Friday, November 18, 2011

America's and the West's Tocqueville Moments

By Son of Bastiat
“Tocqueville, in 1835 foresaw what the Western democracies are now going through”

In his “Modern Times”, a best-selling book on the history of the 20th C. that came out almost 30 years ago, Paul Johnson, now widely acknowledged to be the UK’s foremost living historian, traces the seminal event that led to America’s slide into economic mediocrity to the 1960s when the US government under John F. Kennedy, upon the advice of his liberal educated, Keynesian-dominated Cabinet, “committed itself to a new and radical principle of creating budgetary deficits even when there was no economic emergency, a new concept of “big government”: the ‘problem eliminator’. Every area of human misery could be classified as a ‘problem’; then the Federal government could be armed to ‘eliminate’ it”. Paul Johnson erred in not dating that event earlier back to FDR’s New Deal but an even more serious mistake was his recent sanguine view that America could still overcome the poisonous legacy of that policy to date: $ 14 trillion in Federal debt and $ 77 trillion in unfunded liabilities of state, local governments and entitlements (Social Security Medicare, Medicaid). He may be forgiven for at 82 he likely would not witness its dire comeuppance, although Americans should thank him for offering this prescient advice.

Writing about societies in decline before their fall is always a risky undertaking. A pessimistic streak is helpful, in the tradition of Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” or David Keys’ “Catastrophe”. On a more limited scope, von Mises, Kindleberger and Minsky broke ground with their analyses of systemic crises. On a more recent vintage, a slew of books on banking and economic crises came out in the wake of Aug. 2008; majority were sensationalist, descriptive (non-analytical) and skewed by the anti-establishment flavor so enticing to liberal book reviewers. Many suffered from one form or other of the Fundamental Attribution Error of blaming complex events on one-variable, simplistic models, often rooted in behavioral (e.g. “greed”) rather than objective factors that prevailed therein. The fatal limitation of ersatz works like these is in not tackling social decline from a holistic point of view, a la Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall. .” or Schama’s “Chronicle of the French Revolution” but rather in focusing on the most handy explanation for complex phenomenon so typical of today’s seat-of-the-pants journalistic style reporting. This is why few non-specialists are able to discern what has gone wrong with the world today.

But not works in the tradition of historians like Paul Johnson which come few and far between until they are followed by books such as 2011 Niall Ferguson’s “Civilization: The West and the Rest”, whose central tenet is that six “killer apps” (along with “the fortuitous weakness of the West’s rivals”) allowed the West “to dominate the world for the better part of 500 years”: free markets, scientific method, property rights, medicine, a consumer society (that ignited industrialization) and “the work ethic”. In his analysis, the West is in the last 500 years of its dominance, not necessarily due to the compelling superiority of its rivals (for there are none) but from internal rot, which is Johnson’s theme. Still, while their end game is more or less the same, these partial diagnoses fail to explicate the precise, true cause of social collapse. 

Alexis de Tocqueville and His Vision of Democracy

Probably next to Lafayette and the Statue of Liberty, the recondite French historian and political writer Alexis de Tocqueville is France’s most admired observer of the young republic that was then starting to flourish across the Atlantic. An aspiring member of the French academic establishment, young Alexis along with a companion named Beaumont, were sent by the French government in 1831 to study the American penal system; because of the unusual events that were taking place in the country, the pair ended up using this commission as a pretext to study American society itself, focusing instead on its people, social institutions, political, cultural and religious beliefs. Returning to France after nine months of study, they each wrote separate books; Tocqueville’s “De la democratie in Amerique” (more popularly known as “Democracy in America”), published in two volumes (1835 and 1840), became the more famous output. The book became an instant sensation and Tocqueville attained celebrity status in Parisian salons almost immediately after it came out, both for its penetrating insights into the differences between the Old World and the New cultures, and also because of the thorough documentation and rigor of its analysis (unusual in French books of the genre of that time, and which to an extent remains a feature). Tocqueville’s book would contain insights that apply to America today. 

Democracy in America” was a comprehensive and ambitious project, its expansive coverage of some 60 + topics made it susceptible to varied interpretations by those trying to promote narrow agendas. As it appears at times to be a disorganized collection of random observations and thoughts on American democracy, the best way to discern its central theme is to reflect the author’s scattered ruminations through the prism of one primordial idea: the prospect of continued liberty and the progress it makes possible, amidst a growing demand for equality that is the inevitable offshoot of modernity. It is this idea which is lost in the din and shuffle that pass for progressive thinking and reform that makes front page news in today’s ersatz media. If only today’s columnists could write essays so packed full with erudition.

