DoxCover

Doxology: Brian Holers’s Debut Novel

Doxology, the debut novel from author Brian Holers, is available in both paperback and digital format now! Fathers, sons and brothers reconnect over tragedy in this blue-collar Southern tale of love, loss and the healing power of community and family. Doxology examines an impossibly difficult...

Brian Holers

(un)Occupied

photo courtesy of pbs.org

At Thanksgiving dinner this year, my wife told everyone at the table what she was thankful for, and proceeded to ask our son and his friends to do the same.  As the answers poured out—Xbox, ice cream, legos, I began to prepare my own response.  My first thought was to express my gratitude that we only have one more year to put up with our handsome, charming, and in-over-his-head President, but in the interest of harmony, I held my tongue.  And the conversation redirected before my turn came, anyway.

But this year, looking around at all there is to see, I am most grateful not to be young anymore.  Not young as in youthful, energetic, strong.  I still convince myself I have those qualities.   But young as in, young and foolish.  Young and uninformed.  Because if what is taking place all over America now had been happening twenty years ago, I’d probably be downtown with a bunch of other knuckleheads. Occupying.

Obviously, times are tough.  And I’m not here to say my family and I are in any way immune to the pain, nor have we always been averse to risky decisions.  But looking at the state of our economy with the wisdom of age, all this pain makes sense.  The downturn we are living through, the proximate impetus for these people taking to the streets, was totally predictable, and many predicted it.  Too many of us took on too much debt.  We watched the stock market go up and up and up.  We refinanced and refinanced our houses up to 125 percent of what the banks said they were worth.  Through the late nineties until a couple years ago, if you had a pulse, you could get a mortgage.  Zero down!  Low low rates!  Gobs of cash back! Interest only for the first seven years!!!!  Paper values went up, money flowed, we bought more and more stuff with the money, goods kept getting cheaper, and life was just flat-out grand.

Then the party was over, and there’s a lot of mess to clean up.  We can argue for another ten years over whose fault it is.  Some will blame Bush, some will blame Barney Frank or Clinton or Obama.  But hey.  Nobody made us take that extra loan.  Or invest in mortgage-backed securities.

I try to look on the bright side.  Yes, it hurts, and may hurt for some time.  But the good news is, these trying times will make us stronger.  And we really, really need to be stronger.

In response to hard times, people in cities all over the country are camping in parks.  Occupying.  Really, it’s pitiful.  The aim of these groups is unclear, but it seems to be something like “we are going to disrupt what we can until we get what we want.”  It’s not a new tactic, for sure.  “We are the 99% and we are getting screwed!”  “Something is wrong with THE SYSTEM.”  I’m sure I would disagree with nearly every argument an occupier could make.  But I have to admit, I remember thinking that way.  Thinking, government can fix thingsWe can all be equals. Justice for all—tax the rich! We all deserve our fair share!

            In other words, I remember being uninformed.  Blaming and complaining.

Only the freedom of association intrinsic to our economy and our culture allows these demonstrations to take place.  A peculiar American spirit of mutual cooperation engenders the productivity that makes market capitalism work.    These occupiers are doing nothing productive at all.  They are camping in public parks, using toilets paid for by taxpayers, eating food brought to them by various “concerned” citizens.  They protect themselves against the elements with cheap durable clothing, tents and sleeping gear, all products of the great corporate machine they decry.  They are not homeless people who have nowhere to go, no ability to care for themselves.

