With the recent publication of the Occupy Handbook (http://www.amazon.com/The-Occupy-Handbook-Janet-Byrne/dp/0316220213/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=13357444), and the warm spring weather reviving the Occupy protesters from their winter hiatus, it is a good time to ask whether the Occupy [Wall Street] movement has a valid moral claim.
What is the Occupy movement’s claim? The basic moral claim is that there is too big of an income disparity between the rich (the “1%”) and the rest of us (the “99%”), and that is not just. The set things right, in the Occupiers’ view, the rich should give up more of their wealth, and the government should “redistribute” it to those who do not have it. This is the egalitarian argument: take away from the “haves” and give it to the “have-nots,” and we’ll end up with more equitable distribution of income and wealth.
This is not a valid moral claim. Why? Because for a claim about an action’s morality to be valid, it would have to be consistent with the requirements of human survival and flourishing. Unlike the other species, we survive and flourish primarily by thinking—and then acting on that thinking, for example by producing material values (food, shelter, medicine, etc.). The social requirement of our survival and flourishing is freedom: we must be free to think and act on our rational conclusions. That is the only way that producers are able (and motivated) to create products and services that enhance our survival and flourishing, including the smart phones and lap top computers that the Occupiers have used so effectively to communicate their message and to recruit more members.
Once you start restricting the creators’ and producers’ ability to keep the rewards of their work by taking their wealth and giving it to those who have not been creative and productive, you undermine everyone’s ability to survive and flourish. We are all much better off if the productive and the creative keep creating more wealth: there will better and cheaper products (look at the personal computer and the cell phone industries for examples), more effective medicines (just imagine what freer competition in the pharmaceutical industry could achieve), and more life-enhancing services. The rich do not “hoard” their wealth but invest it in further creation and production. And contrary to a common belief, it is not in the producers’ interest to keep jacking up their prices. If no-one can afford their products, they will lose their customers—and their business. Quite the contrary, it is in the producers’ interest to lower their prices, in order to gain market share from their competitors, and to keep generating wealth.
Those who claim that they should be handed part of the creators’ wealth in the name of equity are biting the hand that feeds them.