OWS: Bailouts for me but not for thee

But when unhappiness over the disappointing results of freely made choices spills into policy recommendations, the putative libertarian-progressive alliance breaks down—and the logic of the Occupy Wall Street movement eats its own tail.

The biggest point of commonality between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party is opposition to the federal government’s 2008 bailout of the financial industry. “They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity,” the Declaration complains. “They socialized their own losses on our taxpayer dollars and on our currency and dumped that onto us,” one Occupy Boston protester told video journalist Garrett Quinn. But at the same time, activists are demanding free college educations, holding up “Debt Is Slavery” signs, and asking the rest of us to socialize their losses in the higher education market. All to the applause of a left-of-center commentariat desperate for a Tea Party of its own.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman suggested that “debt relief for working Americans become a central plank of the protests” because “such relief, in addition to serving economic justice, could do a lot to help the economy recover.” Salon’s Alex Pareene went further: “My immodest proposal is simply this: Individuals and households in the bottom 99 percent who owe debt to any large financial institution that received federal government support during and after the 2008 crisis should see their debt forgiven.…Let’s wipe the debt of the 99 percent off the books, tell the financial sector to eat it, and get on with our lives.” Wiping out banks’ consumer loan portfolios—including those of banks that did not want but were forced to accept bailout money—would have one guaranteed result: Banks would stop lending money to consumers, which no doubt would trigger a new cycle of activist agitation for more lending to lower-income citizens.