The best way to describe Occupy Wall Street is as an eclectic movement expressing a shared discontent toward the nation’s distribution of wealth as well as the perceived greed of corporations and Wall Street.
Though the opinions, grievances and goals of the Occupy protesters are too numerous and diverse to succinctly categorize, there is one observable, important characteristic that separates the protesters into two distinguishable groups.
There are protesters whose primary interest is putting what they see as a rigged system back onto a level playing field where everyone has a fair chance to compete.
The anger here stems from the belief that corporate bailouts are something uniquely un-American, something completely contrary to a system of free enterprise and something that even the top 1 percent would agree shouldn’t fly. For the protesters, the idea is to restore true capitalism — one without supposed corporate greed.
The other group of protesters is primarily concerned with crusading against what it sees as an inherently flawed system based on corporate greed and capitalistic malfeasance. For those, the idea is to eradicate capitalism and the greed it perpetuates altogether.
In response to these protesters who believe capitalism itself is to blame and who have made the concept of greed the main target of their campaign, I would like to quote the famous movie Wall Street: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”
Greed is just another term for “self-interest.” The only distinction is that greed is supposedly an excess of self-interest, which for economic purposes is no distinction at all.
The true brilliance of America, aside from its unique heritage, is its economic system in which the pursuit of self-interest generates greater productivity and greater prosperity for the nation as a whole. Even if we completely did away with capitalism and free trade, as some of the protestors would like, self-interest and greed would still exist.
“Tell me, is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed?” economist Milton Friedman once said. “You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? … The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests.”
America has prospered because of a system in which the basic human instinct of self-interest is rewarded and channeled into productivity. Individuals are free to make a name for themselves, and in doing so, they can build an economy more beneficial for everyone.
What protesters should understand when addressing problems such as a shrinking middle class, highly skewed distribution of wealth and political system beholden to special interests — all serious problems that require real solutions — is that greed has absolutely nothing to do with them.
Those who rally against corporate greed and companies pursuing profits at the “expense” of everyone else don’t see the full picture. Corporate greed is not greed at all — it’s the basic responsibility of corporations to their shareholders. If there’s a problem with the distribution of wealth in this country, it’s not because of greed. It’s because of the system as a whole, and that lands on the shoulders of the government.
Those who blame the greed of the 1 percent for the plight of the 99 percent completely miss the point. The 1 percent deserves no blame. The bankers on Wall Street have done exactly what they should have done, exactly what anyone in their positions would.
Justin Davidoff is a junior majoring in business administration.