Occupy Can Save Capitalism

Jonathan McLeod

While many still search for specific policy prescriptions within the Occupy movement's call for social justice, a common thread across the diverse movement is an unmistakeable message of skepticism concerning unfettered capitalism. Walk through the protestors' camps and you will likely see indictments of the "corporatocracy" that has grown from our allegedly corrupt capitalist system. It is this stance, along with the aesthetics of the demonstration, that tends to illicit the greatest amount of ire from conservatives. Despite declarations by the demonstrators of representing the 99 per cent, a deep political divide has emerged. Those dismissive of the movement as "anti-capitalist" should look carefully at Occupy's concerns, as the movement might end up saving capitalism from its destructive excesses.

.We should be concerned that we're slouching toward corporatism and growing inequality. Conservatives and libertarians have been known to decry the government's habit of "picking winners", as well they should, but they must also realize that their disgust for the government's meddling in the private sector is not altogether dissimilar from the Occupy movement's concerns with undue corporate influence over government. Each side should realize that neither side is “taking over” the other, rather, the two – the corporate world and the government – are getting into bed together. There is no aggressor in this relationship; the government, developing its “pro-business” credentials, offers billions of dollars to industry, and in turn, businesses pour resources into influencing the decisions of government, including employing thousands of lobbyists.

Related: In Defence of Occupy

It is the rest of us – even if we work for a large corporation or strive to own a successful business – who are the worse for it. As in the United States, Canada is witnessing the increased merger of corporate and governmental activities. Whether we are dealing with Bombardier, bailouts or trade barriers, the government places far to great a priority on protecting the privileged status of large corporations, and, thus, the wealthy: the one per cent. Each time the government enacts a policy to protect an established company, they are limiting the opportunities and choices of the rest of us. Restrictions on the free market will, in the long run, reduce potential wealth.

Capitalism, as an economic model in which the means of production are controlled by private citizens, can work as a natural counterpart to liberal economic values. Alone, however, capitalism is not sufficient for the development of a just world. Yes, it can be a tool that brings prosperity by promoting liberal values, but it cannot be a replacement for those values.

Related: On 'Free Markets' and Social Struggle

The difficulty is that we cannot assume, as we have been, that those who claim to defend capitalism will embrace the values that underpin it. With the accumulation of wealth, comes increased political clout. A corporation that employs thousands of people will have a greater chance to influence politicians than an individual will. Politicians, in turn, have a greater incentive to help a corporation, thus protecting the jobs of thousands of his or her constituents.

Understandably, though not excusably, corporations will use their wealth and clout to guard against competitors and start-up businesses. The irony is, when corporations turn to government for protection or, worse, for bailouts, they are turning away from capitalism and the free market. Thus, those who benefit the most from this economic system are those who have the greatest incentive to destroy one of its fundamental tenets: competition in the marketplace.

This is where the 99 per cent motto should ring true to those on the political right wing. An economic model, that should offer the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people, is under siege by the one per cent who claim to be its greatest defenders. Political misperceptions must be put aside, and those on the right of our political spectrum should realize that the Occupiers are acting as the most vocal opponents of the true threats to capitalism.

Related: Occupy: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally?

It is true that many of the cries for "equality" and "social justice" are little more than left-wing sloganeering, absent of concrete policy proposals, but that does not mean they should be discounted. There is undoubtedly inequality in our society. There is poverty and there is despair, and much of it has less to do with merit than it does luck. When the government conspires with select corporations to protect its wealth at the expense of others, there can be no sense of justice in our economic and political systems.

Defenders of capitalism, and by extension the free market, should be concerned by the growing inequality. The grievances listed by the Occupy movement are targeted at those who are corrupting capitalism, those who, by their actions, do not believe in, nor care to adhere to, "free enterprise." The solution is not to turn to a collectivist or anarcho-capitalist economic model. There is, in fact, no single solution. What is clear is that the battle to maintain liberal values, such as economic liberty, includes restraining the worst excesses of corporate greed.