Welfare bums vs crony capitalists

By Chrystia Freeland
November 4, 2011

 

Paul Martin and Ernesto Zedillo are members in good standing of the global elite. Martin is a former Canadian prime minister, finance minister, deficit hawk and, in his life before politics, multimillionaire businessman. Zedillo is a former president of Mexico, holds a doctorate in economics, directs Yale University’s Center for the Study of Globalization, and serves on the boards of the blue chips Procter & Gamble and Alcoa.

Yet when I interviewed the two of them in a wide-ranging public conversation last week, hosted by the Center for International Governance Innovation, an independent, nonpartisan Canadian research organization, they sounded an awful lot like the people camped out in Zuccotti Park in New York.

Neither Zedillo nor Martin had sympathy for the complaint that Occupy Wall Street lacked a clear agenda. As Zedillo put it: “These criticisms — ‘Oh, they don’t have an agenda, they only pose problems and provide no solutions’ — well, they are citizens and they have earned the right to express a very serious, real problem.”

The truth, the two statesmen agreed, was that the protesters were articulating a real, important and global concern.

“I have yet to talk to anyone who says they aren’t reflecting a disquiet that they themselves feel,” Martin said. “I think really the powerful thing is that Occupy Wall Street has hit a chord that really is touching the middle class — the middle class in Canada, the middle class in the United States, the middle class right around the world — and I think that makes it actually very, very powerful.”

In fact, Zedillo thought the Occupy group should widen its sights — “I could argue as an economist it’s not only about Wall Street. They should have an Occupy G-20” — a possibility his successors at the Group of 20 table are sufficiently worried about that protesters are being confined to Nice while the heads of state meet in Cannes this weekend.

Martin and Zedillo would be welcome at any corporate dining room on Wall Street or financiers’ dinner party, but it was striking how strongly their view of Occupy Wall Street differed from the conventional wisdom among American business elites.

That dissonance was not lost on Martin. He started out diplomatically — “I think that most people have basically given them a fair amount of credit” he said of the protesters — but then could not resist adding: “I don’t want to pick on U.S. bankers, but the reaction, the one that really got me was the banker who basically said, ‘You know, these are just a bunch of welfare bums. What we’ve got to do is cut welfare.’ A New York banker saying we’ve got to cut welfare is staggering to me. Why doesn’t he just look in the mirror? I think that actually what’s happened is that the inability of some people to defend their position has become so manifest that it’s actually added to the power of Occupy Wall Street.”

The welfare bums critique is a familiar elite response to populist rage, particularly from the left, and it is not confined to the United States. Some of the German reaction to protesting southern Europeans had a similar flavor, as did some of the British push-back against the riots there in the summer.

What is interesting about the United States is that the first burst of grass-roots anger came from the right. Although the policy prescriptions of the Tea Party could not differ more radically from those of Occupy Wall Street, the movements share an anti-elite sentiment. That may be why some agenda-setting thinkers on the right are putting forward an analysis of America’s ills that deftly combines the anti-welfare-bums riff of the country’s beleaguered upper crust with conservative grass-roots anger against many of those same elites.

This was the elegant pivot of Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican, speaking at the Heritage Foundation last week. The “true sources of inequity in our country,” Ryan argued, were “corporate welfare that enriches the powerful and empty promises that betray the powerless.” In Ryan’s analysis, the problem with America’s political economy is “a class of bureaucrats and connected crony capitalists trying to rise above the rest of us, call the shots, rig the rules and preserve their place atop society.”

What is striking is how similar that dyspeptic vision is to the Occupy Wall Street consensus that the U.S. economy has been hijacked by bankers and the lobbyists and politicians they bankroll.

There is a reason “crony capitalism” is the common target of political movements that differ over nearly everything else. At a time when governments have spent billions bailing out banks even as they cut pensions and social services, and when income inequality is soaring worldwide, it is hard to deny that the 1 percent are getting a pretty terrific deal.

But taking the diagnosis of crony capitalism as the first step toward a cure for the Western world’s ills is a little more complicated.

Economic growth is the most pressing problem for everyone today, and no matter how fierce your animosity toward the 1 percent, it is hard to see how reining them in more effectively right now will goose the gross domestic product (indeed, in many countries the rise of the 1 percent has coincided with strong economic growth).

