Know What You’re Protesting

A few weeks ago, a group of students staged a walkout of Greg Mankiw’s Intro to Economics course at Harvard. Mankiw is one of the leading Economists today, and honestly a very grounded person. He’s not shouting ideological debates from the rooftops.

This weekend, Mankiw responded to the protestors:

My second reaction was sadness at how poorly informed the Harvard protesters seemed to be. As with much of the Occupy movement across the country, their complaints seemed to me to be a grab bag of anti-establishment platitudes without much hard-headed analysis or clear policy prescriptions. Ironically, the topic of the lecture that the protesters chose to boycott was economic inequality, including a discussion of recent trends and their causes.

In one paragraph, this is exactly my sentiment on the Occupy Wall Street protests. It seems counter productive. At the very least, it should be “occupying” Washington D.C., who has a moral obligation to serve “us,” the constituents.

Kyle Baxter nailed it a few weeks ago in responding to my piece in regards to the transition from an industrial-based society:

This transition will be difficult, like all transitions, but it will also open up great opportunities—for the people who are willing to see them and to take advantage of them.

The Occupy movement isn’t interested in that, unfortunately—at least in the broad strokes of the movement. What it’s been interested in thus far is vilifying the well-off as the cause of our economic troubles, insinuating that they profited from the financial crisis and the ruin of everyone else, and it’s all of us against them. That’s an easy story to paint, but it’s not accurate, nor is it productive. How can we make good policy aimed at restoring our finances and getting our economy back on track when the movement’s thrust is anger at the well-off? Good policy does not result from misguided anger. It results from a lucid understanding of the situation, what caused it, and what can be done. Making the well-off pay penance for their perceived crimes is not good policy. It’s the satisfaction of anger and frustration, fleeting satisfaction that does nothing to solve the actual problem.

I am not against people’s right to protest. At it’s core, I’m probably in agreement with a lot of their points: that we have an ineffective government and that the companies who caused the current recession are being helped by our bad government.

What I argue is that the Occupy Wall Street movement has misguided anger that isn’t helping us produce or fix anything. The fact that Economics 101 students at arguably one of the finest universities in the world can’t see that is concerning about our future.

December 5, 2011