Update: The protest that I’m arguing against in the first half of the post isn’t till the 5th of November (thanks Seamus!). However, my main critique in the second half applies to both protests insofar as the first protest is focused on inequality again.
Personally I AGREE with a some of the issues being put down for the first protest – and would potentially head along if it wasn’t that the bullshit inequality line is being sold so hard (including in the picture for the site). Sigh
I see that a number of people have decided that, on Saturday, they are going to camp outside the Reserve Bank of New Zealand in Wellington to protest. After seeing a similar protest on Wall Street these protesters have stated that they are the “99%” (a statement that implies that they aren’t part of the 1% that is assumed to own most of the capital) – and they are protesting for “change”.
I understand why people feel worn down, I understand the power and importance of non-violent protest, but I have to say something that will likely upset the protesters and many of my closest friends:
This protest and its message are wrong, and by doing it you both ignoring the real issues in the world and acting in a selfish way – and for that reason I think less of every single one of you.
That’s a pretty damned cutting statement – so let me discuss why I believe this.
The New Zealand context
Nothing sounds nobler than fighting against injustice for those that are oppressed. And in truth, trying to make sure that people have an even playing field with which to take on life is one of the main justifications for government – hell its part of the “social contract” that exists between us as individuals.
And on the face of it, these protests in the US have been trying to achieve that. It is a fact that the incomes of many US citizens have stayed roughly unchanged, while the incomes of the most wealthy have increased – the disparity is not as severe as some of the numbers suggest (as there have been countervailing price changes), but it has happened.
People in the US are protesting because there seems to be no rhyme or reason to this change – furthermore, unemployment has been at 10% for a very long time, and all hope appears to be gone. The fact that so much “corporate welfare” exists in the US is also very upsetting – as it should be.
But in NZ we haven’t had any of this – in fact incomes have risen sharply across the board, unemployment is still below the levels it was a decade ago (and employment rates are much higher), and we don’t have ridiculous corporate welfare policies. We have great institutions – including the Reserve Bank – which have helped to ease the pain from the drastic global events on New Zealand.
… and yet the protesters are standing outside the very places that HELPED New Zealand during the crisis. I’m not sure if this is because they don’t understand what is going on, or because they just think it’s a great way to get attention – but it is an extremely poor idea to protest there.
If you want to “show solidarity with the US”, do it at the US embassy – not in front of the very places that have helped all New Zealander’s out during a time of global crisis.
(Update: Alex Tarrant at Rates Blog expresses similar sentiments here. Eric Crampton at Offsetting behaviour raises the idea of the South Canterbury bailout as being a relatively unjust thing to protest against, when discussing the post here.)
Fighting inequality, or just trying to get what you want from everyone else?
There is another underlying issue that exists here, one that is very important to me.
There is all this talk about “inequality” and “helping the poor” … and yet none of these people want to help the poor or reduce inequality – they just want to take from the extremely rich and give to the very rich, which happen to be themselves.
The real inequality is not within nations, it’s between nations (a good example of how to view this was given by Nigel Pinkerton a couple of weeks back) – the calls by people in the US to introduce protectionism against China, the complaints in NZ that foreigners are “taking our jobs”, are further signals of the DISGUSTING self-interest that exists in these views.
These people aren’t interested in the poor, they are interested in themselves – either that or they haven’t thought about the issue, which is pretty slack when you are going to go out and protest about it.
If we want to help the real poor we need to open borders, and make a concerted effort to help increase capital and opportunities in foreign countries – rather than just focusing on ourselves.
When I here people complain that they are the “99%” do they realise that only the top 1% of people in India have a living standard greater than the bottom decile of people in the US? Do they even care about the sheer number of people born without any opportunity to live the sort of privileged life we get.
Seriously, when I hear the complaints from these people, this is what I hear in my head:
“We want cheaper coffees and iPhones for ourselves, and people with lots of money should buy them for us”
But we can’t do anything about overseas, we can do things at home!
What a bleeding load of crap this reasoning is. If the majority of the country put pressure on politicians to open borders and send tax money overseas of course they would – it would get them frikken elected.
In reality there is a reason people need to identify themselves as part of the “99%” … its because these protests are about them getting things for themselves – not about doing what is right.
And for this reason I find the protests insulting, pure and simple.