The second complication is that your crony capitalism may well be my meritocratic democracy. A general charge of crony capitalism is easy to make. But dividing the “bad” crony capitalists from the “good” innovative entrepreneurs is much harder to do. And sorting them out without creating a new group of crony capitalists may be the hardest thing of all.

Editor’s note: Due to a technical error crediting an earlier version of this article to the wrong author, it has been republished, without changes, to this URL.

42 comments

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I’ll listen all day long to successful people debating successful people. They have knowledge worth sharing.

The sprawling, squirming mass that is OWS is clearly a bunch that is, in the main, NOT successful, never has been and never will be. They are the unfortunate, the unqualified, the unmotivated, the unemployed and the unsatisfiable with no place in a society that offers more opportunity than any other in the history of the world.

There is always someone “below average” for everyone “above average” in intelligence, accomplishment, quality of life and financial security. These people are the “below average” unsatisfied with a fact of life that will never change.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Good points and well written

Posted by M.C.McBride | Report as abusive

Wow. An impressive piece of bubble-inspired writing, Freeland.

Dare I point out that reining in the one percent is, yes, important to economic growth because it might actually restore some public confidence in the fairness of our current society, thereby enhancing the social stability required for economic growth.

Looked out the window lately, Chrystia? Got any concerns about how social stability might effect you and yours?

Evidently not.

Secondly, the idea that crony capitalism reflects in any way a meritocratic democracy is absurd. I might even describe that as an “elegant” (interesting choice of word by the way) pivot worthy of the Heritage Foundation.

Whatever you got paid for this piece of drivel was 25 times too much. Look out the window, walk out the door, go get a real job, or even better, go start up a business and create a few jobs for a few other people.

At that point, you might have something worth saying, and something worth listening to.

Posted by SueSueSue | Report as abusive

The 1% has perfected a system where they privatize gains and socialize losses. If you move against me, you’re screwed because the economy depends on us. If you don’t move against me you’re also screwed, but in the long run, because I’ll relentless to eat into your income and savings.
The system is rotten to the core and it will take a committed President, mobilizing the resources and political will of the entire country to even begin to address the complex, interconnected issues that got us here.
In the meantime, the West will continue its downward spiral as every major decision is made in the interests of enriching the very few at the top.

Posted by K-dub | Report as abusive

This actually really annoys me. You spend all your time in these ridiculous wonky talking shops, speaking to people who are completely out of touch, and then you inflict your stupid ideas on us in a column completely devoid of any original thinking, and completely out of touch with common reality.

If you’re going to write about the Occupy protests, at least have the common sense to put on a pair of boots and jeans, walk out the door, and go talk to a few protestors.

I mean, WHAT is your aversion to doing some ACTUAL reporting, Chrystia? Is it because it’s been so long, you forget how? Or is it perhaps that you’ve never actually ever done any real reporting?

Maybe you’re scared to getting dirty. having to shake the hand of someone who appears less than spotless, someone who might have bad teeth, or bad breath, or be wearing bad taste clothes and too many tattoos.

There is no excuse for publishing this type of junk when you get paid the dollars that flow into your bank account every month.

TRY HARDER.

Posted by SueSueSue | Report as abusive

Give her a break. She gathered the thoughts of two members of the global elite who aren’t are in the minority because they are not delusionally self-interested. She’s simply reporting on that little bit of information. Sit back and enjoy.

Posted by colonelP | Report as abusive

I thought this was a lovely article Chrystia, thoughtful and well written. It is so easy to marginalize and then demonize subsets of our population when in fact we all bear some culpability in our current state of affairs and it is going to take all of us working together to pull ourselves out of it.

One man’s Freedom Fighter is another man’s Terrorist, and as we march angrily through the village with torches and pitchforks it would behoove us to think twice before we draw blood.

Posted by CaptnCrunch | Report as abusive

Well, there are people who only bring up problems and look for others to find the solution. It is best not to approach the Government directly with the problem only as those will be ignored at least I would.

For WallStreet to say these are only welfare bums, I don’t think most people want to be on welfare even if this statement was true, but hey, people can probably make more on welfare than on minimum wage.

