Appeared in the Kelowna Daily Courier, Vernon Daily Courier, Penticton Herald, Victoria Times-Colonist, Calgary Herald, Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Winnipeg Sun, Edmonton Sun, Montreal Gazette, and The Province
When you look at Occupy Wall Street and the cascading imitations now in play across North America, it would be a mistake to write the protesters off as merely misinformed. In some cases, they are; also, any self-flattering comparison with the Arab Spring where citizens faced off against murderous dictators is absurd. Still, some protesters are also well-intentioned.
The Occupy protesters have a plethora of complaints including how profit is private but financial losses are socialized, the existence of pollution, stagnating wages, and home foreclosures among others.
Admittedly, some complaints are more salient among Americans than Canadians—foreclosures for example.
Also, some protester demands can be contradictory. For example, more jobs and a better environment should not always be placed in opposition to each other. Entrepreneurs who invent more ecologically-friendly technology are a good example of business and environmental interests in concert.
But on a more specific and recent issue, some disruption of land will occur if an oil pipeline from Canada to the United States is to be built. But with now out-of-work Americans to be employed by this project, protesters who want more jobs but also oppose any disturbance to the Prairie landscape are not being realistic.
I sympathize with the protesters’ concerns but for those sincerely interested in creating a better world, slogans, demands and a snap of the finger won’t do it. Thus, to make poverty scarce, to foment prosperity and to avoid political favouritism for anyone, here are a few general principles Occupy protesters should grasp and promote:
Principle One: Subsidize only people in need, never the wealthy or corporations
People occasionally need help and the exact parameter of that is a constant source of debate as is who should do the helping. Nonetheless, let’s be clear about who doesn’t need a subsidy: the wealthy and corporations.
The rationale here is not difficult to understand. Obviously, the wealthy don’t need income transfers from taxpayers. As for companies, they are artificial entities which will rise and fall, so let them.
Real people work in companies but that’s rather the point: when flesh-and-blood human beings are down on their luck, help them, not corporations who come and go. After all, trying to “save” corporations through taxpayer money only sets government up to intervene between competitors and to pick winners and losers.
Wall Street protesters are right to oppose the socialization of losses on Wall Street; same goes for Detroit automakers and anywhere else where private losses are paid for by taxpayers. So as a general principle, end all corporate welfare and means-test all social programs.
Principle Two: Be neutral in tax policy.
Whether in Canada or the United States, the personal and business tax codes are riddled with loopholes disguised as “tax credits, “deductions” and “exemptions.” Regardless of where one thinks the overall tax levels should be, job creation (except for accountants) could be helped by broadening the tax base and simplifying collection. Lower, flatter and simpler taxes are always preferable to higher, convoluted and confusing taxes.
Principle Three: Always favour consumers over producers.
Want cheaper food prices for the world’s poor? Then stop favouring farmers or anyone else with subsidies, protective barriers, and “supply management” boards (which are essentially cartels). All that does is protect the market share and prices of producers at the expense of consumers. Instead, embrace open competition.
Principle Four: Oppose government-sponsored “Ponzi” schemes.
Insofar as anyone thinks governments should throw another borrowed billion or trillion dollars at the economy, it’s an attempt to generate political returns now at real costs to future generations. That cost includes more debt to be repaid in the future with higher taxes, slower economic growth and fewer jobs—for the younger protesters on Wall Street.
That’s almost akin to a Ponzi scheme. It’s an inter-generational “borrowing” of wealth that forces the last people into the scheme to pay for not only their own government services but also those delivered to people who came before. There’s a good example of where that leads to: Greece.
Principle Five: Favour opportunity, wherever it appears.
Some Wall Street protesters decry so-called entry-level jobs but that’s an insult to those who hold them and who work hard to improve their life. There is great dignity in all work, in any field. For most able-bodied people, it beats dependence on a government cheque.
So in general, embrace opportunity. Look at what it did for Steve Jobs. Consider how he improved the world with his inventions and entrepreneurial drive. Ponder how many people’s lives he improved with employment and expanded opportunities. That’s a smashing success story and one worthy of emulation.