In a series of observations that presciently capture the essence of what is going on today, Tocqueville stated that the main threats to democracy lie in a disproportionate concentration of power in the legislature, the lack of true appreciation for freedom, an excessive drive for equality, extreme individualism, and wanton materialism. With regard to the first, concentrating power in the legislature, a concession to republicanism, not only makes democracy vulnerable to capture by vested interests, but is a perversity in mistaking “majority” opinion for “right” or “best”; it also nurtures the idea that going against the majority is to go against what is right for everyone. It is the fatal conceit that has made the legislature in one-man one-vote systems such a lethal instrument for subverting personal freedom and promoting the dysfunctional state. As regards the last two (individualism and materialism), Tocqueville believed that those are offshoots of the drive for equality, which not only makes people see things mainly from a selfish point of view, but makes them disdain lofty ideas in favor of what is immediately beneficial. Tocqueville’s genius was in seeing that if representative government, political and economic freedoms are modernity’s trappings, then the main threat to freedom is no other than modernity itself.   

The “Tocqueville Moment” for Western Democracy

The term “Tocqueville Moment” appeared recently in columnist Anastasia O’Grady’s column in connection with recent moves by the political class in Costa Rica (Central America’s “Switzerland” and vying with Panama for the region’s best performing economy) to raise taxes in order to fund ambitious social programs. O’Grady quotes Tocqueville: “that democracy can endure up to the point when politicians realize they can bribe people with their own money." It is not certain where this quote appears in Tocqueville’s famous book or in his numerous writings, but in the larger context of his work such an observation is not out of form: in societies where sufficient progress has been attained such that people have become too individualistic and materialistic, the political process (in a representative, one man one vote system) can be manipulated in order to promote precisely the kinds of liberal political and social policies that Paul Johnson cited as the cause – the precise moment - of America’s decline.      

For how else to explain why Johnson’s Great Society, Kennedy’s New Frontier and now Obama’s ambitious welfare state programs – all initiatives no doubt passed with the best of intentions for their poor (and even rich) but materialistic beneficiaries – ended up bloating the US government and crippling it with debt, except with the enthusiastic connivance of individualistic members of Congress? How else could the 2008 financial crisis get so severe, financial complexity and materialistic (greedy) bankers notwithstanding, if both Executive and Legislative branches of government did not first make it a deliberate policy to relax loan standards and encourage leverage to fit the second-house aspirations of individualistic homeowners? Or, for that matter, how could public labor unions so gin up compensation and pension systems as to bankrupt municipal and local government finances, unless materialistic government officials had not been incentivized (or dis-incentivized) by electoral victory (or ouster)?        

It now remains to show whether this same Tocqueville moment applies to Europe, and to the rest of the Western world, where legislatures tend to be more impotent but citizens so dependent on the State that leaders have to bribe them with their own money before they can take minimal reform to help themselves. A little reflection proves that indeed it does: workers so nonchalantly individualistic that workweeks last 35 hours, benefits so liberal and retirement starts at 55 at 80 % of their pay. Or a continent full of materialistic people so diffident about morals they see nothing wrong in LT abortion and assisted suicides. Those values give primacy to political equality irrespective of social consequences.

What Is Wrong with (Undeserved) Equality

The cause of this rot is a system where the only thing that counts is perfect and full equality regardless of whether anything meritorious lies behind it. It is a set of beliefs nurtured by progress that considers one’s standing only relative to everyone else, a referential view centered on the self and nobody or nothing else that plays a role in creating the conditions that make up that reality. Add to that egotistic belief the possibility of incomplete, biased and/or erratic understanding of the outside world, along with (almost certainly) inappropriate extension of one’s limited experience to an entirely different setting, and one comes up with the perverted ideas that have undergirded calls for egalitarianism since time immemorial. This quest for perfect justice sustains the most alluring and dangerous ideologies, and creates the conditions that continuously promote policies to enslave the poor and rob everyone else of their freedoms. By eventually destroying the basis for progress it is the ultimate fount of injustice itself.

In the hands of ambitious (and individualistic, self-referential) politicians like the current W.H. occupant and his coterie of like-minded legislators, the policy outcomes can be very devastating, not to say anomalous: creating results so totally contrary to what had been originally anticipated, aggravating the initial problems and making it even more difficult to “fix them”. This is why the global recession became much worse than it should have been, and why there is virtually no more chance to fix the mess except at an even worse tradeoff. Look carefully at how an irrational and undue concern for inequality had actually prolonged suffering and led to still more inequality. But no matter, these views seem so  contrary to “common sense” it being “normal and human” to relieve inequality and suffering totally and immediately, regardless of consequences, especially if those consequences lie far off into the future.