The Bailout of Wall Street itself was welfare for the rich was it not? What did wall street do with that bail out, did they create jobs? did they loan the money out to people who would? No.

Pay a liveable wage and people will not only go back to work they will buy products.

Posted by carnivore | Report as abusive

I have run a business, and I have created a fair number of jobs in my life. But, unlike the previous commentators, I agree with Ms. Freeland; the protesters are trying to articulate by action that which they cannot put into words, since the message is so diverse. All share, and I am among them, the belief that the game is rigged.

Due to personal great fortune I have a secure and comfortable life, but having traveled widely in Central and South America, as well as a lot of Europe (and a short time in SE Asia), I have seen the effects of concentration of wealth in the lucky few. It is not pretty, and I would not like to see it happen here. But, I fear it will if the current trend does not continue unchecked.

And, yes, we are willing to pay more for good governance.

Posted by MikeStover | Report as abusive

The more pressing problem of the “1 percent” is not that they exist — that much is undeniable, and that the growing disparity in wealthy is causing problems — but HOW did they get that way?

THIS is the question no one is asking.

The answers would have to entail an examination of (1) current global free trade laws (or lack thereof), and (2) massive tax breaks the wealthy classes get currently (and not only in the US).

The present economic conditions were not present 50 years ago, and consist of changes which can be quickly summarized in the following manner:

(1) The rise in the global economy (i.e. the ability to maintain real-time 24/7 control over manufacturing and service facilities anywhere in the world with little or no additional risk of investment), which is a massive paradigm shift from anything seen before in human history, plus

(2) The twin issues of:

(2a) degradation of internal financial controls to prevent uncontrolled speculation and “shadow banking” systems that have been growing for decades, and

(2b) the lack coincidental growth in global regulations over reasonable limitations on trade, capital investments, environmental regulation, etc., all of which has been a major incentive to “outsource” their operations.

This has provided business with growth opportunities never seen before. Massive profits with little or no increase in risk, but without any sense that what they are doing is literally killing the “Golden Goose”. What more could international companies ask for?

With fertile conditions like those that still exist today, it is a wonder that the global economy lasted as long as it did.

Uncontrolled growth over the past 50 years or so is what has created this problem, and steps must be taken to bring it under control.

THAT is what the G20 should have on their agenda, but it isn’t.

So, while I agree “economic growth is the most pressing problem for everyone today,” what is missing is that the acknowledgement that uncontrolled growth IS the problem, and needs to be “reined in” to stabilize the global economy.

That would be a good first step at bringing back a semblance of equality, without which this world will not last much longer before it turns into a global version of Greece, or worse.

Posted by Gordon2352 | Report as abusive

“Crony capitalism” is a kind phrase for corrupt bribery, which is as old as mud hut villages. No growth happens with crony capitalism and corruption.

What has happened is that modern technology has made complete corruption of an entire large economic system viable. The strength was there already and now corruption is bringing it all down. Try going to the Metropolitan Museum and visiting the reproduction of late 18th century French aristocratic rooms. Then picture rampant squalor throughout France at the same time. Then read about how that income inequality was reduced. Any Wall Street financial type who thinks it cannot happen here is a fool of immense proportions.

Yes cut welfare and subsidize the production of guillotine blades. Smart.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

Plenty of reporters have gone to the street and have spoken to the people there. I think it is refreshing to get the perspective from successful and distinguished individuals. A great reporter doesn’t just follow a trend, she (or he) looks for new ways to promote the conversation.

This is by no means a complete picture of the OWS movement, and I think it would serve commenters well to remember that every story has a angle. Her angle is to show that not everyone in the 1% are abusers of the system; that in fact the existence of the 1% is a result of a successful economy (those willing to take risks reap greater rewards); reforms to punish the best may hurt everyone; and the real challenge is to seek out ways to root out those who are not deserving the status.

Hate-infused comments dissuade productive dialogue and serves only to highlight one’s ignorance.

Posted by YuseL | Report as abusive

Until the average American (or westerner) decides they want to actually assume some risk and make an investment (preferably in themselves in the form of a small business), then the economy will depend on that 1%.

Just saving money and hoping you aren’t going to get laid off doesn’t drive the economy, starting a small business or investing in one does.

