Oct 262011

The uprising of the Pessimist Nation, more commonly known as “Occupy Wall Street” amazes me. It might have already fizzled out if not for the news media. When the news media covers it, interviews people, captures pictures and footage, people tend to stay around hoping for their few seconds of fame. But the news media needs stories to sell ads.

The core essence of Occupy Wall Street boils down to these key soundbytes:

  1. The richest 1% of America are making and keeping too much money, and we the poor oppressed 99% deserve more.
  2. The government needs to tax the rich more, and then redistribute the benefits to people who are not rich (us, the 99%).
  3. The American system is not fair.
  4. Government bailouts were the wrong thing to do.
  5. We are mad as hell and just want to rant.

Occupy Wall Street is a protest against capitalism by pessimists and socialists. Most of the protesters simply don’t understand capitalism and business, or are unwilling to put in the sweat equity, the saving discipline, and take the inevitable risks that it takes to really succeed financially in a capitalist society.

Sure, our system has some significant problems that could (and will) be made better. The income inequality gap has gotten larger in the last decades, but that is not “the” problem in itself — bringing up the overall standard of living is far more worthy a concern. The financial system did allow institutions to create too much leverage in the system with complex derivatives that baffled many as to the total underlying risk. Washington’s policies of pushing nearly unlimited credit for housing to people with poor credit histories was gasoline thrown on the fire. But no system is perfect and progress is made over time in logical steps. Yelling “I’m mad as hell but I have no proposals to make it better, other than the government should tax the rich more” is insanity. More taxes, massive regulation on top of regulation, taxing our corporations heavily so that they are less competitive than foreign companies, and Robin Hood plans where the government makes spending decisions for its citizens don’t work. History has proved this many time over.

I am not one of this guy’s 99%! But, the cardboard would not sell quite as well if it declared “We are mad as hell but clueless all the same…”

To be clear, when one looks at the numbers, the bailouts and other moves to shore up financial stability are not why we have a huge deficit. We have a huge deficit because the government spends way too much money on all kinds of things. Politicians stoke the populist fires with diversions like “tax the people that use corporate jets” yet this amount is so small a number that one has to laugh at the transparency of the deception.

No system is more fair or more successful than capitalism, but capitalism has serious survival-of-the-fittest aspects to it. America is the best example of the success of capitalism and personal freedom in the world. Everyone is free to become a great capitalist. There are more than a million self-made millionaires who started with nothing and made it happen. This fact alone tells any open-minded observer that the basic system is fair, but not necessarily easy.

I believe the core group in Occupy are infected with a misguided sense of entitlement and the belief that more regulation is a good fix. These pessimists have a credo of: I deserve more, even if I did nothing valuable but eat my parent’s groceries! Many are protesting for the fun of protesting — its something to build personal social cred on facebook and twitter. No one is offering good proposals to fine-tune the issues that matter. It is a heck of a lot easier to play iTunes on your laptop in a park than it is to borrow money to open your first dry cleaner location, your first restaurant, or pay a developer to create your first smartphone app.  A great many of the Occupiers seem to want to default on their student loans rather than create new economic value. It takes a lot of work and a lot of risk-taking to make any economic venture succeed, but every day, optimists succeed, or at least fail forward and learn valuable lessons. The Occupiers keep yelling about too big to fail, but they would have no opportunity at all if the banks and financial markets had failed and shuttered.

The sense of entitlement is a cancer in America, and world-wide… just look at France if you think the cancer is acute here. Few deserve a free ride when they enjoy the benefits of a safe and secure America, yet today some 50% of Americans don’t pay any federal income taxes.

It would not be fair if no one had an opportunity to join the top 1%, but in truth, hard working optimists do join the top 1% every year. Capitalism works and gives those with drive, will power, and creativity the opportunity to do that.

Washington should adopt a flat tax system, because each person paying the same percentage is more fair a game than anything else. It should not be a system of take from the entrepreneur that made it and give it to the slacker that lived in his mother’s basement until he was 42. America should stand for freedom and fairness, not jealousy and entitlement. The fairer we make the system, the more successful America will be. Consumption tax is another alternative but there is no doubt that this idea hits lower income earners harder than high income earners. I believe a straight flat tax is the best alternative.

It is high time to bite the bullet on Social Security too. The most straightforward fix is to increase the retirement age. Nobody likes to face this reality but life expectancy has increased and retirement age must follow suit. It is logical as logical can be.

Lastly, Washington must finally live within its means. Spending more than you make comes to an end. The government must reduce its expenses and every program should take some cuts. The secretive super committee must come out with a hard core plan of expense cutting and everyone on both sides of the aisle in Washington needs to echo the same message — the time has come for government to spend a lot less.

The Occupiers argue that the top 10% should fund 100% of government spending, and that the 90% should determine how the money is spent for their benefit. This is an ugly idea. America would begin to lose the best and the brightest over time. Government programs do not spend money well or wisely. It is becoming time for the Optimistic Few to stand up to the pessimist / socialists.

