Lemony Snicket on Occupy Wall Street

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The search for meaning in Occupy Wall Street and related movements continues. Unlike prior movements looking for: the right to use the same facilities and accommodations as others; the right to worship as one wishes, the right to collectively bargain.

This movement is all over the place. Getting pissed off that the economy sucks but not everyone is hurting is, well, positively French. And, “yes” I am writing that with tongue firmly planted in cheek. However, the anger that the economic pain is not being equally shared is approaching something more akin to the French Revolution.

Instead, I see complaints more akin, “you’re rich and I’m not, hence you’re hurting me.” I am not saying this is the entirety of the protest. However, there is a growing undercurrent of this. The latest example is author Lemony Snicket’s poetic, moving and occasionally bone-headed “Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance.”

Money is like a child—rarely unaccompanied. When it disappears, look to those who were supposed to be keeping an eye on it while you were at the grocery store. You might also look for someone who has a lot of extra children sitting around, with long, suspicious explanations for how they got there.

Umm. Money is not like a child. Money is inherently fungible. That’s the whole idea. It’s not like my goat with the Elvis-shaped birthmark ended up in your back yard. Peddling the notion that if you have money and I don’t, you have somehow harmed me is stirs up resentment based on a false premise.

Oh, you harmed me because you were “watching” the money. Nope, sorry, it still doesn’t fly. By that token, bookies have cheated you because you bet on a losing horse. You want to make an argument about Wall Street selling ever more foul smelling crap wrapped in every prettier bows? That’s fine! But, that a person you were in business with is doing well while you are doing poorly is not a causal nexus showing harm.

There may not be a reason to share your cake. It is, after all, yours. You probably baked it yourself, in an oven of your own construction with ingredients you harvested yourself. It may be possible to keep your entire cake while explaining to any nearby hungry people just how reasonable you are.

This is the same mistake made by wannabe Senator Elizabeth Warren:

The issue is not  that we all benefit from government benefits and that “no man is an island.” Of course that is right. However it completely avoids corporate welfare in the discussion of welfare for the disadvantaged. It completely ignores government provided tax breaks for businesses such as paying for building-out utilities, roads, cutouts, lights & signals; not to mention funding private (and profitable for the owners) businesses such as stadiums.

These are breaks no small or medium business can ever hope to get. 

So, it is not a question of whether you should justify having cake if you did not smelt the metal for the pan. If you paid for the pan, go ahead and fill your cake-hole! However, when you are courted with all sorts of benefits to bring your cake business to a state, don’t get ticked off that some people are looking for help just to afford a bag of flour.

99 percent is a very large percentage. For instance, easily 99 percent of people want a roof over their heads, food on their tables, and the occasional slice of cake for dessert. Surely an arrangement can be made with that niggling 1 percent who disagree.

Really? Coming from the man who described himself as one of the .001 percent of earners. You want to make an “arrangement”? An arrangement is different from giving a a gift, or a donation, or supporting a cause (all of which Lemony Snicket has done), it is one person making an offer and someone else says “more” and they win.

This is the undercurrent of forceful redistribution in the “occupy” protests. And this is where the movement will fall down.

Actually, let me clarify: it all depends on (assuming the public will) on the form of the redistribution. Increasing income tax (particularly on long term capital gains) and a stronger wealth transfer tax (death tax) could accomplish the redistribution to movement seems to want. However, like any economical action, there is no guarantee that this would not make the economy much worse. The effects of economic policies remain question marks for decades.

Major Street Carpark 3

My concern is that a generation that did not live though entire neighborhoods on fire due to riots, might find the idea of a more active distribution enticing. Certainly the gadflies wanting to be part of a real life protest (or “OMG I actually got video of real-life police oppression”) seem to outnumber the heartfelt protests.

If the movement goes in this direction, it will either be beaten down and no change will happen, or the movement, like the French revolution will explode like a lit powder keg. The 1% (and their capital) will flee. And cities may burn while Madam Defarge knits.

Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), I don’t think you are really about to set this country on fire. However, you have a bully-pulpit and your words have been taken up by others. I decry the notion that wealth is inherently built on the misery of the poor, the distraction of common benefits pulling attention away from massive welfare for already wealthy entities, and the powder-keg of forced re-distribution.

However, I will stick with you on the following points:

Someone feeling wronged is like someone feeling thirsty. Don’t tell them they aren’t. Sit with them and have a drink.

It is not always the job of people shouting outside impressive buildings to solve problems. It is often the job of the people inside, who have paper, pens, desks, and an impressive view.

Lemony Snicket via Boing Boing.

Image credits:

Creative Commons License photo credit: Benny457
Creative Commons License photo credit: AMagill