Posted by Mikeb85 | Report as abusive

Repeal Gramm-Leach-Bliley and the Commodity Futures Modernization Acts, reinstate Glass-Steagall, amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United.

Posted by borisjimski | Report as abusive

This is the same lady who interviewed the crony capitalist Immelt from GE and when people started to complain about the fact Mr. Immelt had CUT JOBS, INCREASED HIS BONUSES AND USED THE COMPANY PRIVATE JET the posts were not placed. Just clap and laugh everybody.

Posted by FBreughel1 | Report as abusive

In the aftermath of the Greedfest that took place starting in the mid 1990s not a single CEO, Politician or businessperson was held accountable. Worse, they enriched themselves mightily, stuck the middle class with the tab, put 14 million people out of work, then went on to be high ranking, respected members of the wealthy Elite that enjoy lifestyles most of us can only dream of. It is no wonder people are angry. They should be. It should be noted that the person that ignited the fuse that blew up in our faces was President Clinton with his Homeownership initiative insisting that 70% of Americans need to own homes. It was his obviously flawed plan that lead to zero Government oversight in the Mortgage and financial markets. Granted, perhaps his intentions were well meaning, but well meaning, naive, whatever, the buck stops, or rather begins, with him.

Posted by GLK | Report as abusive

Hitler’s propaganda machine used to use the play book of blaming the gypsies minority for the economic ills of pre-WW2 Germany. Reagan started the use of the same propaganda play book of blaming single mother welfare minorities. It’s the same old propaganda slogans to fool the public (as well as themselves?)

What we have here is business people running wild after too much deregulation (that again started with Reagan.) It is propagandized that business people will be good at running the finances of the government, as well as promoting the financial well being of society at large, because successful business people are experts at money matters.

While business people are good at finance and money matters, they have two very dangerous human characteristics. First, most business people are very selfish, specially the successful ones. Two, most businessmen tend to place short term profits over long term soundness.

It is hard for businesses to become very big and successful by operating as charities. Most big successful businesses are very hard nosed in maximizing profits while destroying competition. That’s the way they become monopolies by being very selfish. In free market competition, only the selfish survive (Only the paranoid survive as Andy Grove said.) Thus, the more successful the business, the more hard nosed and selfish the business.

It is hard for businesses to not make a lot of short-term “profits” and survive for long. Often businessmen tend to maximize short-term profits by doing things that may destroy long term soundness. Many large companies are headed by salesmen, as it is necessary to sell to make money. Even the companies that are headed by technical people, these executives are very sales oriented. Sales oriented people tend to emphasize short-term gains, commissions, and bonuses over long term planning. It is take the money and run type of mentality, specially under a very deregulated environment.

A very deregulated environment encourages some, if not actually a great many, businessmen to very selfishly make huge short-term profits often at the expense of long term destruction of the society at large. It is take the money and run on steroids.

Bankers lending huge amounts of depositors’ money to unsound borrowers creates a lot of short-term commissions and bonuses for them to more than retire. By the time the unsound borrowers collapse, the bankers originating these unsound loans have already stashed their commissions and bonuses away to more than retire in comfort. They took the short-term profit and ran, leaving the taxpayers holding the bag. After the 1929 Great Depression, the Glass-Steagle Act was created to prevent bankers from making unsound and risky loans for selfish short-term profits, which endanger long-term stability. People’s memories were short, and they were brainwashed by propaganda of the business conservatives to deregulate, so that the selfish business people can make huge short-term profits (often by crooked means) and run. And, they are good at this “taking the money and run” as business people are good at money making them doubly dangerous and destructive to society at large.

Posted by ricm | Report as abusive

The whole point of OWS isn’t to goose GDP but to distribute the GDP more fairly. The top of the corporate hierarchy have been steadily increasing the percentage of the fruits of the corporate success that flow into their pockets and, correspondingly, reducing the flow into the pockets of those that actually produce those fruits. After all, it’s the CEOs and their henchmen, the CIOs, CFOs, CTOs, executive VPs, etc who make the rules. Joe Blow who’s making the company products or delivering the company’s services has zero control.

