Social & Domestic Issues

Occupy Wal-Mart

This past week, thousands of pro-capitalist Americans staged a counter-protest to Occupy Wall Street (OWS). We might call them Occupy Wal-Mart (OWM). Their demands include cheap flat-screen televisions, digital cameras, and iPods.

What good is a pallet of Nintendo Wii’s locked up in a shopping-mall prison?

The protest spread beyond Wal-Mart, of course, to Target, Best Buy, and other chains. The billionaire box-store owners locked out the tent-dwellers on Thursday. The “haves” inside hoarded digital gizmos and gadgets. The horde of “have-nots” outside desired them. They camped by the entrances of businesses until early Friday morning, when wealthy retailers acceded to the motley mob’s wishes. The storefront standoff served as a massive teach-in for free enterprise.

The storming of Best Buy made the storming of the Bastille appear orderly by comparison. At first glance, the have-nots rushing the gates of the haves appears as a triumph of the 99 percent over the one percent. But retailers only agreed to share their electronic bounty in exchange for customers sharing their bounty of president-paper.

Remarkable consequences ensued: consumers joyously emerged from stores, time-and-a-half employees smiled, and owners lustily counted money. The voluntary exchanges resulted in mutual satisfaction, not one-sided exploitation. The fourth Friday in November should be renamed Capitalism Day.

Occupy Wal-Mart is a global movement. It may not be concerned with jobs for third-world workers but it provides more of them than any social program Occupy Wall Street could devise. One might label this movement socially conscious if only the consumers were conscious of their beneficial effect on factory workers halfway around the globe.

But they aren’t do-gooders. They do goodies.

Why did the spontaneous demonstrations for the free market prove more effective than the organized demonstrations against it?

First, OWM advanced a specific set of demands. They wanted electronic trinkets for dirt cheap. Second, they demonstrated a willingness to compromise: consumers yielded on their on-again/off-again three-year boycott of merchants in exchange for temporary price concessions. Third, whereas socialist-squatter occupiers assume property rights where they have none, consumer occupiers curiously receive enticement to continue their on-site occupation by the occupied. Fourth, the OWM protest served as a means to an end; for OWS, the means of protest is its own end. That’s the clear message sent by the talking drums of OWS drum circles.

OWM’s commitment to giving other people money proved greater than OWS’s commitment to taking other people’s money. Occupy Wall Street abandoned encampments on Thanksgiving Day. Occupy Wal-Mart’s tent cities reached capacity late that night. Judging by the designer clothes and technophile accoutrements on display in Zuccotti Park, at the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and on the Embarcadero, the two Occupy movements aren’t mutually exclusive. If the city campers don’t do Gap and Macy’s, then their moms at least do. This is socialism’s way of admitting the superiority of capitalism.

There are other similarities, to be sure, between the movements. Envy-inspired violence mars the communists and the consumers.

Kinston, North Carolina cops, perhaps receiving the same training as the UC-Davis police force, cracked down on Occupy Wal-Mart rowdies by unleashing pepper spray. Gunfire erupted outside a Wal-Mart in San Leandro, California, just as it had earlier at nearby Occupy Oakland. At Occupy Victoria’s Secret outside of Pittsburgh, women traded blows over yoga pants.

Zealous shoppers, like zealous socialists, make their movement look bad—which isn’t easy to do in sexy form-fitting Victoria’s Secret yoga britches.

Capitalism is cooperation. People anonymous to one another nevertheless mutually improve each others’ lives through voluntary exchange. Socialism is force. Distant experts micromanage supply and frustrate demand while exploiting the makers on behalf of the takers.

Occupy Wal-Mart has gone home to watch plasma televisions in the comfort of their living rooms. Occupy Wall Street continues to sleep in the cold amidst their own waste.

Is everybody clear why Americans choose capitalism over socialism?

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