So Who is Ultimately to Blame?

The tragedy is that the Church, the only institution that can attenuate this nonsense, buys it too. Not just swallow it hook, line and sinker, but it advocates liberal views premised more on human rather than spiritual tenets. To the Church, the only thing that matters is equality, nothing else comes close, not the concept of natural loss, randomness, unavoidable policy mistakes, errors of human judgment, incomplete information and, certainly not even differences in effort, risks assumed or sacrifices taken. Such is the fallacy of looking at morality from an absolute, unyielding stance, when the more rational position is to weigh which moral positions can be provisional, which can be situational, and which will never be compromised (such as matters of ultimate belief). This absolutely unyielding position can only flow from a flawed understanding of its role as shepherd of flock, one that is more concerned with man’s physical rather than transcendental needs. 

Such errors result from a profound confusion in what the Church’s role should be, dabbling in areas that lie beyond its authority, not to say technical competence. It forgets that the limits of what is expected from it are defined ultimately not by its self-concept, but how much leeway it has to provide escape from the human predicament itself, of which the Church has little, “being not of this world”. How much better off if it just observed Cicero’s (1st C.) warning: “Although physicians frequently know their patients will die of a given disease, they never tell them so. To warn of an evil is justified only if, along with the warning, there is a way of escape”. Aside from reminding people to minimize or avoid falling prey to evil, there is little else that the Church can do, unless it wants to arouse more unwarranted demands of itself. 

This is sad, for in not properly understanding this role, the Church itself becomes complicit in the blatant commission of the mistakes that the liberal ideology inflicts on society, under the guise of concern or compassion for the oppressed poor, with the result that the Church itself ends up with less credibility. It forgets where its contributions can make a true difference, inside the heart of man, not in the councils of state. To help save its reputation, the Church should ponder these words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
The line separating good and evil passes not through states, not between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart”. 

Good and evil; Equality and Inequality; Happiness and Suffering; Freedom and Oppression. Progress and Poverty; all are elements that Tocqueville understood as springing from the innermost recesses of the human heart, not from some abstract economic goal or political principle. Ironically that is where the Church isn’t because it is trying to be where it shouldn’t and therein lies the ultimate cause of the bleak human prospect today


Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Clueless Occupiers from La La Land

By Son of Bastiat

“I’m not the 1 %. I’m not the 99 %. I’m me” – Vinnie, a self-made art entrepreneur

One of these days, without wishing that fate on them, an Occupier, a pedestrian, a bystander along with scores of others will have their asses kicked, heads cracked, ribs broken, limbs severed or worse, in an orgy of violence that will erupt over issues that few of them have clearly grasped, and thus have little chance to influence: economic justice, income distribution, bankers’ greed, corporate power, welfare or whatever other causes of their disempowerment. Apart from providing critical mass and excitement that liberal media love to hype, they will end up as little more than cannon fodder for clever agitators with more focused and sinister agenda, the useful fools that revolutions since time immemorial have relied on for the dirty job of capturing mass movements that just as quickly fade into egoistic fantasies.

When it happens they will experience the imperfect, unforgiving world first hand. They will learn about the millions who, just like them aspire to better lives, but the pursuit of which result in making life less than ideal for themselves and everybody else. They will meet the legions who, day after day, suffer the cruel stings of unintended consequences, their best efforts and purest intentions notwithstanding. Maybe they’ll appreciate how sordid the “human condition” is, from which their efforts to escape embroil them in all sorts of transference problems. If they’re lucky they’ll learn how the complications in their lives grow in proportion to the degree they fantasize “how the world ought to be”, rather than “seeing it as it is”. They might conclude that much of their beef about life is delusion willfully indulged.

Parsing Egalitarian Entrails

They hate it that the world is too unequal? Well, so do I, but to get anywhere, a precise definition of “inequality” is needed. Time magazine offers one aspect of it: average incomes of $ 1.5 MM and $ 50,000 for the 1 % and 99 % of all Americans respectively. But do they really think that eliminating differences between two figures is all there is to it? Sadly it isn’t, because income (or wealth) gaps hide more things than are apparent on the surface. Just ask: will dragging the 1 % down and bringing the 99 % up make things better? The answer is no, because even if the latter are numerically superior, it punishes the few “heavy lifters” and rewards lots of underperformers, with the result that society as a whole ends up less productive.