And the other part of the pie is that these CEOs and their henchmen generally aren’t worth the money they’re making. It’s not as if most of them are bringing anything terribly valuable to the position. Most of them got there by being better at corporate politics than by managerial skill. That’s what makes your suggestion that crony capitalism is a form of meritocratic democracy so inane. Crony capitalism, where those what has the capital buy off those what make the rules so that the rule makers rig the rules in favor of those what has the capital, is neither democratic nor is it meritocratic. It is merely an exercise in the application of the second formulation of the golden rule: “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

Posted by majkmushrm | Report as abusive

Greed and arrogancy is two things combined which destroyed more societs and empires than all other things combined. And our society turned to proclaim that greed is good…

Current problem with western society is that it’s really believed in own propaganda – most people thought that they’re on their way to succes. And now they suddenly discovered that they’re not. Of course they’re angry and confused. So soon there’ll be ones to channel this anger toward their goals and agendas…

Posted by chyron | Report as abusive

Free (unregulated) capitalism chips away morality over time as it imparts power and greed making the ones on the path blind to the community needs that it benefited from all along.

In this age of interconnected state, the wake-up call and the self correction in related reforms driven by the good of the community will come faster than this blind and self-centered can think of nor will to prepare for.

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive

The difference between the average 1 percenter and the rest is that the former is conning the system it has helped create and is privy to its inner working while the latter tries desperately to have a shot at decent living.

Posted by schadha100 | Report as abusive

@ SueSueSue: Keep attacking the columnist is not going to help you. You are equally provided the space here to express your opinion and ideas if you have any.

And, what exactly is your definition of “fairness of our current society”? Your comments are far emptier than any of the other comments here.

Why don’t you try harder?

Chrystia: good writing, keep them coming.

Posted by watchers710 | Report as abusive

Thanks very much, Christia, I discovered your articles only recently, and I like them.

To criticise the western style of democracy, and capitalism, was a tabu for previous generations. You would be called a communist if you tried. Times are changing. It is good to hear about and from the rich and influential people that they can see that we are heading for disaster. The idiots who will tell you that if you aren’t rich it is your own fault, have to wake up to reality. They will be the next dinosaurs if they don’t change.

Christia, I am a little bit worried about your sincerity when you started talking about the “complications”: it is not the right time to do anything now, because we need every bit of growth; sorting out the bad cronies from good capitalist will be hard to do.

No, it is not bad time to start now. People do not want to turn the system inside out. But people want to see meaningfull changes. There are so many areas where changes will be needed, and it is beyond the “protesters” to prepare an action plan.

This is where we need all honest members of the “elites” to help. We need them not only to speak against this crony capitalism, but also to help identify effective medicines.

Posted by aussie66 | Report as abusive

If there was ever a reason, and a time, to change the electoral college voting system, it is now. It seems the bankers, insurance companies and lobbyists know that they are untouchable, and can look sympathetic (or not) to the downtrodden while laughing all the way to their bank. Yet, if we had one person, one vote, direct voting, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. Needless to say, it has remained this way as long as it has, because of the protectionism of the elite management. They don’t want anything to change. It’s easier to call people bums or dictate that this was their fate. It is the individualism of the patriarchal, western thinking, in which many have prided themselves, that fails to have any understanding that what impacts on the “least” of our communities, will eventually come back to haunt us. People who are most affected do not currently have a voice. Voting in the electoral college system takes that voice away and muffles it under special interest groups. If anything needs to be put forward by the protesters, a new voting system should be the first item on the agenda. Think what a difference this would make with the election coming up next year. Then let’s see how the bankers and those on Wall Street want to talk down to the common man and woman, who work for so little pay, while the ungrateful bankers and insurance companies running the show get rich. I have no problem with being rich, but it’s a lie to think there is equal opportunity. There is equal potential, yes, but not opportunity. God help America, because the bankers sure won’t.

