Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Problem with Ignorant Frustration

There's a movement going on in the country right now; small at the moment, but persistent, and getting lots of media attention currently (due in not small part, I'm sure, to the fairly significant alignment of positions between the protesters and the liberal media). This protest movement started as Occupy Wall Street, a sit-in protest against the profits of investment corporations despite the economic downturn, but has grown to be nation-wide to some extend, and into a protest against corporations in general, in addition to a few other things. It has received backing and support from some big-name organizations (namely and primarily, the Socialist party, the Nazi party, several large labor unions, and several well-known Democrats), and although the numbers of people involved are relatively small, there is a solid basis for frustration. America is in a recession, jobs in many fields are scarce, the housing market continues to stagnate and impede possible recovery, and some corporations are still showing large profits. Clearly there is plenty to be upset about, but before we go marching, let's see if we can really figure out what the real problems are.

You see, there are several problems with ignorance, especially among the people trying to influence the course of political happenings. Firstly, obviously, you can easily make the problems worse, if you advocate for people or policies which a contributory to the problems, rather than the solutions. Second, unless you are clear on your understanding and message, your actions or indignation can often be co-opted by other interests, sometimes to support positions you do not adhere to (for example, ask OWS protesters if they are all Nazis; after all, the Nazi party has claimed solidarity with their cause). Third, you can be taking attention away from the real causes of problems, and providing political cover for the people responsible for them, thus impeding the efforts of people who would be able to have more positive impact, but for your efforts. Thus, it's vitally important to have as full and correct an understanding of the situation as possible, if you even hope to affect positive change. In that spirit, lets examine some of the problems that the protesters are ostensibly upset about.

First, I guess, there's the recession. This is an economic correction, caused by years of easy money and bubble creation by the government; it's fairly easy to see at least one of the main perpetrators for this one. However, this recession is going to be prolonged due to a number of other factors, such as the housing market and unemployment. Of the latter, one of the root causes is the lack of skilled workers in the fields/areas which have a shortage (ie: high tech, biology research, engineering), and a surplus in areas where there is little employment potential (ie: literature, history, social studies, etc.). For this it would be easy to also blame the government, but really the blame here should more accurately be directed at college advisers, degree incentives, and other things which have steered students away from fields where the job prospects are good. At best, though, they would share the blame with the students who chose to study areas which did not lead to jobs; it would be grossly unfair to allow these people to dodge personal responsibility for their own educational direction decisions. Thus, if you see a PhD in art history complaining about a lack of jobs (as I did in an interview with some OWS protesters), you know that he is responsible for the problem he's complaining about, and if he wasn't ignorant, should be protesting himself (preferably in private).

Of course, that's not the whole story on jobs. It would be incomplete without at least a mention of the transition of America to a "service-based economy", which was triumphed by various politicians (primarily Democrats) as a way to get rid of all the ugly, polluting manufacturing and product creation, and focus on "clean" industries, such as food service and retail. This economic model relies, of course, on ever-increasing consumer consumption, driven by wealth that they create by borrowing against equity in their homes, or create by producing... no, wait, we're virtually outlawing that old and outdated concept, though oppressive business regulation and environmental restrictions. So that just leaves wealth from housing, which was fine while the government was able to keep that bubble blown, and is now terrible as the government is insistent on prolonging the recovery. So, perhaps demonizing manufacturing and actual goods production was not an optimal plan; that's a good note for the protesters to keep in mind, at least.

Speaking of the housing market, though, let's touch on that for a moment. By now, there's no real excuse for not being at least passably familiar with the housing bubble and its subsequent correction, especially if you real my blog. I suppose the important point here is that although the government was primarily responsible for the conditions which created the bubble, it's also important to keep in mind that they caused more longer-term damage to the economy by prolonging the recovery, with all the idiotic measures to try to keep prices artificially inflated, and thus prevent the market from becoming functional again. In addition to that, of course, there was the government decision to bail out the banks and investment corporations, as a reward for their participation in creating the bubble in the first place (which was only possible because of government encouragement, and the example set by the GSE's with consent and direct support of the government). Thus, and fortunately, it's fairly easy to see where the vast majority, if not all, of the blame for the housing market conditions should be directed.

So now that we have at least a little perspective on the causes of the actual problems, we can better hope to make reasonable choices as to what to be upset about, and moreover to judge if the actual protesters are cognizant of the same. Unfortunately, it would not appear (at least from initial observations) that most of the protesters are even slightly aware of the actual issues or causes, thus virtually ensuring that they will have at best no impact, and at worse a negative one. All I can hope is that the readers of this blog, at least, will make a reasonable effort to be educated about what they complain about, and this not be part of the problem.