economic reality. If there are no jobs to be had, why not get together with others and start a business? Looking to government for redress is a two-edged sword of failure, as government is largely responsible for the current situation, and government can’t create wealth, only redistribute it. Of course, if your objective is to get by with the least effort possible, then OWS makes perfect sense.


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