Posted by BuffaloGirl | Report as abusive

This suggestion is to offer a middle ground to the excesses of Wall Street and its bankers: Fair interest on the ‘bail out’ funds, with a near zeroing of equity of the affected banks. If I made investments that proved sour and wished a loan to stay solvent, it would be around 30%+ interest (or more). To do so, I would have to recapitalize via equity, effectively lowering existing stock. This is exactly what should have happened to the banks getting bail outs. This new majority shareholder (the government in this case) would call for firing of all responsible corporate officers. A clear message would be sent to this corporation, that there were consequences of their cavalier investments. Good, VALUE PRODUCING investments would be rewarded then, and failed investments and those responsible would be removed from the pool. The lesson was never learned, the same officers make inappropriate investments and rob the middle class and poor. Our government waves their hands, offering that they ‘got their money back’ so all is well. Meanwhile main street is in despair, limping along.

So, we did need to rescue the banking system, but not in this manner to keep the elite untouched. I say this begrudgingly, but anyone could see our whole of society would have failed if all of these banks fell like a house of cards. Personally, I identify with both the Tea Party and the OWS over this inequity. I’m hoping this approach would appease us all. After removing the bad players, and all but eliminating the equity of BoA, Citi, etc – then we should get rid of ‘too big to fail’. ALSO, nothing done here. Here is another crony capitalism approach loud and clear. Politicians listen! Do these two things at least, and apologize for your allegiance to big business – and our society may be rescued from what’s looking to be an ugly class struggle as yet unseen in the United States.

Posted by louiepaul | Report as abusive

The problem is our Federal Government. Our House and Senate are filled with weak, inept, morally-bankrupt career politicians who either inherited all their money or acquired it through wealthy connections. These people are the ones who have put our county on a direct collision course with disaster. They pander to the investment banks and mega-corporations and let them bilk the taxpayers dry, while they let the Executive Branch run roughshod over our liberties. Our entire government needs an enema.

Posted by gruven137 | Report as abusive

My friends and I can’t help but think that a lot of the criticism waged against OWS, and a lot of the aggression coming from OWS, is just a distraction from one basic problem; that of increasing income disparity. Here’s a chart with info from the Congressional Budget Office that demonstrates the widening gap for the past thirty years: http://bit.ly/sCXVN4

How do you fix a problem as large as that? I’m struggling to find answers, frankly.

Posted by RFTZ | Report as abusive

I don’t think those people are welfare bums at all.

Just because some of them can not find jobs, that wallstreet sent to asia. Get out of NY and visit some of those x manufacturing towns. They are dilapidated and falling apart. Start your own business? Sell to whom?

We need to tax corporate profits where sales are. So companies will invest in research and manufacturing here, and not in CEO and “leadership”, that all they do is find another pool of cheap labor.

Posted by BrownTiger | Report as abusive

OWS, Tea Party, I will happily carry a sign for either movement. Our current form of capitalism needs to be replaced. It is outdated and will continue to weaken us against the world. Diversity is no longer our strength, it is now our weakness.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Where exactly did things start going wrong?
I would take a close look at outsourcing. In some cases, it was the only viable option to stay competitive, in some cases, it was just a way to make more profits. Either way, it put people out of work and on dole.

How long can the Government sustain the weight? Add to that the reckless wars purely to enrich US companies at the expense of the US taxpayer. Add finance companies gone berserk, handing out loans that could never get repaid and to that add people losing jobs and losing capacity to repay.

On the other hand, the 1% have had it good. May be there is a 99:1 ratio there too, going by what I read, but yes, the elites have had it good, and its part of the news they make.

Maybe the authorities could read up on a certain Marie Antoinette. It was a horrible time for a lot of people. You just had to have something that someone else wanted, and you could be declared fit for the guillotine.

Posted by rajadhyaksha | Report as abusive

Yes, perhaps there was strong economic growth during the rise of the 1%, but it was achieved through the debt-financed creation of artificial asset value and through speculation. The top 1% are a bunch of con-men, in other words. If you want to attribute that growth to the top 1%, you must also attribute the financial crash and ongoing contraction to that greedy, top 1%!

Posted by yogahelps2 | Report as abusive

I think it’s reasonably safe to assume that any political activist who only ever appears in public wearing a mask designed to frighten people isn’t interested in any kind of democracy. Yours or mine, crony or kulak.

For the rest of the world, it’s a surprise that they have managed to convince anybody that there is such as thin as an America who isn’t in the top 1%. I suspect that is why otherwise sensible politicians are snuggling up to what they see as a powerful demagogic voice, although the experience of the Chapter of St Pauls should probably serve as a warning to anyone who thinks they can dine with such a capricious beast.