Let me take some guesses as to what their message is—I’ve heard it all before.  If the message is “capitalism is immoral,” that is just ignorant.  Imperfect, yes, but the most moral economic system in history.  Thanks to market incentive, humankind has made more advances in the last 100 years than in the 100,000 years prior.  Earth’s population has exploded in the last 100 years, as has life expectancy. Capitalism has fed and clothed more people than any charity ever could.  If the message is, “we demand jobs but we’re down on the corporations that provide jobs,” how does that make sense?  We’ve all heard gripes about “big business,”  “multinational corporations,” presumably soulless behemoths that have been putting mom and pop out of work for decades.  But half of all employed Americans work for businesses of 500 or more employees.  And does anybody really think of a business with 499 employees is a mom and pop operation?  Every big business was once a small business.  If the message is, “capitalism is naturally unfair and corrupt, so we need a highly controlled, centrally planned economy and governance which in turn will provide high paying jobs with ample benefits for everyone,” whoever came up with that simply doesn’t know how things work.  Only the possibility of reward inherent in markets drives us to create goods and services other people want.  Which in turn provides jobs and benefits.  If the message is, “corporate CEO’s make 342 times the money of the average worker in their companies,” SO WHAT?  A few years ago, I understand, the number was 525 times as much.  Despite common misperception, tough times have hit the ultra-rich, too.  If the guy in charge makes 500 times as much as you do, but your wages, or purchasing power, or both, keep going up too, who cares how much the boss makes?  Wealth is not finite.  It is created.  And part of the reason most of us in the 99 percent have jobs is because somebody, through risk, sacrifice and innovation, saw the chance to make tons of money.  Just look around.  Are we really any poorer than we were 30 years ago?

Here’s my advice.  Quit bitching and be grateful.  In this season of giving, and on into the next year.  We live in the freest society on earth thanks to a spirit of cooperation brought by an ongoing pursuit of self-interest known as market capitalism.  But living here, and partaking in America’s infinite freedoms, does not give you the right to camp out indefinitely in public places, block streets and bridges, eat for free, bathe yourselves in the sinks of “public” toilets, take advantage of taxpayers by overusing police services, or interrupt holiday shoppers doing the work of keeping this great big economic machine in operation.  Which is exactly what pays for the public parks, streets, bridges, food, toilets and police protection you claim as your “rights.”

No, our system is not perfect.  But it does provide us a way to be productive, to use the tools at our disposal to organize and effect changes to that system, when necessary.  But camping out in public places, making messes and using public resources achieves nothing.  You’re not homeless.  You have places to live.  Go back to them.  Sleep in your own beds.  Clean yourselves in your own showers.  Eat your own food.  Go to work or to school or do all the things you’re supposed to be doing.  If you don’t like banks, don’t use a bank.  If you think college costs too much, don’t go to college.  If you can’t find a job, keep looking.  Do what you gotta do.  That’s what we all do.  If you don’t think corporations should make money, quit buying their stuff.  And if you really object to all we have made for ourselves here, if you just have to express your disdain, then get out of downtown, get out of the man-made parks, and go to the beach and write your message with sticks in the sand.  Climb to the highest hill, rubs sticks together to start a fire, and send out smoke signals.  But you can’t take advantage of all our civilization has built, to say our civilization is misguided.  Not when we have legitimate means of expression. It’s just—dishonest.

And don’t be fooled.  The Occupy movement didn’t come out of nowhere.  This isn’t some organic action of thousands of people who just had enough all at once.  It was organized by Adbusters, a group of losers that has been denigrating market economies for a long time. That sets out to take advantage of youthful ignorance and “idealism.”

We live in the freest society on earth.  And one of the freedoms we have gained is the freedom to make mistakes.  The freedom to be foolish.  To elect leaders who don’t really understand how things work.  Who can’t seem to understand that people manage their money, and their affairs, better than any government can.  The Occupy movement calls for a variety of interventions.  Yet the current administration, bent on interventions of all stripes, has given us 5 trillion dollars of new debt that I, and the barely half of all Americans who actually pay taxes, will have to repay.  Presumably, to make life more fair.  And still, people clog our streets demanding more.  When all we have to show for these “well-intentioned” interventions is a worse economy, a deepening debt crisis and even more people depending on government to make things “right.”

More government interventions will achieve little.  Camping in the streets achieves nothing.  So grow up and do something worthy of this great nation.  If it’s broken, do something productive to fix it.  It’s not perfect, no, but there are legitimate ways to make it improve.  As Churchill said, capitalism is the worst economic system that’s ever been tried.  Except for all the others.

 

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