There are two critiques of the 99% movement that I’ve seen floating around, that I wanted to address. The first is this:
“You are criticizing capitalism, but you own a __[insert name of product manufactured by said capitalists]___”
There’s a little bit of truth in this criticism: Obviously someone who owns a smart phone isn’t secretly longing to run away and join the Amish. (Who are capitalists, by the way. They just aren’t no-holds-barred, if-I-can-than-it-is-good capitalists.)
But I think the criticism also points to a bigger problem: Consumers do not bear the primary responsibility for the behavior of their suppliers. It is the job of the supplier to be a responsible employer and manufacturer. A boycott is a useful tool, but it is one that only works at the extremes, when there is a known, egregious violation. I can’t possibly know the inner workings of every manufacturer whose products I consume. It is too big a task. And to simply Boycott Everything and go be Amish is not the solution (unless you just want to be Amish, a worthy pursuit but not a universal vocation); boycotting every manufactured good also hurts honest employers and employees.
And then there’s the question of how evil is too evil? Again, boycotting is a great tool for serious, longstanding, public offenses. But it would be entirely reasonable, say, for someone who hired me to both say, “Jen, you need to come to work on time and get your projects done by deadline,” and at the same time, not fire me because I was five minutes late. Or ten minutes. Or an hour. It’s up to the judgment of my employer to choose what combination of actions are the best way to deal with my transgression. Entirely reasonable to both reprimand me severely, and keep me in their employ a little longer. Public protest is the reprimand, boycott is the layoff.
–> In the case of the OWS, since protestors do not themselves have the authority to step in and oversee corporate operations, it is reasonable to insist that the proper authorities do what is necessary.
(We can agree or not on whether those demands have merit. No one claims the OWS people even agree on these matters. And I certainly don’t hold with violent protest of any kind. I only argue here that our criticism of the criticizers ought to stick to logical arguments.)
UPDATE: Darwin points out in the combox that some OWS protesters really do want to dismantle capitalism. So he is correct, to criticize that portion of the group for using the fruits of capitalism is a legitimate argument.
The second criticism I’m hearing:
“You aren’t poor. You have all this great stuff like running water and cell phones. Quit complaining.”
What is the logic behind this kind of accusation:
- If you aren’t the victim, you aren’t allowed to protest injustice?
- If the robber is leaving you with all the stuff you really need, it’s okay if he just slips in and takes off with a few trinkets?
- If your pimp / master / feudal lord sees that your basic needs are met, therefore sex-trafficking / slavery / serfdom are acceptable social structures?
- You aren’t being pimped / enslaved / bound to the land, quit griping that you can’t afford the surgery you need?
Again, this is not a defense of any particular item on the all-purpose protest agenda of the OWS folk. Only an observation that if you are going to critique someone’s arguments, critique their arguments. Is there nothing to protest? Then show that in fact our government is run fairly and efficiently, the needs of the poor are tended to adequately, workers are paid reasonable wages, and there is therefore no need for change of this or that type.
It is both fun and helpful to debate actual economic questions. So do that.