Posted by Ian_Kemmish | Report as abusive

The root of all this is an all powerful centralized government that chooses to pick winners and losers. This Corporatism we see today is not true Capitalism. In fact I would say there nothing different between the OWS crowd and the crony Corporatist. The OWS crowd is demanding a share of the government pie because they complain that others are receiving that share and for them to compete in this environment they must too get a share. Well folks, that is how the cronyism and special interest groups started. The US Federal Govt. is at fault for this terrible behavior. When a politician picks winners and losers and regulates and legislates the loser out of business, it causes the loser to go out and find a politician that would declare them the winner as well. Instead of having businesses concentrate on making the best widget, politicians have turned almost every industry into a bunch of vultures fighting for the political scraps left over. The federal govt. and the federal reserve has eradicated the concept of a free market by socializing losses and eliminating risk. Plus they continue to subsidize what they consider the “winners” in industry.

All disdain should flow towards Washington DC and other Governments who try maliciously manipulate a global economy for political ends.

Posted by storm100 | Report as abusive

Most of these so-called “successful ” People have long histories of wealth and power in their families, or failing that. a long history of ruthless deals and manipulation that got them where they are.

They think the poor wanting help for their health, home and families is because they arn’t ruthless enough to be successful. They think their billions to support their failed business ventures is clever business practice.

The noveau poor are guilty of playing by the rules.
The “successful” are guilty of fraud.

Posted by mitchitoo | Report as abusive

Great piece Ms. Freeland. Messrs. Martin and Zedillo nailed it, hit one out of the park! Congratulations! By the way, I marched in Occupy Tampa on October 6, 2011. I am a 55 year-old white male, hold two college degrees, one of which is from the Wharton School. Also owned and operated my own car business for many years. I am well-traveled and well-read. My background is working class. The idea that all the Occupy protesters are deadbeats is absurd. The fact is, crony capitalists are ruining this country, and a threat to world economic stability.

Neil Gillespie
Ocala, Florida

Posted by NeilGillespie | Report as abusive

“At a time when governments have spent billions bailing out banks even as they cut pensions and social services”

Bailed out the banks? Whose money is in those banks anyway? Whose failure to meet loan obligations is it that caused the need for the bailouts?

Citizens. If the banks hadn’t been bailed out it would have been horrible for the people whose money was in the banks. They didnt bail them out just to help out the big shots at running the bank, it was much bigger than that. I agree there should be some reform to make financial systems less opaque, but looking at banks as some kind of villain is funny when they help up buy homes and grow our money. Everyone uses a bank, there are lots of them, and you can choose which one to use.

People over the last 40 years have been demanding more and more social services and politicians seeking votes were willing to give it to them even if was not financially reasonable. Sure it would be nice if we could do all the things politicians promise, but it doesn’t work that way. The pensions, salaries, and benefits across the western world were promised in bad faith. To criticize some people for wanting them changed in order to make them sustainable, so that commitments don’t have to be completely broken, seems a bit backwards.

The problem is society. If they weren’t able to depend on the government to support them in so many ways, maybe they would find a way to do it on their own.

…I once saw a sign on a boat dock that read “Don’t feed the ducks!”

Posted by FutilityofTed | Report as abusive

The comments are far more informative and interesting than this article.

They also demonstrate an awareness among those who work in financial markets that Occupy protestors are on to something.

Occupy is serious. It could become deadly serious. That’s why it’s so offensive to hear Freeland including her own ridiculous comments along with Martin’s and Zedillo’s.

I’m not only offended by the lack of complexity, seriousness and laziness in this article, I’m offended by Freeland’s refusal to even pretent to discard her own biases.

I don’t take issue with Martin or Zedillo. I take issue with Freeland.

This is a lazy, pompous, pointless column and she knows it.

You should take Occuply seriously Freeland, because clearly your better informed readers do.

I’d also point out that your job is to do precisely the opposite of what you did here. Your job is to discard your own biases in order to inform yourself as fully and as well as possible, in order to fulfil your responsibility to your readers.

Did you do that?

No.

