Sunday, October 30, 2011

Notes on the Occupy movement in America

There is nothing that I agree on with those in the Occupy movement.  At the same time, I support their right to demonstrate and put their viewpoints across.  Some of the force and violence directed by local police against the demonstrators is misguided and should never have occurred.

Now back to the points of disagreement.  A few thoughts:

1. The rich are rich because?

Because we make them so.  LeBron James can dunk like few others, and we freely pay to see him do that.  Steve Jobs had a mind like few others, and we paid him profusely to use it.  Surgeons are rich because few go through the rigor and have the skill to cut open humans to save their lives. Of course, not all rich are exceptionally skilled or gifted like Mr. Jobs or brain surgeons, but are so simply because there is a big demand for what they do.  Take bankers for instance.  If you take out the rogue few who created ingenuous financial instruments, the others do mundane stuff like maintain your bank accounts, sell you loans, and invest your retirement kitty.

America is a country hooked on debt; people take out debts to go to school, to buy cars, to buy household appliances, and to buy houses.  Someone organizes, administers and collects that debt. Naturally, bankers lead good lives in America; is it their fault?  Which brings us to the second point.

2. The bankers were surely to blame. But blame yourselves too.

There is no debate that some unscrupulous bankers conducted acts with criminal intents; acts which had far-reaching impacts on the greater financial system.  Yet, if the American people were not linked so closely to the financial system through their debts, the impacts would have been softer.  In China, for example, where the average citizen owes little money and has larger savings, a few economic blows don't snowball into a fatal punch.  In 2010, the average US household debt was 136% of income; in China the number was 17%. Leveraging amplifies your vulnerability to factors beyond your control.

As a society, America decided at some point that leveraging was okay.  Granted that the big-business-dominated mainstream media promotes spending, but if the voices promoting the Occupy movement today are sane, where were they when America was going crazy and taking on debt in various forms?  As we speak, the American government is trying to promote even more debt through various monetary measures.

Had the American public not been so severely leveraged in 2008, would the housing meltdown had caused such deep-reaching effects? I venture no.  As it is, by pinning all the blame for the economic crisis on the few (or many, does not matter) bankers, Americans are missing an opportunity to learn a lesson.

3. Stop feeling sorry for yourself

This goes beyond those in the Occupy movement.  All of American seems to be in a grip of self-pity and pessimism.  It is fashionable, for everyone from the president of the country down, to say that "America is broken", to say that this country needs a reformation, to say that that American infrastructure is falling down, to conjure up visions of doom unless one thing or the other is done.  I disagree.  The miserable state exists in the American psyche only.  As such, apart from its criminal martial intervention in other countries, the country is a place where most people are free, the rule of law prevails, accountability and order are the norm, public corruption is not widespread, life is considered valuable, commerce has a good chance, and education and innovation flourishes.

Perhaps Americans should see this as the time of renewal.  For all its faults, America's fundamentals remain strong. If anything, America needs faith and patience.

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