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As Long as We Remember...

October 14, 2011

The Real Culprits

Patrick Kjellberg

Last week New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg accused anti-Wall Street protesters of trying to destroy jobs in the city, even as he said he was sympathetic to some of their complaints.


Good thing he is not a detective; it would be very difficult to sustain that allegation. Its seems to be beyond logic to say that one is sympathetic to some of the protesters’ complaints, suggesting rational thought; but then, saying they are trying to destroy jobs is a totally irrational goal. He might as well just have told the world the protesters are bipolar.


The fact of the matter remains, there is great unrest in America today. The symptoms are more than palpable, from the protests in the streets of DC and New York, to the stagnant and high unemployment rate of 9% plus; and it’s likely that the actual unemployment is much higher.


The difficulty of protesters is that they are often emotionally motivated and really have a difficult time articulating their problem and finding a solution to remedy the problem. Simply put, I don’t think it is corporate greed that is the source of today’s problems. I don’t deny that it exists on Wall Street and in all the corporate towers. However, that greed has always been there; it was present in every economic expansion. The movie “Wall Street” in the 80s even floated the idea that greed was good.


Economist might not use the word greed and it may not be a euphemism, but economists use the premise that consumers have unlimited wants. While that may not be greed, it certainly is close. So, if greed is not the culprit, what is the root of the problem?


In the broadest sense, it is that our system – as great as it may be – has seen a growing divergence between the rich and the poor; now it’s between rich and what was the middle class I can already begin to hear the clang from the conservatives that they deserve what they earned. So, let’s address that notion right here, right now.


The notion that we deserve anything in life is simply false. I had a long discussion with a friend once about this and the comical defense that he put forth was that he worked hard to be where he is and that he “deserved” it because of his hard work. I challenged him that he did not know hard work and asked him to spend a day hauling 12-foot boards of sheet rock up a flight of stairs for a day, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to get out of bed the next day. My point is that a lot of people work hard, but they don’t get the same economic benefits.


The next lob he threw at me was that we all choose what we want to do for a living. To some degree yes, but my choice to be an NBA or some other professional athlete was left short by lack of athletic ability. My friend also had a difficult time explaining what I needed to do or how hard I had to work to be a trust fund baby. In the end he had a difficult time explaining what he did to deserve his next breath.


The fact remains that what we do for a living is due in large part to our physical and intellectual capacities combined with the opportunity. Most of the millionaires that I have met in my life, and there have been many, were in the right place at the right time, which includes being born in the right family. Admittedly, much of my success is because of my parents; my father was one of the hardest working individuals I ever met, and my mother was the most integral person I have met. They provided me with a good work ethic, a moral foundation, and worked with me to get me through college. I would say that puts me in the top percentile of fortunate people.  Most of my success is because of the family I was born into. I did nothing to deserve that.


The only thing that merits the use of the word “deserve” results from a man-made entity. The simplest notion to explain this concept is an athletic competition. If you follow the rules and score more points then you deserve to win. That concept may be setting off a few light bulbs.


The sharp ones are saying that the rich have followed the rules so they deserve their riches. So there! Check mate!


Well therein lies the problem: who is making the rules in our society? The protestors should be shouting to change the rules, to change how the distribution of wealth occurs n our society. The rules, as they stand now, really aren’t fair and that is the cause of the unrest.


Yes, I know that life is not fair. The question is: do you want to live in a society that perpetuates that unfairness or one that balances it out?


Ironically you have to choose the latter, because the rich comes from a concept that our society cannot move away from. It is grossly explained in Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” It is the division of labor and not to accept a society that balances out the unfairness of life. You have to provide everything for yourself.


Short of moving back to the Stone Age, it’s clear that we need to change the rules and the distribution of wealth in America, and that is what the protesters should be demanding.


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