I've been watching the unfolding drama of the "Occupy Wall Street" phenomenon. It's reminiscent of many 1960s protest demonstrations by casually-dressed, loosely-coifed or bearded young folks - which we now call this or that "generation."
I've tried to understand their purpose, not wanting to callously dismiss them as spoiled whiners just looking for a distraction. I wondered about choosing Wall Street as their target, but I realize how easy it is to blame this group for life's desires unrealized, or at least put on indefinite hold.
My blood also boiled when I saw our government giving obscene amounts of our money to preserve these "too-big-to-fail," (and campaign-donating) organizations. And then I saw them use these bailouts to buy bonds from that same government, who now pays them interest on my money. The final coup-de-grace was the monstrous bonuses the top dogs in these firms got for earning all that profit with our money!
But occupy Wall Street? What meaningful change do they realistically hope to cause, and how? So far, they've been pretty inarticulate, although they've managed to swell their ranks to include people from diverse age and experience groups - and not only on Wall Street. We now have the "Occupy (insert city here)" franchise.
I'm glad to see that they've now begun to "occupy" Washington. Little of the goings-on in banks and investment firms happened without facilitation by politicians in D.C., both liberal and conservative. Perhaps such protests might shake the politicos into wondering if we have finally grasped the nature of the con game that's been going on.
Unfortunately, I don't hold out much hope for that. Politicians are secure in their belief that they can once again convince us a new program will "give" us some benefit whose cost will be borne by others, and we'll thank them with our vote next time we wander into the booth.
The Law of Unexpected Consequences says any new schemes will create new problems. The D.C. poobahs can then blame these on someone else (the other party, evil corporations, corrupt unions, illegal immigrants, terror threats, name-your-villain) and then rescue us with another "fix." This brings re-election and an opportunity to "blame and fix" the unintended consequences of that program, ad nauseum.
What really scares me about this movement is its lack of focus, except as a vent for their anger, frustration, and distrust. They're vulnerable to infiltration by some well-funded group who can impose their agenda because it then gives the OWS folks a sense of momentum toward a goal they'd simply overlooked.
F. A. Hayek, in his book, "The Road to Serfdom," cautions that the rise of radical political movements in Europe in the first half of the 20th century could not have taken place without "the existence of a large recently displaced middle class." That seems to describe one of the more important sociological phenomena of our time.
The unions (campaign-donating organizations equally empowered by the Citizens United decision) have joined the "Occupy" fold. That suggests they're a lot savvier than outspoken conservatives who seem tone-deaf, if not actually lobotomized. Isn't it strange the Tea Party doesn't sense here the same underlying dissatisfaction with the status quo that conceived their movement?
The unions see the formation of this "recently displaced middle class." That doesn't bode well for the chances of this movement achieving something good for everybody.
Unless OWS' leaders and organizers (and just who are they, really?) put their heads together and develop a few rational, tightly-focused objectives that resonate left and right of center, the zeitgeist driving it could morph into something ugly, bitter, and more politically divisive than anything we've seen to date. Already, there is the trashing of Zucotti Park, not to mention anti-Semitic undertones being reported in the media.
This is a festering boil of a mob, ripe to be pricked. Let's hope they can keep it from turning violent. All the other demonstrations abroad to which "Occupy" has been compared weren't able to do so. Just look at Rome. It would be nice if America could once again be a model of something the rest of the world respected.
William M. Diekmann is retired and has lived in Ahwatukee since 1995.