Posts Tagged Wall Street

The Most Meaningless Man in the World

For almost a year, I have written for the American Enterprise Institute’s Common Sense Concept project, which has recently undergone a drastic renaming and rebranding.

The project has now re-emerged under the name Values and Capitalism, along with a fancy new web site, some forthcoming books, and an ever-increasing array of other resources. You can find the new blog here, view my author page here, subscribe via Facebook here, and follow on Twitter here.

My most recent post follows up on a series of fair trade posts, further pondering how we might best love our neighbor as it relates to “fair prices.” The solution, once again, has to do with cutting agricultural subsidies.

Otherwise, if you’re looking for something more peppy, our project recently released two promotional videos to cement its message (or, perhaps, the message we are trying to subvert).

Additionally, with coincidental timeliness, the guy in the video seems to capture the Occupy Wall Street sentiment quite nicely. (i.e. Want to change the world? Break somethingor yell at people.)

Watch the first video below:




For more on the Values and Capitalism project, see the following Read the rest of this entry »

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Returning to Duty: Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street

Where's My BailoutIn my critique of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I noted that what really needs to happen is what John Witherspoon once called a “return to duty” — an introspective moment that leads us to “hearken the rod” rather than disdain it, to return to individual moral uprightness, and to reject the seductive idol of material security.

The sentiment is pulled from a sermon Witherspoon delivered to Princeton in 1776, containing stern counsel for how to recover from cultural erosion and pull the weight that liberty demands. The solution, Witherspoon explains, requires much more of the individual than a secular, materialistic worldview can invigorate.

Granted, today’s “occupiers” are propelled by a more serious, more pampered sense of entitlement than Witherspoon could have ever imagined. Yet this simply means our task is more difficult. (e.g. “Yes, I know you have air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, expensive fair-trade groceries, and a bottomless credit card to pay for it all, but someday you’ll have to face the real world, hunker down, and…you know, actually persevere.”)

Here’s Witherspoon’s diagnosis:

Both nations in general, and private persons, are apt to grow remiss and lax in a time of prosperity and seeming security; but when their earthly comforts are endangered or withdrawn, it lays them under a kind of necessity to seek for something better in their place. Men must have comfort from one quarter or another. When earthly things are in a pleasing and promising condition, too many are apt to find their rest, and be satisfied with them as their only portion. But when the vanity and passing nature of all created comfort is discovered, they are compelled to look for something more durable as well as valuable. What therefore, can be more to the praise of God, than that when a whole people have forgotten their resting place, when they have abused their privileges, and despised their mercies, they should by distress and suffering be made to hearken to the rod, and return to their duty?

Exceptions abound, but on the whole, this seems very close to what we’re witnessing — a society that has grown “remiss and lax in a time of prosperity,” and is finally being “compelled to look for something more durable as well as valuable.”

Our workers grew up in a less globalized world, insulated from the rising competition of today’s (rapidly) developing nations. Up until recently, we were privileged with a virtual monopoly on freedom, allowing it to spoil our attitudes and outlooks toward ourselves, our neighbors, and economics in general. Our kids went to schools with inflated tuition costs, all the while thinking they were guaranteed a $50,000-per-year job in post-colonial gender studies — a myth solidly affirmed by parents, school counselors, and political leaders, themselves beneficiaries of a post-war boom made possible (in part) by an otherwise war-ravaged economic stage.

The recent expansion of freedom and prosperity has been a good thing, to be sure, but it doesn’t look so hot if you Read the rest of this entry »

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Occupy Yourselves: Targeting the Evil, Greedy 100%

The attitudes and actions of the Occupy Wall Street protesters have inspired many others to join the streets in outrage, leaving those of us at home to wonder what the point of it all may be.

And let me assure you: there is indeed a point.

I’ve been struck by the moral arrogance that permeates the crowds — a sort of pretentious, self-absorbed judgmentalism, self-anointed to invade the souls of the rich and expose their moral failings. Such supposed vice, we are told, must be stopped, and it is these brave oracles of materialism and greed who shall stand in its way.

There are, of course, a few problems with this. One is that “ending corporate greed” requires privy knowledge of who is greedy and who is not. We can certainly trust the discernment of the guy smoking pot in the sleeping bag next to the sewer drain, but even if he gets it right, how might we convince Mr. Fat-Cat Richiebottoms to alter his moral outlook?

“Just take his money away,” they’ll say.

Yet if I threw Billy Goodheart’s “Everyone is greedy but me!” sign in the garbage, my hunch is that his ability to produce quality picketing art would only improve. There he’d be, the very next day, with the same attitudes, the same platitudes, and the same distasteful propensity to blame the Man.

Reality alert: You cannot change the world by blaming others, and you cannot change moral behavior by yelling.

With particular precision, David Brooks sums up the issue nicely:

If there is a core theme to the Occupy Wall Street movement, it is that the virtuous 99 percent of society is being cheated by the richest and greediest 1 percent. This is a theme that allows the people in the 99 percent to think very highly of themselves. All their problems are caused by the nefarious elite.

And problems do abound. Yes, there are structural issues with the status quo. Yes, corporatism is out of control (which is not the same as “capitalism,” mind you). Yes, banks and businesses were/are reckless. Yes, people were/are greedy. You woke up on the right planet.

The question is, “What can we do about it?”

In a free society, one thing we can control is our own lives. If we don’t want to be beholden to greedy misers or enslaved to high-interest credit cards, we can say “no.” If we don’t want to be tied to 10 years of student-loan debt that we can’t afford, we can go to a trade school or demonstrate some basic upfront frugality. If we’re looking for our dream job and can’t find it, we can continue to increase our skills and standing, no matter how frustrating the process may be.

If, however, we are trying to “be the change we want to see in the world” by sleeping in a gutter for weeks on end, we should be prepared to receive our prize.

What we need is what John Witherspoon once called a “return to duty” — an introspective moment that leads us to “hearken the rod” rather than disdain it, to return to Read the rest of this entry »

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Meltdown: Moral Hazard and the Financial Crisis

Meltdown by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.We are all aware of the current economic crisis. Whether we’ve experienced job loss, a devalued mortgage, or simply a higher price tag on our groceries, we all know that uncertainty is in the air.

In such extreme circumstances, it’s hard to maintain a clear perception. We all feel wronged, and we all want someone to blame.

It may be fitting, then, to begin by playing a little blame game.

First of all, it’s the bankers’ fault because they’re greedy. They lent too much money to people who made too little, and they should’ve been stopped. Then again, maybe it’s their customers’ fault. After all, isn’t it a bit greedy to buy a house you can’t afford? But wait a minute, aren’t the financial speculators to blame? Just think about it. There they were, crouching like vultures, waiting to feed on the failures of poor innocents.

Conclusion? (Duh!)

“The problem is greed.” says Politician A (or Media Pundit B). “And we all know who we can thank for that. Capitalism!

It this confused, muddled mess that Thomas E. Woods hopes to permeate with his recent book, Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse (quite a laborious subtitle, if you ask me).

As far as my fun little game goes, Woods thinks there is plenty of truth behind it. Indeed, the narrative is filled with people who were overly hasty, downright foolish, and yes, excessively greedy.

But not all bankers loaned unwisely and not all homeowners went beyond their means, so why did such greed manifest so suddenly, and why didn’t we have this problem before? If bankers are Read the rest of this entry »

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