Bailouts for Me, but Not for Thee: Occupy Wall Street Demonstrators Advocate Policies That Helped Create the Mess They're Protesting

By Welch, Matt | Reason, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Bailouts for Me, but Not for Thee: Occupy Wall Street Demonstrators Advocate Policies That Helped Create the Mess They're Protesting


Welch, Matt, Reason


ABOUT ONE WEEK before the Occupy Wall Street protests really started taking off nationwide, longtime consumer crusader and third-party perennial Ralph Nader enthused to reporter (and reason contributor) Michael Tracey that Rep. Run Paul (R-Texas) and the movement he spearheads represent a "foundational convergence" with the progressive left. "Libertarians like Run Paul are on our side on civil liberties," Nader told Tracey. "They're on our side against the military-industrial complex. They're on our side against Wall Street. They're on our side for investor rights.... It's not just itty-bitty stuff."

A couple of days later, Run Paul offered Tracey some qualified solidarity with the protesters in Lower Manhattan: "If they were demonstrating peacefully, and making a point, and arguing our case, and drawing attention to the Fed, I would say, 'Good!'" It seemed like the sporadic dream of a progressive-libertarian alliance was cycling back into the realm of possibility. Then protesters released their first official "Declaration."

"Corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth," the preamble read, "and ... no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments." Then came a Declaration of Independence-style list of grievances, one that replaced the be of the original (referring to King George) with a they, referring not to government officials but to the corporations for whom those officials allegedly work.

"They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farm-hag system through monopolization," the declaration stated in a list of 23 bullet points that mostly could have been cut and pasted from the Nader 2000 campaign or the anti-globalization protests of the late 1990s. "They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.... They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce"

The student loan complaint is worth pausing to consider, because it has taken a surprisingly central role in the Occupy brand of protests (which as of October 7 had spread to St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, and dozens of other cities). In a Tumblr page called "We Are the 99 Percent," displaying handwritten testimonials from demonstrators who have cleverly cast themselves as Main Street victims of a rampaging Wall Street, many posters listed as their chief grievance the fact that they are obliged to pay back loans they took out for college.

"We are blessed with 2 full time jobs but still pay on student loans 16 years after graduating" wrote one. "We live paycheck to paycheck and are one car repair away from missing our mortgage payment" Another said he wanted to become a science teacher, "but I'm shrouded in inflated student debts I didn't foresee." There was a 41-year-old MBA with $80,000 in student debt, a second-year college student who has racked up $20,000 in debt so far, the overeducated couple who probably won't be buying a house or having kids because of student loans, the public school teacher who lamented that "my kids owe a quarter of a million $ in student loans." As a fellow 99 percenter summed it up, "I did everything i was supposed to do: went to college, got good grades, participated in sports and clubs, graduated on time. 3 years later i have nothing to show for it."

To the extent that people were merely describing the grisly details of living through what has been the first- or second-lousiest economy since the Great Depression, most of us can empathize (even those of us who made the conscious decision to never incur student debt or buy a house).There is a growing body of economic literature suggesting that higher education is experiencing a price bubble at a time when the job market for graduates is more difficult than usual--though still exponentially better than that for nongraduates. …

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