We don’t need people yelling “I’m mad as hell” and obstructing all progress, no matter if they are in the streets or on Sunday morning talk shows. We don’t need debates where presidential prospects show up with one dodgy vague answer after another about their plans. The price of speaking up should be well thought out proposals, written for all to see on websites. Elect me first, then I’ll show you my plan, is flat wrong. Elect me on the idea of “I’ll change something but I’m not sure what it is” is over only three years after it worked so well.

In case a reminder is needed, succeeding in a capitalist system is not hard to understand:

  • Always work as hard as you can — give everything 110% in effort, attitude, and integrity
    (ok, not everyone chooses to do this)
  • Constantly increase your skills, so that you contribute more value to the economy
    (ok, not everyone is willing)
  • With your economically more valuable skills, you will earn more money over time
    (ok, not everyone will pass this hurdle, because being ambitious and changing jobs moves you out of your comfort zone)
  • Live within your means and keep your expenses low
    (ok, many people say “yikes – but I want and deserve that new car now” and they don’t pass this hurdle)
  • Save at least 10% of everything you earn  every month, every year
    (are you kidding me!)
  • Invest your savings in investments that earn you money, then reinvest your earnings. Yes, investing involves risk but being an owner of appreciating assets — stocks, bonds, real estate, a restaurant — is how you build financial momentum in a capitalist system — its not about buying more consumer goods.
    (ok, not everyone will pass this hurdle either).

It is up to us, and our government which serves us, to make sure that everyone has a fair chance to win the game. Government should not focus on entitlements and regulations upon regulations as its primary directives.

Optimists who go out and earn their own rewards will be the most successful of all, not the pessimists demanding Robin Hood policies on the streets of New York. Capitalism is fair but not easy, and that’s why so much opportunity is readily available for the Optimist who is willing to get started. The goal is to make America fair, and do everything possible to encourage more people to succeed and become great capitalists, because thriving enterprise will ensure a brighter future for America and our kids.

I.M. Optimism Man

  4 Responses to “The Pessimists Occupy”

  1. O-Man,

    Your viewpoint is somewhat naive. You’ve got a handful of companies/executives who got filthy rich (and I mean obscenely filthy-rich) by writing idiotically-doomed mortgages and insuring the heck out of them (often betting against the same mortgages they were writing). When the time came to pay the piper, these folks took their obscene bonuses and ran for the hills (to hide in their mansions and yachts) leaving the American taxpayers holding the bag.

    You can’t blame these folks for feeling disenfranchised.

    • I am not saying there are not plenty of examples of people hitting the exit with a briefcase of money tucked away… there is a lot of room for improvement. Unfortunately, the blame game doesn’t fix anything in the future. Protesting in a park without productive proposals — chanting tax the rich! tax the rich! — is not the answer. For that matter, cutting every government program as some others support at the other end of the political spectrum won’t work either. We need leadership in the center that makes progress toward better free markets.

      Optimism Man

  2. Great job presenting your thoughts, Optimism Man. As you accurately noted, the media is happily stoking the flames of the OWS crowd and making them seem more “normal” than they really are. Conversely, when the Tea Party was demonstrating in DC we all heard these terms thrown about by the media: extremists, racists, terrorists, etc. (thank you, Joe Biden, for the last one).

  3. O-Man,

    I agree with most, if not all of your comments, although I might leave a little wiggle room for people with legitimate grievances. The fact is, the system is skewed unfairly towards high income earners because they have the politicians in their pockets, or they are the politicians themselves. I don’t believe there is a single elected official in Washington who is not a millionaire, and very few of them came by it in the honest, hard working fashion that you describe.

    Here’s my beef. Years ago when my wife and I bought our house, we saved for six years to come up with a down payment and bought a house that we could afford to make payments and still pay our utilities, car payments, etc. The bank ran us through a ringer for two months for the privilege of paying them 8.5% interest on what would be a very small loan in today’s world. In more recent years, the banks have made ill-advised loans to people who could not really afford them (they call them “toxic assets” now, so they are drinking their own Kool-aid). When their house of cards tumbled down, they got bailed out. Their ill-advised loans caused financial problems that wiped out more than half of my 401K and made everything else more expensive. So where’s my bailout? The government now wants to help people who are upside down on their mortgages, but poor slobs like me who paid their mortgages faithfully over the years are SOL. So, yeah, I can relate to the occupiers, although the targets of my discontent are the banks and the elected and appointed officials who help them, not the entrepeneurs.

    I don’t know if I can buy into a flat tax. It sounds fair, but it is regressive. I’ll have to decide if I can live with that. I’m more concerned about the people who pay no taxes–not just those who don’t have to pay because of exemptions and credits; but those who aren’t even visible to the IRS. These are all the millions of people who get paid under the table, in cash, which is a much bigger population that just the undocumented foreign workers. I think we ought to have a national sales tax. Thataway, the undocumented workers, people who are paid through tips, gamblers, criminals, etc. will be funding government programs when they spend money, since they don’t pay taxes when they earn it. This would enable us to lower income taxes all around, too.

    I think a national sales tax has about as much chance of succeeding as a flat rate tax. It would take a constitutional amendment, I believe, since it’s dang sure that no politician would stand up for it.

    I like your blog.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.