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The Only Occupation Worth Defending

December 30, 2011 by Xavier O'Brien

In the October 4 issue of the Georgia Southern University newspaper, the George Anne, political science major Fritz Chapin writes in an article titled "Protestors March to End Capitalism" that the protesters currently occupying Wall Street are people committed to “class warfare” who “want the government” to help them “get to the top” when they should be doing this for themselves. While this statement is illustrative of an alarming disconnect from reality, it would be more useful for us to look into what lies behind such accusations.

The first glaring fallacy of Mr. Fritz’s article is his misguided insistence that the system he is praising so uncritically is indeed capitalism. Any serious scholar of economics would readily concede that the economic order which dominates the US at the moment is as remote from capitalism as it has ever been. Such an economic order is, if we take facts seriously, one overwhelmingly shaped by the transnational influence of finance capital. These small concentrations of finance capital, what the protesters call “the 1%,” are shielded by an imperial state that invades sovereign countries in order to create “business-friendly” locales for investors. These same private industries dominate the domestic population by stripping workers of collective bargaining rights, buying candidates in elections, and granting themselves the rights of persons in order to gain unfair advantage in legal disputes.

To take one uncontroversial fact, was it “capitalism” when the US government decided to rescue the banks from total collapse after they spiraled the economy into the ground through a housing bubble unsupported by any fundamental notions of responsible economic practice? Remember, those banks were bailed out by a system that is radically anti-capitalist. The CEOs of those banks are the same ones that Fritz says will “be able to expand their businesses and hire new workers, take on new projects, and put America back on the road to being prosperous and an economic beacon to the world.” This ludicrous theory, commonly called “trickle-down economics,” has been consistently disproven by all reputable economic analysts from the Economic Policy Institute to Nobel Laureates like Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. Furthermore, the so-called job creators on Wall Street are currently awash in record profits, while the national unemployment rate remains unmoved at around 9.1% and the unemployment rate in the African-American community has risen to a staggering 16%.

This criminal behavior of CEOs is well documented in an article written by the president of the Economic Policy Institute, Lawrence Mishel, titled "Regulatory Uncertainty: A Phony Explanation for our Jobs Problem." In this article Mishel writes that Wall Street firms have “substantial cash on hand to invest” and “are making a third more profit than they did before the recession, so they are not being held back by current profitability or the ability to finance investments.”  Mishel attributes this decrease in investment to “slack demand,” a direct result of the housing crisis precipitated by these same financial institutions three years ago. All this is going on while the Pew Research Center and the National Center for Children in Poverty are publishing reports stating that 21% of children in the US now live below the federal poverty level.

In lieu of these startling facts, Fritz’s genuflections before the altar of “life-giving profits” are not only intellectually dishonest but also morally irresponsible. If Mr. Chapin took the time to read official documents produced by the protesters on Wall Street, he would know that the word “capitalism” does not appear once in their Declaration of the Occupation of New York City. Fortunately, Fritz is comfortable enough in his prejudice to smear these young, courageous people as beggars hungering for government “handouts.” This way the unpleasant facts of this kind can remain in the margins.

Based on publicly available documents from the protest site, it is made clear that these young people are fighting for an economic order that does not, among other things, “continuously [seek] to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions” or “[outsource] labor and [use] that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ health care and pay.” The outsourcing of labor is particularly important as this practice was even opposed by the figurehead of Mr. Chapin’s beloved system of exploitation.

I’m speaking of that highly praised but seldom read Englishman by the name of Adam Smith. In his classic work of political economy, Wealth of Nations, Smith decries the horrors of outsourcing labor, a practice that we have come to institutionalize through economically regressive “free trade” agreements like NAFTA. In the second chapter of the text titled Of Restraints upon Importation from Foreign Countries of such Goods as can be produced at Home, Smith writes:

“Preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain; and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.”

By this standard, it’s safe to say that the invisible hand of Adam Smith is also raised in solidarity with those rabid anti-"capitalists," lamenting that “it isn’t fair that they [CEOs] have so much money.”

When concrete facts of this kind are placed alongside the apologetics for economic apartheid and social gangsterism that Chapin advocates, it’s easy to see how crucial it is for students to have access to media that has some commitment to facts, and does not engage in the gross forms of propaganda that have become so commonplace in the George Anne. Chapin’s slobbering homage to the wonders of what he calls “the most successful economic model in history,” aims not only to distort the vast record of economic history, but also to trivialize genuine struggles for social justice that are now springing up in this country. If GSU had an honest publication for students, unsubstantiated statements like “socialism or anything close to it is not sustainable,” and xenophobic ones like “if these people want a hand out then they need to get out of my country” would not be given such a respectable platform without a counter narrative, one that captures the diversity of the Georgia Southern campus.

In the list of grievances that the protestors document in their declaration, one is the fact that finance-capital “purposefully [keeps] people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.” It is to our great benefit that the George Anne is not controlled by this narrow concentration of investors, and it is the job of conscientious students who understand the meaning of an honest press to speak out when grave assaults against verifiable facts take place. In his famous report Democracy in America, the French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville remarked that a newspaper is the only thing that can “drop the same thought into a thousand minds at the same moment.” The student body at Georgia Southern, with the cooperation of the George Anne, can help to ensure that the next thought dropped into “a thousand minds” isn’t one based on outworn propaganda, but rather one grounded in well-researched and verifiable facts.

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