Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Capitalists Occupy Wall Street

This being the third post in a row on Occupy Wall Street it should be clear that I have been intrigued by the movement protesting corporate greed and economic inequality.  They have been described as socialists and militants in the press. 

I visited Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan a couple of weeks ago and found no one who looked subversive.  They seemed more like a bunch of people down on their luck or just plain lonely than a militant movement determined to bring down our capitalist economy.

If they are not socialists, then what are they?  Could they possibly be capitalists? 

Think about this for a moment.  We all learned about “market clearing mechanisms” in principals of economics.  It is a process of give and take between suppliers and consumers to reach an equilibrium price.  This is the heart of free market economics, the life blood of capitalism.

It would be short sighted to expect free market action to remain confined neatly to the X and Y axes graphically illustrating an economic model.  Economics is a behavioral science.  It involves real people and sometimes they do not behave predictably or even neatly.  They transform, spill over into new territory.

Market clearing action does not have to be limited to the open outcry of the New York Stock Exchange or the sophisticated negotiations around a boardroom table.  It can take place just as easily on the concrete benches of a small park a few blocks off Manhattan's Wall Street...or the south lawn of City Hall in Los Angeles...or the cobblestone streets of Boston.

Personally, I see protestors who Occupy Wall Street as among the greatest supporters of free markets.  They have the right to set a price, to negotiate; and they are defending that right.  They are telling the other side of the table that they have been the suckers in the trade too long.  Their ability to provide a discount on their labor has come to an end.

Admittedly, even the Occupy Wall Street group might not define themselves as capitalists and free market agents.  Some may have very romantic ideas about Karl Marx or some other proponent of socialism or communism. 

Nonetheless, the visibility of Occupy Wall Street and its various supporters and sympathizers is serving an important function in “clearing” the market  -  whether they see it that way or not.  That makes them capitalists.  It makes all of us free.

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