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Inequality and Occupy Wall Street 1: who should you believe, Wente or Carney?

November 9, 2011

Margaret Wente argues, in her column in the Saturday Globe and Mail,  that “Occupiers are blaming the wrong people“. She states that :”It’s not the greedy Wall Street bankers who destroyed these people’s hopes.”

Rather occupiers should be blaming:

1. themselves for making the wrong choices (schooling choices, marital choices, fertility choices)

2. politicians and unions, and also “social progressive policy makers”, and finally

3. the higher education system for producing people like this with worthless degrees who aspire to become politicians, unionists and social progressive policy makers.

Yet, only three weeks ago the same newspaper reported that the man who has just become the new watch dog over the international banking community, Mark Carney (the current governor of Canada’s central bank), fully supported the Occupiers.

He called the protests “entirely constructive“, and claimed “that the movement is an understandable product of the “increase in inequality’’ – particularly in the United States – that started with globalization and was thrust into sharp relief by the worst downturn since the Great Depression, which hit the less well-educated and blue-collar segments of the population hardest.”

So who should you believe?

Wente’s column clearly hit a chord, generating over 2,000 comments on the Globe web site. Putting aside the fact that there was some sloppy journalism in her research (see this site for example), her claims make one wonder how, during the midst of the worst financial crisis in the post war history of the rich countries, it is acceptable to write in a national newspaper that the victims are to blame.

It may take a sociology degree to understand why—not one of Wente’s preferred fields of study—but the crux of  the matter is that you have to believe that actions should have consequences, you make your bed … now lie in it. Further, you have to believe that the welfare state is complicit in this because, as the grand social insurance program, it dulls the link between choice and consequence.

There is an important implication to this belief: the logic has to apply at both the top and the bottom of the social pecking order. If we accept that the poor merit their failings, then it is also the case that the rich merit their privileges.

My bets are on the central banker, and I’ll explain why in a series of posts in the coming days.

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