Logic, Criticism, & the 99%

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.

6 thoughts on “Logic, Criticism, & the 99%

  1. Good points.

    On 1), it seems to me that there may be more room for criticism when the claim being made by protesters is not merely that they want the government to crack down on corporate misbehavior, but that they do not want there to be corporations or a capitalistic economy at all. I’ve seen a bit of this on OWS sites, and (as with anything else coming from the movement) it’s impossible to know how pervasive that view is. But it seems to me that if one wants to endorse anarcho-syndicalism or some other truly alternative form of economy and government, one should be prepared to go ahead and give up the products which are pretty uniquely the result of the kind of system one abhores.

  2. Yes, you are right. For the people in OWS who really do want to dismantle capitalism, it’s a legitimate criticism. I gather that a large portion of 99% don’t want that. I’ll update my argument with that clarification.

  3. Well can you really critique the 99%’s arguments because I haven’t noticed that they really have an argument other than (I’m guessing) tax the wealthy. I don’t really see what taxing the wealthy will do other than giving the gov’t more money to squander. Also we aren’t talking about robbers or enslavers. I think its sort of egotistically patting oneself on the back for protesting someone else’s injustice. I see the crowd as a bunch of college aged kids who want to pretend they are having a revolution. It doesn’t matter does it, stupid me trying to have debate on the internet as if my opinion matters. I’ve never read your blog and don’t know you, so if you are going to call me names or a moron plz just delete my post.

    1. David, of course it is impossible to debate “the 99%”, any more than you could debate “the tea party”. (Or for that matter, “Republicans” or “Democrats”.) What is necessary is to pull one question at a time, and look at it carefully and logically. Darwin has examined the question of college degrees, college loans, and jobs very thoughtfully, for example. But if we who criticize the 99% aren’t careful in our arguments, we’ll just be ignored as more noise. So even though my patience also wears thin, and like you I certainly do not agree with many of the various causes being protested, I’d like to encourage my fellow non-99%’ers to resist the urge to snap quick comebacks that do not actually address the underlying concerns being aired.

  4. Oh, I didn’t read your before you comment part and honestly I was searching ‘criticism of the 99%’, there isn’t really much. Your page was first. I feel silly now, just delete my comment plz. I get annoyed by politics and try to alleviate that annoyance by posting stuff sometimes, it doesn’t work.

  5. David, don’t worry about it. I get a little testy myself sometimes. Good luck with your search. Click on Darwin’s name, btw, to find some useful criticism of the 99%. Also I just stuck my “categories” drop-down menu back on the blog. Scroll down it’s at the bottom of the page. You can look for posts under the topic “economics”, and some of those might hit on topics that interest you. Take care, and I appreciate your coming by.

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