This Chronicle of Higher Education piece on anarchism and its influence on the Occupy Wall Street protests is a pretty interesting read that gets at some of the complexities of a movement that’s obviously much more than spoiled rich kids upset that they don’t have the cash to upgrade to the new iPhone but obviously much less than a thoughtful criticism of systematic distortions in the banking system.
To emphasize a theme I wrote about on Friday, mere contempt for “Wall Street Greed” is ineffective and unhelpful. In this morning’s FEE “From the Archives” feature, Nicholas Snow suggests getting back to David Hume’s assumption that “all men are knaves” and focus our analysis on how institutions direct that knavery for good or ill. Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz makes this important point about current institutions on which economists from across the ideological and intellectual spectrum can agree: “There’s a system where we’ve socialized losses and privatized gains. That’s not capitalism; that’s not a market economy. That’s a distorted economy.”
The comments on the Chronicle article are interesting. At least one comment plays right into the hands of the Occupiers’ critics: the comment’s author complains that her dreams as “an academic, poet, and scholar” are hampered by the student debt she incurred in graduate school. Student loan debt is the issue on which it is hardest to take the Occupiers seriously, and no doubt this is why the critics have seized on loan complaints as a reason to dismiss the movement as (again) a group temper-tantrum by spoiled kids who don’t realize how good they have it. There are a lot of college degrees out there that represent real investments in human capital. There are a lot of others that are great fun and very fulfilling, no doubt, but they are consumption goods. Most people will tell you that financing consumption with borrowed money isn’t a very good idea.