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Unequal Occupation

There’s a cool, creepy old Twilight Zone episode called “Button, Button,” where a mysterious stranger arrives at the home of a suburban couple. He brings a box with him, and he tells the couple that if they’ll just push the button inside the box, they can have two hundred thousand bucks.

What’s the catch?

Well, if they press the button, someone they don’t know will die.

The rest of the episode focuses on them agonizing over the morally portentous decision, and you’ll have to watch it yourself to figure out what happens. (SPOILER: Okay, I’ll tell you. They don’t press the button, but the stranger gives them the cash anyway and takes the button away to give it to, and I quote, “someone they don’t know,” implying that if that someone presses the button, the couple will die. Moral of the Story: Don’t mess around with Twilight Zoners because they’re always creepy freaks.)

Anyway, let’s change the scenario a bit. Suppose the same stranger offers you a different choice. If you press the button, you get a million dollars, but someone you don’t know… will get five million dollars. If you don’t press the button, neither of you get anything. Nobody dies, though. There’s no other catch. Nobody gets cursed or turned into a zombie or forced to eat haggis. The only catch is that somebody else will get five times more money than you will.

Guess what, folks. I’m all for pressing that button.

As I watch the weirdness surrounding this whole “Occupy Wall Street” movement, I really wonder if these angry people have any idea what they’re doing. They’re mad, which I get, so they want Wall Street to… what? Give them all their money? Well, then they’d be the rich jerks that would need to be occupied, wouldn’t they? No, not if it’s distributed equally.

Okay, then, how much do I get?

Well, dividing the billions up over 300 million American citizens, I might end up with a few hundred bucks in the bargain. Carve it up across the population of the world as a whole, and maybe I’ll get a nice dinner out of it. In the meantime, all the people who created that wealth are no longer hiring anyone, all of the banks that financed the businesses that made people rich are kaput, and everybody ends up out of a job.

That’s not a good button to press.

Please tell me where I’m wrong, but from where I’m sitting, rich people didn’t get their money by stealing it from me. I never had it, and the fact that they have it doesn’t mean I would get it if they didn’t. The fact that they have it also doesn’t mean that there’s no wealth out there for me to get. Wealth isn’t static – it grows and contracts along with the economy. If you confiscate all of it, you ended up killing the incentive to create it, which means you have less of it to redistribute.

Would it be nice if everyone were equally rich? Well, yes, in theory, but even then, there are problems. It would be nice if everyone had a billion dollars. But I would rather that 99% of people had twenty bucks and one guy had a billion dollars than have a scenario where 100% of the people have nothing. Equality is a great virtue, but it’s not the only virtue, and when zealots pursue it at the cost of all else, they lose sight of the reasons they were attracted to equality in the first place.

This is merely an observation, not a solution. As I get older, I realize that there is no utopian governmental system that can right all the wrongs of an imperfect world. Only God can do that, which is why I have more faith in Him than I do in Wall Street occupiers, Tea Partiers, or politicians of any stripe.

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18 Comments

  1. Not to worry.

    The nature of the occupiers indicates that the occupation will promptly end either on the first day of Thanksgiving break, or whenever the outside temperatures dip below whatever the dorms are kept at. Whichever one comes first.

    The problem with leftist protests is that they’re no longer an act of social conscious. Rather, they’re more like a fashion show or a cocktail party. A chance to show other lefties that they’re leftier than thou, that they have the newest hemp handbag. And so they’ve become white noise.

    It’s a pathetic attempt by aging baby-boomer era hippies to relive the 1960′s. And a misguided attempt by college children who have romanticized woodstock imagery to recreate the 1960′s. Only one problem: the 60′s ended nearly half a century ago, so it’s time for these people to start easing themselves into the La Brea tar pits.

    99%? What a joke. It’s more like 23%.

    http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/186499-poll-finds-more-than-half-of-all-americans-aware-of-occupy-wall-street-protests?utm_campaign=briefingroom&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitterfeed

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/141032/2010-conservatives-outnumber-moderates-liberals.aspx

    http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/obama_administration/june_2011/only_24_say_they_share_obama_s_political_views

    http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/news/20101118/mental-illness-affects-in-in-5-americans

    Do these mental midgets realize that Wall Street and JP Morgan Chase were some of Obama’s top campaign contributors? Probably not.

