October 14, 2011

Sympathy for the Occupiers


Wired for Complaint
There is the smell of leftwing extremism in the Occupy Wall Street crowd, or perhaps that's just the result of a lack of bathing facilities. (And just where are they going to bathroom?) Sometimes I sense that they are merely picketing reality, that they are upset over a fallen world. And who can blame them for that? For in a fallen world you would see a divergence between jobs tailored to humans and humans tailored to jobs. In other words, in a fallen world it seems you have to go where the jobs are and wrench yourself into a very imperfect fit, rather than having the jobs come to you, designed for your temperament and skill set.

In a mature post-industrial economy, it seems work comes mostly in the form of low-paying service-oriented jobs or decent-paying white collar jobs. It's blatantly unfair that there aren't many jobs for the high-school graduate blue collar worker. In a healthy job market you'd hope for jobs for those with both brain and brawn. But then the whole history of mankind seems to be a series of adjustments to the job environment, rather than the job environment modifying itself for man.

Over the hundreds of thousands of years of the hunter/gatherers, we evolved towards a lot of exercise (running after prey) without undue mental strain in the form of mundane office work. Today we have the opposite - little need for exercise and a general favoritism for mental activity over brawn. The difficult transition to agricultural system left many at a loss; think about how devastating it was for American Indians to go from semi-nomadic tribes to an agricultural, reservation-based lifestyle.

I think there are a couple assumptions that are implicit, a sort of "social contract" (rightly or wrongly) with and by the American people. One is that if we are going to have the largest military in the world, then we want our money's worth: we expect to be safe. To the extent we are not, we will retaliate and retaliate to the max. (Hence two endless wars.) Second, the bargain with capitalism is that we go with it if we have nearly full employment. When we don't, as in the 1930s, there were fears that we would become Communist - which supposedly was the rationale behind some of FDR's moves. "I have to move left," he seemed to say, "to prevent us from going all the way left."

Herman Cain said that the protesters should be occupying D.C. rather than Wall Street and there's some truth to that although I can certainly understand the fury at Wall Street. The investment banks are treated with kid gloves since like it or not they seem to be the oil of the overall economy. They are the gate-keepers of capital and loans, the engines of capitalism. And Wall Street did have a big role in the financial collapse, by making huge uncoverable bets that the housing market would never fall. Charles Krauthammer calls Wall Street a scapegoat, but some scapegoats do give off the whiff of rightful blame.

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