Occupy Wall Street and the disconnect with the American dream

There is an increasing sense of recession-driven despair among significant portions of America’s electorate, but the demonstrators of Occupy fame do not capture their frame of mind.

The reason for the disconnect is readily apparent when middle class values are compared to the words (let alone the slogans) of the Wall Street malcontents:  The rent-a-cause protestors’ abhorrence of all things market-driven and capitalistic is antithetical to the hopes and dreams of so many Americans who continue to strive for middle class (or higher) economic status.  To borrow a phrase, a clear majority of working Americans have skin in the game — they work hard and expect that their work will pay off in the long run.  They do not, however, expect a guaranteed result, especially from the government. 

The familiar American social contract guarantee of opportunity for upward mobility and wealth creation remains the primary goal of most Americans, despite deep angst about today’s economic instability.  For the angry crowds of Wall Street fame, not so much.  They recoil from the hopes and dreams of all those entrepreneurial capitalists who wish to take a risk, start a business, and make a buck.  Maybe even buy an SUV. 

Besides these wildly conflicting cultural values, each “side” possesses a quite different take on the nature of protest demands made to reach their respective cultural and economic goals.

From the occupiers’ perspective, the list of demands is tangible:  New jobs, a mandatory wage scale, free health care, retirement security, gender equality, a clean environment, guaranteed welfare benefits etc…  All are tangible.  All constitute the familiar building blocks of an egalitarian society.  And, all are an end unto themselves.

Conversely, the anti-occupiers (for example, tea party protestors and their progeny) understand that government is unable to guarantee most of the foregoing agenda because it does not possess the ability to create the wealth required  to secure the demands.  Accordingly, their agendas are more intangible (balance the budget, pay down debt, live within one’s means), but achievable. 

The resulting problem is obvious:  The latter’s more limited view of appropriate societal demands does not guarantee particular results — it merely allows one to compete.  And that’s not nearly good enough for the modern practitioners of class warfare driven demand politics.

For a more literal  perspective, consider: 

–One group demands tax increases on the rich, the other wonders why their “take home” pay is so dramatically lower than their salary.

–One group demands another stimulus and a “hands off” approach to entitlements, while the other sees Obama-era spending and regulatory excess as a major factor in the economic malaise. 

–One group demands greater equality within our free market framework, while the other asks how government intervention helped fuel our economic downturn in the first place.

Some say a redefined social contract may emerge from 2011’s summer of discontent.  If so, it will reflect a mightily disjointed value system.

Indeed, “disjointed” is too mild an adjective as private sector organized labor encourages the “Occupy” movement.  One is left to speculate as to what an earlier, more socially conservative labor leadership would say once informed that their successors had gotten into bed with the most antagonistic fringe groups imaginable.  Aghast would be a good start.  You see, industrial era labor leaders promoted the notion of the hard working blue collar worker attaining middle class status.  The two car garage and nice house in the suburbs became the penultimate economic goal for generations of such leaders and their followers.  They helped define the middle class American dream, and sold their vision to millions of skilled and semi-skilled laborers during the industrial era. 

Conversely, the rabidly progressive occupiers of Wall Street are equally aghast that such conspicuous consumption could be viewed in a positive light:  The last thing the green laden, no growth crowd desires is for economic progress to create more growth, more automobiles, more housing developments, more demand for consumer goods, and more wealth in a country that already “suffers” from too much income disparity.

Limited horizons, confiscatory taxation, and aggressive government control is more this group’s modus operandi.  Indeed, a market economy with its inherent winners and losers is the polar opposite of what “social justice” adherents have advocated for years.  Theirs is a justice born of government guaranteed entitlements — benefits that seek to level the results of marketplace competition, if you will.  The bottom line:  Modern progressives’ definition of social justice has little to do with our familiar precepts of individual freedom, competitive opportunity, and wealth creation.

Come November 2012, here’s hoping the nervous middle class will cast their votes for the party/candidate that envisions the most economic opportunity — not the most government reliance.