And why should productivity matter? Because in the long run, redistributions that do not ensure wealth creation end up making things worse – just look at how farmers who receive land after land reform without provisions for making them productive promptly lose them, leaving agriculture worse off than before. Instead of bringing people down it would be better to create opportunities; taking away the fruits of work of the 1 % will lead to a capital strike that reduces those opportunities. Few Occupiers realize that this nasty “come back” is what causes their joblessness.

But what if perceptions of “just” differences are frivolous or subjective? If there is no objective basis for doing it, income and wealth will be redistributed with neither the support of givers nor the gratitude of recipients. It’ll not be easy but even assuming that it can be done, keeping it there will require constant infringements on every one’s freedom or expectations, which as Machiavelli pointed out, endears the egalitarian to neither. Thus redistributions don’t last long, especially if people are free to do what they
want, from refusing to create wealth to running away from it altogether (now rampant in the US and even China) . Instead of removing inequalities, they only end up making them worse and permanent.

Voluntary redistributions via taxes are only a tad less chaotic, requiring one to reconcile peoples’ differing needs for, and respective contributions to the creation of that which is sought to be equalized. Unless everyone yields to reason or sense of moral worth, disagreement will lead to discontentment. Redistribution even with volition means that one doesn’t care how motivations and capacity to generate wealth are affected; all that matters is less inequality at whatever the consequences. Coercion can effect and maintain it, but eventually egalitarians will have to make up for what is lost in the process, with the result that the 99 % will have less income and no jobs. Such are the calculations of fantasists.

This is why the most practical distribution policy (Rawls’) aims not at full equality, but the toleration of some of it in exchange for motivating those who contribute more towards wealth creation and income generation, provided that that those at the lower end of the distribution scale are not made worse off as a result of the policy. It admits that no human society – even the most truculently egalitarian - can avoid inequality; it is a matter of how well members can tolerate it, and of where they have a better chance at rectifying it if they can’t. If that approach still creates too much inequality, blame those who formulated policies that produced such outcome, even if they did it in error; make them pay dearly for such outrage especially if they did it with malice. Just don’t redistribute wealth or income arbitrarily as not only would it fail to solve that problem, but will likely end up worsening it. To Proudhon’s “Wealth is theft” must be added: “Punish the thief, suffer the loss of what he gives you”. Even bad men do produce a lot of good.

Do You Understand the Moral Roots of Greed?

As with inequality, much depends on what “greed” exactly means and whose vice it is. Unlike inequality which is retrospective and is not an absolute requirement of growth, greed is prospective and central to the achievement of that growth. This is why greed is a double edged sword that can do a lot of good (when used by the right folks) or evil, if otherwise. What one can’t simply do is judge those who indulge in it, without inquiring as to why and what their roles are. Like inequality, perceptions about greed tend to be colored by subjective understanding of what is required in such roles. This is why folks find greed by others offensive (but not as much if done by themselves) – it’s the resentment in being excluded from the benefits especially if they don’t know whether they deserve them, or whether they can deliver what’s expected in those roles. Like inequality, greed defies analysis using subjective, overt comparisons; greed goes beyond by being self-referential, never looking at what the other side needs.

If those perceptual problems are not bad enough, one will also be held hostage by moral baggage that he acquired in the society he grew up. Philosophers have pointed out how moral judgments arise from extending beliefs outside of their proper boundaries, while psychologists link them to the mysterious operations of the subconscious, but let’s skip those because they require making shaky assumptions about the purpose and meaning of life. Let us focus on how thinking processes are affected by language and word usage, largely without individual awareness. It turns out that a lot (not all) of moral judgments flow from nothing more than beliefs shaped by personal, family, tribal and community values. A lot of moral judgments (again not all) have little to back them up save for local values (e.g., fairness, justice, etc) that a community holds as sacrosanct. To make matters worse, this error of thought is compounded by carelessness in sentence construction and meaning of words. To Vaggini errors of moral judgment result from illogical transpositions of the subject and object in certain types of sentence structures. As astonishing as that sounds, what the above claims mean is that excessive concern for greed (and also inequality) are the products of self-awareness; anything beyond that is pure, unadulterated fluff.