  2. I like your box/button analogy…but it’s a shame you lose sight of it when you start talking about the Occupy movement.
    According to recent web-scurrying info-graphics, when that anonymous stranger gets $5mil, the button pusher only gets $10,000. Occupy isn’t in favor of abandoning all button-pushing-based-revenue entirely, they’re saying…what if that stranger only gets $4mil while 100 other button pushers also get $10,000. Now sure, that stranger may have to settle for flying first class instead of private ( a HUGE sacrifice!) but his sacrifice makes a huge positive effect in those 100 lives and in our society at large. Those 100 additional button-pushers are now eager and able to contribute to our greater financial good in ways they wouldn’t have had they not been given the opportunity to push those buttons.

    • This presupposes a centralized control over how the “button proceeds” are to be distributed. The reality is that, for the most part, very few people involved in any complex transaction have any control or even any knowledge of how much the other person is getting when the fictional button is pressed. My point is that people aren’t poor because someone else is rich, and de-riching the rich people doesn’t mean poor people will be less poor.

  3. I was recently surprised to learn of an “Occupy Perth” movement… My home town of Perth West Australia, yeah… some jokers want to sit around the city center in “Protest that the wealthiest 20% of Australians own 61% of the wealth…”. Yeah, laughable! I complained on their Facebook page that they need DEMANDS… who has protests without clear, and measurable DEMANDS (?)!. “…yeah, lets all moan about wealth inequality…and not bother to tell people what we actually want. That way we don’t alienate any other complainers”. That’s my biggest problem with these guys – no demands. Its easy to complain… but not so sweet actually offering alternatives.

  4. Surely you’re being disingenuous here in your pat assessment of the gripes of the “occupy” movement. I certainly don’t agree with many of the assertions that seem to be coming out of the occupiers, but I have yet to see a sign that says “redistribute the wealth”. The messages coming out of the movement seem in large part to be about corporate corruption and abuses.

    I refer you to their statement: http://occupywallst.org/forum/first-official-release-from-occupy-wall-street/

    Where’s the mention of wealth distribution? Where’s the mention of the unfairness of some being rich and others not? It’s simply not there.

    Now I think much of what they stand for is complete nonsense, but I take just as much issue with you “calling them out” on points they aren’t making. Your ugly dismissive stance hurts your credibility and cheapens the debate in this Country in the same way that those who dismiss the tea partiers as just a bunch of dumb old folks who are mad because a black man is president do.

    It’s a cheap dodge to avoid the real issues, and it’s disappointing.

    • The “real issues?” What real issues? That statement is impenetrable, and I’m confused as how the writers of it became the “official” voice of a messy, disparate movement that seems to be all over the map. All I’ve been able to glean from the idea of “occupy Wall Street” is the idea of corporate greed being bad and the evilness of rich people, which is where I came up with my observation that someone else’s richness doesn’t cause poverty. If there’s a coherent message I’m missing, then I’m happy to address it. It certainly isn’t contained in that rambling, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink statement.

    • Um… did you actually read that “user submitted” comment? The “redistribution of wealth” referred to is that of taxpayer money going to the execs of failing companies. They are using that term to point out that redistribution of wealth is already happening- in the other direction! There is still no call for rich people to have to give their money to the poor!

      • I’m afraid not. Generally when I see anything about “Income Redistribution” I tend to gloss over the ensuing text if I even bother with it at all. It’s usually just predictable lefty garbage, and thus a waste of time and precious calories.

        Nevertheless, the SDS propaganda flyers and the “man on the street” interviews with these people that litter YouTube contain plenty of redistribution whining.

        The guy who headed this movement, the crank Van Jones, has made an infinite number of redistribution comments, as has many of his obedient lackeys.

        This isn’t anything new. Lefties getting their undies in a bunch over issues that they either just don’t understand or that just don’t exist. It’s old hat.

        But now that both the Communist Party USA and the American Nazi Party both endorse this farce, I’m sure it will gain barrels-o-credibility.

  5. The OWS protests are a great litmus test for exposing political biases. Rabid conservatives will dismiss them as hippies, mock their lack of direction, and/or publicly pontificate about them becoming “mobs”. Rabid liberals will leap in to defend the movement with links to all kinds of statements from sympathetic bloggers, providing more detailed explanations of what the protesters want, plus pictures illustrating that they are just like you and me. More cogent analysis will recognize the complexities of an organic, grass-roots movement. There is no coherent voice, nor a list of demands, because it is not an organized movement. There are tens of different conflicting lists of demands. It’s what you get when political corruption plus economic disparity result in a lot of very unhappy people who can no longer achieve the American dream because there just aren’t any jobs, nor any hope that the system will ever get changed through ordinary elections.