I think it's time for the Occupy Wall Street people to declare victory and go home. They have illustrated their anger and their passionate desire for a more equitable America. I would not insult their integrity by asking any of them what they want to change, although it is hard to get a sense of specifics from their signs and snippets of interviews reported in newspapers, television and offered on the social networking sites.
Their anger undoubtedly reflects a general frustration with inequities, real and perceived, the uncertainty of our economic future, the absence of talented political leadership, and a sense of being overwhelmed by man-made and natural impediments.
Some are angry because they are unemployed and can't get jobs. Some are angry because people who have jobs are making too much money and others aren't making enough. Others are angry over the high cost of tuition and the fact that they must borrow money to get an education and be strapped to pay it back just when they're starting their careers.
Still, others are angry because they can't pay their mortgages and have to go into foreclosure or personal bankruptcy. Many are angry over what they observe as a trashing of our environment or racial inequity or capital punishment. Many are against war, hunger, profit, conglomerates and corruption in general. They want the rich to pay more taxes, which they call "their fair share."
Note that I am not challenging the things they are angry about. I am angry about some of them myself. But I do think it's time for a bit of reflection, time perhaps, to get off the soapbox and reflect about all the possibilities that might in some way temper their anger with a bit of wisdom.
Most of what they are angry about is the result of good intentions gone awry or were distorted by what is best described as unintended consequences. Those who are, for example, angry about school loans should understand that Congress in 1965, out of a desire to give everyone a chance to go to college, passed a student loan law whereby students could borrow money to pay tuition and pay it back when they began to earn their own money.
What they did not foresee was all that money going into private colleges encouraged some of them to expand into giant enterprises that required more and more tuition money to feed the maws of their ambition. After all, the burden of payback was on the student not on the educational institutions and the banks got the interest.
And what of the mortgage debacle? It has always been cited as the American dream to own your own home and all politicians encouraged programs to make it easy for Americans to buy homes. They set up Fannie and Freddie to help Americans do just that. After all, it was an act of faith that real estate would continue to go up, up and up.
In fact, they made it so easy to get a mortgage that people following the good intentions of the political class rushed to buy homes. They couldn't build them fast enough and many bought homes they could not afford.
What they did not understand was that the real estate market, like all markets, has financial bumps. But the good intentions of the politicians opened the doors to mortgages that were so easy to obtain that everybody who could took advantage of the programs and, as was inevitable, there was a comeuppance. Can one blame the politicians for their good intentions? And who was the greedier, the buyers or the lenders?
The irony is that people who are paying their mortgages with their homes worth less than the mortgages, are seeking relief because their homes are "under water." What they should understand is that once the market stabilizes and the laws of supply and demand kick in, the chances are that their homes will eventually rise and be worth considerably more than they are today.
Then there is health care, which politicians told us, with good intentions, that everyone is "entitled" to health care from the cradle to the grave. Did they realize that the cost of exotic diagnosis machines and the effect on the income of doctors, the cost of medical malpractice insurance, the temptation to defraud, the cost of regulating and policing and the demand for more and more services in a rising population would make it impossible to fund forever? Good intentions certainly, but where were their adding machines?
I do think the protesters should think twice about their definition of corporate greed. I believe they mean profit which, when all is said and done, is the ultimate objective of a private corporation and determines how much their shares are worth. Wall Street is merely a marketplace for these shares and a mechanism to fund corporations to create and expand businesses.
When the brave kids of "Occupy" pound their computer keyboards or text their messages, they should understand that these devices were created and funded by Wall Street firms. I wonder how far Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, and hundreds of others with ideas to create products useful to all of us would fare if they did not have the mechanism of Wall Street.
Indeed, it is ironic that the Occupiers call to arms has been carried out on the backs of Wall Street funded corporations, their alleged enemy.
I could go on and on. Yes, some people have not played by the rules, both in the private and public sector. Nor is it a secret that government programs are often wasteful, too bureaucratic and often temptations for corruption and overspending.
Democracy, after all, has its blind spots and the desire of politicians to help as many of their constituents as possible is essential to the process. But blanket generosity often gets the recipient used to dependency, hence the misnomer "entitlements," which eventually morphs into either "giveaway" or "broken promises."
Yes there are unnatural inequities, government programs that need to be tweaked and corrected, politicians who overpromise and can't envision things beyond their own need to be re-elected.
No, we do not live in the best of all possible worlds and greed is only one of our numerous deadly flaws. Nevertheless, we Americans, do exist in a world of possibilities created by a governmental experiment that has managed to survive for more than a couple hundred years and has opened up channels of opportunities that have resulted in the realization of hopes and dreams for millions. As they say, we can't throw out the baby with the bath water.
The worst thing that could happen is for us to lose the sense of optimism which has sustained us since our founding. We are, indeed, like all humans, imperfect and vastly flawed. We are also remarkably self-corrective and resilient.
Let's call the Wall Street protests a wake up call, a point well taken and an expression of anger worth our ardent and immediate attention. It is time, too, to heed the danger signals spawned by the gathering clouds of violence and aimless disruption.
Contact made. Message delivered. It's time for those on the protest line to go on home, get on with productive lives and take their anger to the ballot box.
Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include "The War of the Roses," "Random Hearts" and the PBS trilogy "The Sunset Gang." He is a pioneer in digital publishing. For more information visit Warren's Website at www.warrenadler.com.
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