At any rate there is no need for these uneasy assumptions for there is a simpler explanation for the mental aberration that disposes one to view everything that does not align with his personal ideas of what is just, as greed and “therefore” immoral: the arrogant belief premised in one’s having ALL the facts needed to make a particular moral judgment. In today’s volatile and extremely complex world, that assumption betrays irrational hubris. How else to explain why, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the sanctimonious quickly and totally blamed it on “greedy bankers” when, in light of perfect hindsight, it turns out that their legitimate roles (as a class, for particular behaviors can never be explained by any general theory) as maximizers of gains were enabled by bad regulation and politically tainted policies which relaxed origination standards and encouraged leverage in pursuit of a policy goal (mass housing).

Unlike politicians, the bankers were performing what they were trained to do, which is to generate profits within silo-like environments that were bereft of sufficient information and understanding, thus amplifying unknown events occurring elsewhere. Save for a prescient few who “boasted” of being right early on, the character and severity of the crisis was generally not foreseeable even by economists who lacked market insights and experience to predict it, let alone prove conclusively that an emergent system could not “right” itself, especially that what finally pushed the system over the cliff are not these mistakes but the flawed decisions of the system’s liquidity managers who erred in dealing with, what else, a no-precedent crisis. Folks who blame greed for the crisis sans any qualifiers (e.g., errors of judgment or irresponsible behavior under complexity), are at best being naïve about human behavior in dynamic systems; at worst they are romanticists who can’t psychologically cope with uncomfortable causes for events that they can’t mentally grasp, so they default to the easier search for demons to exorcise. The fact that conflicted “greed”, if properly harnessed is vital to wealth and job creation should caution those inclined towards simplistic judgments, to ponder the risks of demonizing a vital part of economic life. An inability to entertain two opposed ideas without hiding psychic baggage is a sign of a weak, delusional mind ever seeking relief in transference. Moral outrage is a sop to a guilty conscience.

The Dilemmas of Corporations and the Welfare State

Let’s go right to the heart of issues that protesters are correct to raise even if they can’t quite articulate them well: the legitimacy of Corporations because of the unprecedented powers they have amassed, both outside the sphere of market operations and in their ability to corrupt society through their strong influence over the political process. Who in his or her right mind would question such motive, but it is also true that such ideal goals involve tradeoffs at a stiff price. But if that isn’t bad yet, Occupiers compound their woes by thinking that a non-market solution – the welfare state – can solve the problems they decry, namely slow economic and job growth. Like democracy, the corporation is far from being an ideal solution, save all other alternatives are worse – their tradeoffs are more expensive.

A little history should remind one that the modern corporation is a recent phenomenon, a caricature of the weak entity that it was in the last years of the 19th century or even up to the early years of the 20th. Massive needs for capital by technology, the imperative to diversify markets for stability of growth, and the centralization of authority to deal with efficiency issues and control the resulting complexity – all these led to the amassing of power (and thus its abuse) by those who lead these organizations. That most of them were self-appointed and not responsible to society or even to the corporation’s owners (who got castrated in the process) is not their fault; say what you want about the Law’s failure to come up with the proper legal safeguards or about regulators’ duties to properly enforce the rulings, the fact is that the corporation is the suboptimal solution that has successfully delivered on two of society’s most critical survival desiderata – employing the hundreds of thousands of its members who must earn a living at the least expenditure of time, money and effort; and effecting the efficient conversion of resources into sustainable growth. That many corporations have failed these tests or thwarted their attainment is no reason to reject all of them, unless one is sure that he has a superior alternative.

As one scans the landscape, he finds that few of those are worthwhile candidates to replace it. For the criteria boils down to what extent those vehicles’ decisions can take place within the influence of market discipline, especially as they undertake decisions that have non-market ramifications and “external” influences, such as is the character of social decisions today. The problem is that the boundaries delineating these decisions are booby-trapped with unknown costs and outcomes, which sets this back to the old nemesis, unanticipated consequences. Folks of a disposition akin to those we have met above – a moral repugnance for any inequality and the slightest hint of (unqualified) greed, prefer that non-market solutions predominate. What they claim little or no awareness of (or if they do, are uncomfortable to admit), is that such alternatives involve an explicit if seldom acknowledged tradeoff between two opposed ways of thinking about modern society: a market-responsive one typified by corporations (economically successful but rapacious if uncontrolled) and a non-market driven welfare state (inefficient, wasteful, unsustainable), its only tested alternative. The harsh reality is that one can only choose between two, imperfect solutions, but one of which tends to make the outcomes worse.

