A friend of mine chastised me the other day. He said I was being too hostile toward the occupiers on Wall Street and elsewhere. He conceded that many of them are the ragtag group of hippies, hipsters, and communists I've said they were. But he also said that around the country there are also a lot of angry, unemployed people who just think the deck is stacked against them. They don't want to punish the top 1%. They don't want "free" anything. These people, he said, are reachable. And they are open to listen to anyone who is willing to take on Wall Street. We shouldn't let unwashed hippies be the only people they hear speaking to their concerns.
This touches on something I've written about before and think the time is right for a Republican candidate to take up the cause of populism against Wall Street.
Most of the common ground with most of these damn dirty communists is superficial. But let's presume there are some people out there who are reachable. We on the right should not be as dismissive of what is happening in this movement the way the left, to their determine, wholly dismissed the tea party movement. There is, in fact, some shared ground even beyond the superficial ground I've already covered.
What's the message?
First of all, the message is not punishment and retribution for success.
Most of us actually think the deck is stacked these days against entrepreneurs and that it was done so by bipartisan coalitions. Most of us do think the deck is stacked against the little guy. It is not, however, that the top 1% stacked the deck against the rest of us. It is that the government, in its expansion of the nanny-state, drove up costs to everyone and only the rich had the capital to overcome it. Only the wealthy and powerful can hire the lobbyists to write exemptions in big new taxes and regulations and the army of lawyers and accountants to comply with them. Only the big guys can get a seat at the table where Washington hands out loans and grants and bailouts to its friends in Big Business and Big Labor.
The rich have kept getting richer and it is harder to break into the top ranks of salary. But that has very little to do with the rich blocking people from getting there. It has pretty much everything with the government. And that is the fundamental difference between the occupiers and the tea party movement.
Both are opposed to TARP. Both are opposed to bailouts. But the rabid occupiers want more government and the tea party wants less government. The occupiers think only the government can solve the problem and the tae party thinks a free market can solve the problem.
The occupiers think the government should pick the winners and losers and the tea party thinks the free market can.
"But wait," they say, "the market is not free." And they are right. But the solution should be to free up the market, not shackle it or nationalize it.
Back in 2009, I asked when the people would revolt. The left went nuts, accusing me of fomenting the very violence they are now fomenting. But this is precisely where I saw us heading. The left has whipped people into a sentiment against Wall Street and bankers and the rich, but as I pointed out then and still maintain, it is the politicians who are to blame. People are reacting now, as I predicted they would, to the tyranny of small things.
The bankers on Wall Street have the same number of votes the rest of us have. But it is the politicians, not the banks, who have made the playing field unlevel. And the banks and their derivatives and new fees, etc. are all in response to the playing field being unleveled.
What has happened is government has made it more and more difficult for anyone to make a profit. So the financial industry got more and more creative in trying to make a profit. The house of cards eventually came tumbling down. But it never would have happened, but for the government — from Fannie to Freddie to the Community Redevelopment Act and on and on and on.
Only those with money could stay ahead. To be sure, some of them were crooked bastards who should go to jail along with some politicians. But not all of them or even most of them. More so, many on the left right now ignore the fact that these guys are bipartisan in their giving, if not slightly left, and the Obama Administration has done nothing about them. In fact, many of this administration's legal reforms have actually benefited the biggest financial service firms like Goldman Sachs.
The point to all of this is that a Republican candidate can run against Wall Street, though probably not Mitt Romney. A Republican can run on a very simple message — in this country we should all be able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but government and big business have gotten in the way.
Government added more and more regulations and complications all the way down to the local level. Big business then used its money to go hire lobbyists to go to Washington to carve out loopholes to benefit themselves. The rest of us are unable to compete.
The point is not that we now need to punish those big businesses. The point is that we need to re-level the playing field and make it a fair competition between entrepreneur and corporation again. We need big business to stop living off the taxpayer dole. We need a new age of corporate welfare reform like the welfare reform of the 1990s.
So what should we do?
First, we need to blow up the tax code. The tax code is the source of much of the problems. It has become a costly burden for individuals to try to stay in compliance with the tax code. People should not need an army of accountants just to avoid the IRS nor should they need an army of lobbyists to secure their fair treatment from the tax code.
Second, we need to get rid of a lot of regulations on small businesses. Big businesses have the budgets to do compliance. Small businesses do not. Small businesses can never become big businesses when the small businesses must spend money on compliance instead of business.
Third, we need to get rid of patents for software and process. When big businesses can patent processes that should otherwise be common sense, small businesses can never enter the market. Likewise, more and more we are seeing patent trolls abuse the patent process by hoarding patents on processes and software that shut out innovation by entrepreneurs. Software can be handled with copyright. Processes should not be patentable.
Fourth, state and local governments need to get in on the act. For as many federal regulations as businesses have to comply with, states and local governments are the same. It is notoriously impossible in some parts of the country to run a noninvasive business from a home. Even kids cannot start lemonade stands in some parts of the country without a business permit.
The business permitting racket at the local and state level needs to be shut down. Sole proprietors should not need business permits and the extra compliance that comes from applying for a business permit. People should be permitted to run noninvasive businesses from their homes without zoning waivers and permits and inspections and extra fees.
We should make it easier and easier for people to go into business for themselves without the headache of government regulatory and tax compliance.
Many of the occupiers have traded in greed for envy and jealousy. They want to punish the big financial institutions. But that is unnecessary.
The playing field has been tilted toward the big businesses because they are the only ones who had the capital to stay ahead of government regulations and new government burdens, and the influence to bend new laws in their direction. The playing field does not need to be tipped back in favor of others. Just level it. An upright tower build on a slope will topple the moment the slope is laid flat.
Life is not fair. But if all men are created equal, conservatives should not shy away from making the creation point a level field for everyone. Abraham Lincoln said that in this country, unlike any other on earth, "every man can make himself." As government grows and creeps into every aspect of our lives, that is less and less true except of those who have the means to pay off government and cover the increasing costs of doing business.
Instead of punishing those people, we should lower the bar to entry for everyone else.