Posted by SueSueSue | Report as abusive

It is interesting to see so many subjective views on the matter, which is understandable.
There is one factor that is going to bring most of the arguments into agreement, and even unite the 99% with the 1%.
What we are seeing today is not the evil mastermind of a certain group/layer of people, but a system failure.
This system has been operating for decades and we elected those politicians and we worshipped those wealthy tycoons who perfected and solidified the system until it has run into its own trap.
Today this profit hungry, ruthless, expansive system has run into a dead end, and it is in such a catch 22 situation that there is no way of any recovery.
In this closed, interdependent world, where the very consumer part of society that was supposed to revive the economy has been stripped from every life force, the whole expansive system is falling, become self destructive, and this global crisis is not a single dip, or double dip, not even cyclical, but an end.
Very soon the “1%” will find their fortunes in pieces, their dollar bills only good to light fire with.
We have to build a new system, but this time based on completely new grounds, based on mutuality, equality, consideration and cooperation.

Posted by ZGHerm | Report as abusive

Commentor SueSueSue hit the nail on the head (Nov. 4, 2011 12:17 PM EDT) even swinging with her eyes closed. Someone who appears in public with “bad teeth, or bad breath, or…wearing bad taste clothes and too many tattoos” makes a conspicuous and negative statement about themselves and their personal values. Please add piercings to that list.

People over 21 that still have bad teeth have not given necessary priority to the their appearance. Appearance, like it or not, largely determines whether or not other people want you around them. It is an inseparable part of your “resume”. Each of us is judged every day, and our “public image” includes those we choose to associate with. Not talking about how things SHOULD be, but how life really works.

Those with bad breath, don’t dress appropriately or have ANY visible tattoos or piercings send a loud but silent message that (1) they don’t have a clue how to fit in with the productive of our society, or (2) they consciously and specifically reject the values of productive society on a very fundamental level. Said rejection is intended to be IN YOUR FACE! They clearly don’t WANT to be hired!

I don’t want such people serving me in a restaurant, nursing me, selling me anything, driving my taxi, or in close proximity in a tax-funded library, park, zoo, theater, restaurant, bus, plane, train, etc. Indeed, they are why many people won’t ride the bus, pick up hitchhikers, or go to fairs or into public parks at night any more.

So long as their “society” and my “society” are separate by mutual conscious choice, they will miss out on some of the benefits available to others. Rebellion has it’s price.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

capitalism is the best… your wealth depends on it… if you do not like it move Greece… government will definitely save you there… freedom of enterprise and coolness of individualism… love it… great to be american… love it…

Posted by Ocala123456789 | Report as abusive

We need small business, and lots of it.

We need competent government that regulates with common sense and integrity on behalf of the majority of society, not the minority. (Including those with tattoos and bad teeth ;-)

But what we have now is a global financial crisis created by Big Business, and a government that has been either co-opted or systematically deprived of power.

Big business: 



Unregulated.
Pays no tax.
Anti-competitive.
Steals public funds.
Routinely bribes, blackmails (and worse).
Incompetent.
Irresponsible.
Dangerous.

Small business:

Regulated.
Pays tax.
Creates vasty majority of all new jobs.
Competitive (because it has to be).
Competent (because it has to be).
Connected to, and motivated by community (because it has to be).
Responsible (because it has to be)


It is big business, not big government, that is responsible for the parlous state of our democratic institutions. And one of the consequences is that, in the West, the very survival of the idea of nation-state may now in question.



Nobody wins in this situation. Without regulatory authority or solvency, governments will not be able to manage, and fools in the financial sector who built an inter-linked reliance upon this house of cards will cope least well.

This is not about “rejecting productive society,” or any of these other facile assumptions. It’s about understanding how life actually works outside a glassed-in office tower. It is time to abandon all this implicit complacency and superiority, and name the threats staring you in the face. Because it’s a foolish thing to assume that you are not connected. Or that you can, or know how to, hide.

Posted by SueSueSue | Report as abusive

A flat/fair type tax model may reduce welfare! How many collecting welfare would you guess work under the table-10%, 20%+ etc? Too many ways to game the system, we need a simple solution to combat cheaters-morals/ethics are too poor now!

Posted by DrJJJJ | Report as abusive