None of this defends (let alone excuses) the modern corporation’s hideous handiwork in vital concerns as environmental degradation, unsustainable exploitation of natural reserves, manufacture and exports of death-dealing weapons or drugs, aggressive lobbying to influence regulatory and electoral outcomes, all the way to outsourcing jobs that have no logic other than maintaining “competitive presence”. On the other hand, one has the welfare state, ostensibly set up to take care of those with neither the means nor the knowledge to protect themselves against the vagaries of nature or the rapacity of the markets. What it achieved instead was to siphon the resources that could have been used to get the economy to grow faster in order to lift those at the bottom of the social pyramid, which it diverted to politicians, bureaucrats and parties such as labor unions, with interests vested in perpetuating inefficiency and the sense of entitlements that resisted all reforms that threatened their hold over votes and sources of patronage. It is supreme irony the real threat to the world economy today comes not from the much excoriated “corporate greed” but from explosive public debt, a legacy of the welfare state. In matters that affect society the most – jobs and economic security- the corporate economy, warts and all, trumps the welfare state. To want to kill it while growing the welfare state is not only ludicrous but inane.

Hence the question is: what are Occupiers’ beef against corporations, and why their quixotic preference for such losers as the inept, inefficient and stodgy welfare state to deliver what is important to society? Could it be that the reason they condemn the corporate economy and praise the welfare state is that
they are psychologically insecure with competing in the marketplace where they can get their asses kicked in spite of a (academically indulged) pretense that they’re good. Well one is not THAT good if he must seek solace for his wounds from the womb-like comforts of a nanny, which the welfare state is. The tragedy is that Occupiers do not see that they are ditching imperfect solutions that work in favor of worse ones that have failed miserably, as close to the definition of delusion as one can have.

What Their Real Problem Is: Externalizing Inner Failures

Three years ago a young man asked to talk to me one on one. Thinking that it had to do with his long put off marriage plans, I braced for some unanticipated news: an unplanned wedding, or worse a split. As soon as he sat down gravely on the couch, I sensed that this was a devastating issue, and indeed it was: his job would not be renewed the very next year when he and his fiancé had planned to finally marry. I sat down silently as I listened to him detail the reason for the painful news: that despite being a talented art teacher, well-liked by peers and adored by his students, the artist in him just was not up to the administrative and routine demands of the job. As I observed his face turn grim and his eyes shed tears of anger, frustration and fear, I fought hard to explain and reassure him that being fired was not the end of the world; how I, too, once faced such a disaster, which I overcame by acquiring more expertise than my “firers”, which facilitated my foray into opportunities far beyond what I could find working for others. After going through this human moment we knew that there were serious things we had to do; none of those was about blaming our immigrant fates or the society that gave us our breaks. It was all about coping with life’s challenges as best as we can, as they unfolded in all of their stark harshness.

I wasn’t expecting to see how such an experience could be improved upon and surpassed by this young man who rose above this depressing episode, so well that in the span of less than three years, with a little less than a thousand dollars in seed money, he built a business that his peers now rate highly as an upcoming global sports art licensing and branding business, with fans from all corners of the world so rabid as to tattoo his art work on their bodies. Recently he capped this feat by co-branding and licensing his products to, and partnering as creative designer for, a leading US apparel firm that sells to 1,400 outlets. Looking at it now his dramatic turnaround owed mostly to personal discipline, adhesive-like perseverance, a refusal to get overwhelmed by lots of handicaps (we are outsiders), and a can-do spirit that drives him to excel amidst all odds. Instead of ending up as a loser he turned himself into a self-made entrepreneur who neither gave up nor depends on others for support, refusing to externalize his problems by blaming America for his share of life’s trials. Recently we had occasion to watch a rowdy O.W.S rally blaming the 1 % for their problems, and here is what he said: “I’m not the 1 %. I’m not the 99 %. I’m me, doing what I can to change the world”. I copyrighted and used it as the idea for this essay.

Other than the fact that terribly misguided can be useful in waking up society’s often moribund senses, there is not an iota of logic or fact to back up the O.W.S. positions, no matter how well meant and sincerely they are held. This is why they cannot come up with concrete proposals, and why they prefer to wallow in ambiguities, fearing that taking positions will force them to confront extremely painful realities, not the least being their conflicted inner selves. Why risk the embarrassment of a firm position when in vagueness one can indulge the airs of moral superiority? Could it be that this phenomenon called O.W.S. is the escapism of a bunch of badly raised losers who have succumbed to life’s vicissitudes and blamed America for their misfortunes?

Instead of wasting energy occupying idle real estate, why not build something concrete and useful on top of it?