Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Look, The OWS People Have A Point, But...

Update: Matt Zwolinski does a better job of explaining the same point.

As previously noted, I tend to vacillate between sympathizing with the OWS protests and just being tired unto death of the entire bloody thing. I feel compelled, however, to respond to Jason Thibeault's assertion that science lends all necessary clarity to the OWS protesters' position. Science (or stats, really) does amply demonstrate that there's a whopping great income disparity between the 99% and the 1%, but I don't think that's at issue here. I can't (nor, really, would I want to) speak for "the right-wing media", but my own perception of "vagueness" on the part of the OWS protesters stems not from any question about the existence of massive income inequality but rather from their fuzziness in identifying what went wrong and/or what they'd like to see happen to fix the problem.

Call me callous, but I start to tune out whenever anyone says "economic injustice". Vast income disparities are not sufficient, in and of themselves, to indicate that a system is unjust; "just" societies that exhibit such disparities have been successfully defended by smart folks on both the left (Rawls) and the right (Nozick). One need also demonstrate that the disparity stems from violations of the law be they isolated or systemic. It's at this point that the OWS movement starts to exhibit an insufficient level of specificity (or "vagueness", if you prefer).

Like I said above, I do sympathize with OWS; various and sundry Wall Street financial types are probably getting away with lots of things. The problem is that blanket assertions that banksters are getting away with murder are pretty much useless by themselves; good, long-term solutions will require us to identify the structural factors that enabled criminal behavior. That, in turn, requires relatively precise identification of the crimes involved.

Which, of course, assumes that criminal behavior within the financial community was a leading cause of the current economic cluster fuck. If you go and read up on the causes of the current financial crisis, however, you quickly find out the following:

  • There are lots of them.
  • Some of them stem from private sector activites and some from public sector policies.
  • It's hard to tell how much any single cause contributed to the crash.
  • There's not a whole lot of blatantly criminal behavior.

If anything it looks like a lot of the hardships that people are facing these days are ultimately the result of regulatory failure. Which sucks1, but "regulator failure" != "injustice". And, also, "regulators" != "banksters". Which kinda makes it look like Wall Street, while not a wholly innocent scapegoat, is receiving more opprobrium than it deserves.

1 And brings to mind the quote that "the people get the government they deserve".


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