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Our Views: Biting the hand

‘Flip-side’ tea partiers hit Wall Street but without a clear focus what they want

POSTED: October 9, 2011 1:00 a.m.

The yin and yang of U.S. politics is at it again. Only in America does the market provide a protest movement for everyone’s preference. If there isn’t one for you yet, just wait; someone will create it soon enough.

First we had the tea party, conservatives tired of government tax-and-spend policies they say is a slap at the U.S. Constitution. For the past two years, it has grown in size and scope and already is a driving force in election campaigns.

But if that uprising wasn’t your ... well, cup of tea ... there’s another one mounting. This one involves protests on Wall Street against U.S. financial markets and the wealthy. Sympathizers are doing the same in other cities, including Atlanta.

Everyone’s got a right to share their views, and there was a time, as in the 1960s, when public protests changed public policy. We’re just having a hard time finding a point to this particular demonstration.

It’s hard to tell exactly what these folks are protesting. Greed? OK, most of us are on board with that. For that matter, throw in a few of the six other “deadly sins” like wrath, pride and gluttony.

And envy; don’t forget envy. Or sloth.

This flip-side tea party really seems to be less about the haves and the have-nots than it is about the haves and the have-mores. They’re upset that some people make a lot of money and don’t share it, and they want something done about it. By government.

This effort appears to be fueled by labor unions, whose influence has waned along with their memberships. So they are providing support for the protesters with food and other goods — the very fruits of the free-market system they are attacking.

Its message and influence is very much in the eyes of the beholder. President Barack Obama, for instance, often has dismissed the tea party as the angry venom of rabble rousers, yet he is quick to grant legitimacy to this new strike from the left.

Said Obama: “It expresses the frustrations that the American people feel that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

Says the guy who bailed out a lot of those folks with TARP money, one of the seeds that sprouted into the tea party. Even many of the protesters are critical of him for doing little to create jobs or reform what they feel is a broken system.

But playing the wealth envy card is key to Obama’s re-election strategy. His push to have the rich pay higher taxes has revived the old “class warfare” feud between the rich and middle class. Though it’s really not so much about “class” here, as in old Europe and elsewhere, but more about “cash warfare,” as in some have more of it and others resent it.

There is no denying that excessive practices by many in the financial industry created the economic downturn of 2008-09. As a result, most agree that common-sense regulatory practices are needed to avoid a repeat.

Still, it’s wrong for both the president and the protesters to paint big business and “the rich” with such a broad brush. Capitalism wasn’t the problem; it was a lack of sensible controls at all levels, private and public. The U.S. needs freer markets, not more restrictions, provided the right safeguards are in place to head off illegal practices.

The “rich” condemned by the protesters don’t all fit the grape-popping, limo-riding caricature of the idle wealthy. Most work hard to earn what they have and develop the ideas and products that have made our lives better.

It’s ironic that many of the same people denouncing big business are quick to embrace the legacy of late Apple founder Steve Jobs. Yes, he was a visionary and brilliant innovator, but he was also a capitalist who made billions off his inventions. The same folks attacking corporate greed are Tweeting on the iPhones that Jobs’ company made available. And for a price; he didn’t give the things away.

That’s how it’s supposed to work — the best and the brightest profit from their hard work and ideas — and why we all would like to follow that path to success.

Yet many feel the way to create a sense of “fairness” is to take money away from the successful to pass on to others, with government as the conduit. This “Robin Hood” approach has never produced an egalitarian society, just more reliance on an overreaching federal government.

Free markets power our economy and provides us with jobs. When businesses are successful, we all benefit. Financial markets serve to fuel industries with capital from shareholders and lenders. It’s the engine of progress that built the largest, most successful economy in world history, and will again if allowed to flourish.

Once was a time when the best ideas from both sides contributed to solid public policy. Markets operated freely but legally, limited from stifling competition or fixing prices. There always have business interests operating outside of the law, but they were and are the exception, not the rule

Back then, most people spent their time working, thinking and participating in the American economic engine. They were much too busy to waste time waving signs, chanting slogans and whining about what they didn’t have.

But choosing sides is what we’re all about now, like kickball games on the playground. You’re either with the rich robber barons or the struggling middle class, in the minds of the self-dubbed “99 percenters.”

The protests in New York have stimulated economic activity only in one way: $2 million in overtime for law enforcement to keep everyone safe. That’s money paid by New York taxpayers, most of them the same middle class the protesters want to protect. Mission not accomplished.

So maybe it’s time the rest of us protested against another deadly sin: The vanity of such “look at me” nonsense that accomplishes nothing of value.



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