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Randy Alcorn: Occupy Wall Street Protesters Don’t Realize the 1% Solution Isn’t

Playing the percentages may make for simplistic sound bites but the truth behind America's wealth and power is way more complicated

October’s Occupy Wall Street protests have metastasized and threaten to evolve from localized, inchoate demonstrations into a national political movement similar to the Tea Party phenomenon.

The protesters refer to themselves as the 99 percent, as distinguished from the 1 percent of the population that owns more than a third of the nation’s wealth. The protesters’ fundamental complaint is that the nation’s pronounced wealth imbalance is the result of condoned corruption. They contend that the 1 percent has bought the nation’s policy makers, and that the influence of the wealthy over government has not only resulted in laws and policies that favor the established elite but has also allowed them to pillage the country with impunity.

The chronic Great Recession with its high unemployment and dwindling opportunities has aggravated national economic angst, especially among those most adversely affected by the prolonged downturn. Most of the protesters are young, college educated and under- or unemployed. Their expensive college degrees have got them big debt but no jobs. Like their counterparts among the Arab Spring movements, they see little opportunity to improve their conditions under the existing, established power structure.

Of course, the ideological idiots who have dumbed down all debate on any issue in this country to snarling sarcasms between liberal and conservative doctrines have consulted their handbooks and determined the proper position to take on the protesters and the economic issues that have provoked their protests.

The liberal ideologues want to impose greater taxes on the top 1 percent and continue deficit spending to fund massive welfare programs. But, there is no 1 percent solution. “Tax the rich feed the poor, till there are no rich no more,” then what? Tax to death the top 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent? And, or incur more debt, and from whom? Who will create wealth only to have it confiscated?

While 1 percent of the population holds 35 percent of the nation’s wealth, the next 19 percent has 50 percent.

So, 20 percent of the nation’s households hold 85 percent of the nation’s wealth. The protesters call themselves the 99 percent, but it is presumptuous to include and expect the support of the top 19 percent of the economic food chain comprised mostly of professionals and small business owners who are unlikely to accept more taxes or approve of more national debt.

Attempts to redistribute wealth by government mandate or to finance welfare with debt have proven to be disastrous failures. The Soviet Union is the classic example of the former while Greece is a current example of the latter.

The conservative ideologues, meanwhile, believe that unfettered capitalism has curative powers to fix whatever ails America. But that cure may be worse than the disease. Unrestrained self-interest is not necessarily benign, and pure capitalism has not proven to perform in the field as flawlessly as predicted in the lab. It allows greed to become virulent. Monopolies choke out competition, labor is reduced to near slavery, and the ecosystem is despoiled.

Big business has more allegiance to profit than to any nation. So while America provides the world’s most favorable conditions for free enterprise and for entrepreneurial inventions and ideas, the production and work for those inventions and ideas may well be done overseas — doing little to provide employment for Americans. Yet, U.S. taxpayers fund subsidies to big business.

Uncontrolled human greed creates an economic jungle within which no one is safe from cannibalism. It is not like there is a fraternity of rich folks who will not prey on each other. There is no honor among thieves or economic cannibals. Bernie Madoff’s victims were among the top of the economic food chain, as were many of the investors and clients of Lehman Brothers and the other recklessly avaricious banks that wrecked the economy.

Rich, poor or middle class, anyone who advocates unregulated free markets has to be prepared to be speared and roasted in a pot. Being in the top 20 percent or even the top 1 percent is no guarantee of security from economic cannibalism. There has to be sensible constraints on capitalism.

If the American autumn protesters ever formulate specific demands to address their complaints, I hope they eschew the usual bipolar ideological nonsense and focus on reason. There are no easy answers for a quick recovery from the nation’s economic problems, but there are objective solutions found somewhere outside of ideological purity. We will never find those solutions by electing ideologues to policy-making positions at any level of government. These people will not think outside of their doctrines.

Left, right, liberal, conservative, what matters is what works, not what you call it.

It is time for people of reason to step up and run for office, and for people of reason to vote for them. We have let the boneheads at the far ends of the political spectrum run amok long enough.

— Santa Barbara political observer Randy Alcorn can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to read previous columns.

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