Many in the liberty movement have raised excellent questions about the expanding Occupy protests. Since the latter’s inception I have read several great articles critiquing and analyzing this movement, including excellent pieces from the Young Americans for Liberty blog. I recently decided that there was no better way to get an honest assessment of this movement than physically interacting with “The 99%”.
Myself and the other Fall 2011 YALterns were curious to learn more about this movement, so a few weeks ago we decided to pay a visit to Occupy D.C. We did not want to show up empty handed, and thanks to our friends at Students for Liberty, we didn’t have to. We were able to bring a dozen or so copies of The Morality of Capitalism to donate to “the People’s Library.” As we arrived, many of the occupiers were wrapping up an “Anti-Capitalism Teach-In.” Needless to say, this resulted in a significant amount of discussion. I can happily report that while our views on capitalism were clearly in the minority, the discourse remained quite civil.
From what I witnessed, the fundamental difference between our views and those held by the majority of the occupiers can be whittled down to Clintonesque semantics (“It Depends on what the meaning of the word is, is.”). Those who spoke up consistently used the terms capitalism and corporatism interchangeably. While they correctly identified CEOs, managers, business owners, and the like as “capitalists,” they failed to recognize that “workers” are capitalists, too. Workers exchange their labor for currency and that currency for products and services. This voluntary exchange is in fact, the essence of capitalism. The occupiers we spoke with seemed to understand the concept of self-ownership, but they did not appear to understand how or why this ownership should be extended to property or the product of one’s labor.
We got an opportunity to talk with several occupiers and hear many different diagnoses of the current problems facing this nation. Overall, I believe that our attendance and eagerness to engage in civil discourse over these very important issues was a net-positive for liberty. I cannot say with certainty that any of the occupiers at McPherson Square will actually take the time to read the books we donated. I can only hope that some of them will be open-minded enough to read something that challenges their current worldview. We will follow up in a few weeks when we go back to participate in YAL’s Choose Charity event.Published in