Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Victims of Their Own Naivete

Did you hear the one about an Occupy Wall Streeter whose $5,500 Apple laptop was stolen from Zuccotti Park?

Rupert Murdoch's irascible New York Post broke the story, along with salacious accounts of thievery running amok among the idealist hipsters playing urban wilderness campers in New York City's Financial District.

Apparently, according to an 18-year-old protester from Florida, “stealing is our biggest problem at the moment.”

And it's the stuff made by the very capitalists being reviled by the protesters that's being stolen.

Oh, the irony!

Setting an Example for Wealth Redistribution?

Wealth is relative, of course, and even if you think a $5,500 laptop fits into an anarchist's personal budget, it's still more than many average, middle-class families can spend on something that's outdated almost as soon as it's purchased. Indeed, it's probably the parents of that 18-year-old Floridian, a volunteer staffer in the park, who are madder than their daughter, since they were likely the ones who bought that Mac in the first place.

It's not just overpriced Apple computers thieves are stealing from amongst the demonstrators in Zuccotti Park, however. Cell phones and digital cameras have been disappearing, along with umbrellas and even somebody's fold-up bed. As plenty of bemused commenters of the Post's article observed, it's "wealth redistribution" at its most basic form. Something for which the Occupy Wall Streeters (OWSers) have been clamoring, but which they don't actually appreciate happening to them.

Granted, the sophisticated government programs and entitlements many conservatives brand as wealth redistribution can't legitimately be called theft, since tax codes - however unfair - aren't illegal. But having New York's protesters discovering that they can't even trust their fellow demonstrators should be showing them one of their campaign's major fallacies: capitalism itself isn't the problem as much as it is a lack of personal responsibility.

Think about it: the verifiable evils many protesters have been complaining about, such as offshoring, downsizing, excessive executive compensation, and banks profiteering off of taxpayer bailouts, have at their core not the capitalism which has allowed these phenomena to take hold, but individual businesspeople who have made decisions based on narrow self-interests.

And these businesspeople have been forced to make self-serving decisions by greedy shareholders - most of them 99 Percenters - who consider themselves a more important component of capitalism than products and the people who make them.

Then there are the greedy unions - particularly in the automotive industry - who wrangle with management to secure unreasonably high pay for more people than necessary to produce low-quality work.

Top it all off with win-at-any-cost politicians whose diet consists of pure legislative pork, with partisan flavoring serving more as diversionary tactic than heartfelt conviction.

Add all of these myopic business patterns together and what do you get? A crumbling national economy, while even more socially and financially corrupt societies in Asia chop away at our global competitiveness.

Who's Responsible?

Just as the demonstrators look at the thievery taking place among their ranks and cry foul, the crimes that are taking place aren't being perpetrated by faceless, soulless organizations; they're being perpetrated by individual crooks. Yet, just as there's no point marching over to Rikers Island and Sing Sing, chanting anti-crime slogans at incarcerated felons, is there any benefit to marching down Wall Street's corporate canyons, berating the faceless, soulless capitalists they think are responsible for our economic malaise?

Last week, when a small group of protesters made their way uptown to chant their slogans on sidewalks outside of exclusive apartment buildings, they didn't bother selecting the home of Democrat activist George Soros, one of the wealthiest Wall Street players in the world. No, they picked on some less politically-sensitive targets to appease the left-wing elements of their underground sponsors. So even to them, individualism does matter.

Not that their petulant Uptown demonstrations were very effective, anyway. They ended up frustrating far more of New York's 99 Percenters who ended up stuck in the traffic chaos than the One Percenters they intended to inconvenience.

Has the Big Apple Struck Again?

Of course, going back to the missing $5,500 computer, it could also be that, in fact, there are no thieves among the OWSers. Might this new problem in Zuccotti Park just be a result of New York being New York?

Let's be realistic here: this is New York City, and many of these protesters are from out of town. Even among the ones who say they're New Yorkers are a lot of spoiled white suburban kids who've moved to the Greatest City in the World for a post-college rush, and they're as naive as Zuccotti's traveling demonstrators to Gotham's gritty dangers.

If I were a common street criminal in the City, would I pass up such an opportunity as this? I've seen photos on the Internet of laptop computers and other gadgets left unattended. You just don't do that in New York City. Especially in a crowd where you really don't know who belongs and who doesn't.

Throw in all of the gourmet food that's been donated free, and what New York pickpocket, scam artist, and petty mugger wouldn't be enticed downtown?

Free laptops, cell phones, and a hot meal! Can't beat that.

If this is the case, then the OWSers still don't win, because yet again, they're exposing their own irrationality and misunderstanding of reality. Just as yelling at a building full of office workers doesn't convey an astute grasp of economic complexities, camping out for over a month with unguarded technology on the streets of Manhattan doesn't convey an astute grasp on personal responsibility.

Either way, the protesters are looking for sympathy when they really don't deserve any. Out of work? How many months of rent would $5,500 pay for, instead of an over-the-top laptop? How much peanut butter and bananas, if you're starving? How much of your student loans, or your car payments, or your airline ticket to a city with a cheaper cost of living?

The Learning Experience Whose Lessons They Don't Want to Learn

I'm not saying that the problems towards which Occupy Wall Street has directed its angst aren't real or valid. But in order to solve problems, one needs to have the facts, the insight, and even the savvy to construct effective solutions.

The more I hear about the OWSers, the less confident I become that they're even capable of being the productive citizens they claim they want to be, let alone people who can offer rational solutions to fix our economic woes. Take, for example, the grungy protester on a pro-OWS video outed by both Breitbart TV and the New York Times as a trust fund Ivy Leaguer. Then there's the retired vice chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange who's the largest single benefactor of New York's protests to date. And he's also given to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

Perhaps the more amazing thing about Occupy Wall Street isn't that its taken this long for a $5,500 laptop to get stolen, but that they've been around this long already, considering the type of agitators they're attracting.

Indeed, staying on-message has been extremely difficult for the protesters, primarily because they didn't start out with one. How curious that now they've managed to coalesce their grievances around the banner of economic opportunity, thievery has begun to paradoxically plague the demonstrators.

And it's all proving one of the truths they don't seem willing to admit: that personal accountability begins with each one of us.

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