Tag Archives: Wade Maki

Occupy Capitalism

By Wade Maki

I’ve started writing this from a hotel room in Kearney, Nebraska where I’ve just finished five presentations at a two-day symposium on the Morality of Capitalism at UNK. Several times during the conference, the “occupy” protests came up (especially the occupy Kearney protests here in a small college town). Most of the faculty presenting said nice things about the protesters for getting involved and standing up for something (most faculty get the impression students won’t stand up for anything other than their own grade). These faculty encouraged students to join in a movement – whatever side they choose – as that is the only way to change things. Other faculty, a smaller bunch, spoke of the occupy protesters as a muddled and confused group making more of a spectacle than any positive change.

The idea of students getting involved in something (other than the quest for test scores and grades) is something I approve of. Of course I’m not much of a protest type and find serious faults with the occupy tactics such as:

  1. The name occupy implies a hostile trespass of someone else’s space.
  2. Camping in parks and hanging out attracts the wrong kind of attention.
  3. Chants, drum circles, and odd dress do not help market the message.

Professional Organized & Appealing to Middle America

This is intended as a friendly criticism. Think back to how Dr. King managed his movement for positive change. People dressed up, gathered at a particular time, marched where they would be visible (but not overly intrusive on others daily lives), held a rally with well thought out speeches and then everyone went home. This created a positive impression with the middle-American majority whose support is needed to effect real change. To convince people, it helps to have a coherent message, presented by people who look like the intended audience, and ensure that your side avoids exposing itself to bad PR (every crazy dressed, incoherent speaking protester gets interviewed by the news, which does not advance the cause). It is my sincere hope that these well meaning folks get it together.

Not the marketing image for Middle America, but sure fire Fox News interview!

Having offered a critic of the occupiers (best thought of as outsiders), I’ve saved a few words for the insiders. After the last symposium session when I returned to the hotel where there was an additional conference (some sort of business professionals’ event) I overheard the following perspective expressed in the hallway:

“You see the occupy people protesting?”
“Yeah there were 8 of them.”
“They’re all unemployed with nothing else to do aren’t they?”
“Yes, oh, and they got run off too.”
“Good…”

Are all capitalists necessarily greedy pigs as portrayed?

While I didn’t hear every word in that hallway conversation, the disdain they held for the (presumably) unemployed people exercising their rights to assemble and express opinions were a stark contrast to the generally positive messages of support expressed by conference faculty.  I’m often surprised how the same event is seen so differently by different groups of people. Why some are encouraging protests and others are ridiculing protesters without a focus on resolving the very real problems that cause people to protest (even if they can’t quite articulate exactly what they are)? Further, who among us that is employed doesn’t see how it very well could be us that were laid off in the recent crisis? Why is there no compassion from the insider (who knows they are lucky) for the outsider who is unemployed because of a combination of bad government policies combined with short term incentives of financial traders and mortgage sellers? While insiders and outsiders may differ on what should be done, that something needs to be done to prevent the next crisis should be the real focus. Neither the “greedy capitalist” nor “neo-hippie-protester” depiction of others accomplishes the real goal.

No one here engages in capitalism?

Some say the occupiers are “anti-capitalist” but I suspect they (like all of us) really want a job that pays us for the value we provide rather than a revolution. Capitalism done right makes us better off not worse. Don’t agree? Imagine trying to live a week without engaging with capitalism. What will you wear or eat without trading or buying from a store? We may favor different versions of capitalism (as we do TV shows), but we don’t really oppose all capitalism as that is like opposing all TV.

The real conversation is one of setting the right incentives for workers, managers, regulators, and customers. The core problem of the financial crisis was individuals having short term incentives for taking large risks without any individual consequence for the downside of those risks. For a good explanation of this read The Big Short by Michael Lewis. I expect capitalists and protesters would find a lot to agree upon and start focusing on real solutions rather than stereotyping each other.

Perhaps this is the Bull needed on Wall Street?

Constitutional Amendments, Moral Gridlock, and the Unique Case of Same-Sex Marriage

By Wade Maki

Change is a slow process… until it isn’t. These two “truthy” nuggets help explain American moral progress. Reflect upon the state of American moral issues such as the death penalty, abortion, physician assisted suicide, and drug use in 2011. Now compare the state of these issues today to attitudes in 1981, just three decades ago. While a few state laws and minor policy modifications have occurred, the change over 30 years is evolutionary not revolutionary. None of these issues have resulted in widespread constitutional amendments.

To further underscore the lack of major moral change, just look at other changes from 1981-2011. A brief list should include the internet, cell phones, women in positions of power, and of course an African American President. A time traveller going back to ‘81 would find none of these things and would be locked in a padded cell for predicting them.

The pace of change in technology and society contrasts strikingly with how little change occurs on moral issues, making same-sex or gay marriage truly extraordinary.  Gay marriage was not even on the radar in 1981. In 1986 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that sodomy could be criminalized. That ruling was not overturned until 2003 (Lawrence & Gardner v. Texas).

Only in the latter 1990’s did the question of gay marriage garner serious attention and even then it was more of a political rallying cry in opposition to it, which made it an issue. To this day few major politicians have supported same-sex marriage yet a majority of states have amended their constitutions to outlaw something which wasn’t legal or even seriously considered by the political class. We have never seen other moral issues rise to the level of amending constitutions across the country in this way.

So, in less than 20 years a non-issue has become a major moral issue for America. I first included this topic in my Vice Crime and American Law course in 2006. Already, most everything I wrote about has become ancient history. From a single state with a civil union law we now see full gay marriage (GM) rights in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington D.C.

In California alone, we’ve seen chaos around the issue where the Mayor of San Francisco decided to grant GM license on his own authority only to be stopped by the courts only to be reversed statewide by other courts. Then in 2008 an anti GM referendum reinstated the ban but that referendum is now tied up in even more court proceedings.

These changes are uncharacteristically fast for a controversial moral issue in American law. Perhaps this is best explained by demographics where most issues might split near 60%-40% across all age groups (like abortion or the death penalty) gay marriage support varies widely based upon age. A large majority of those over 65 oppose gay marriage whereas the vast majority of the under 35 group support it. Given this trend the future expansion of gay marriage rights over time is to be expected.

This is why the North Carolina Legislature’s action to put on the ballot a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage this primary election is so out of touch. It bans something our law already prohibits, enshrines a form of discrimination into our constitution, and sets us up for a harsh judgment from history. Unless today’s young people or their children suddenly change their mind about gay marriage it is only a matter of time before these constitutional bans fall away just like those bans on interracial marriage or sodomy.

Many authors make a strong moral and legal case for gay marriage. Rather than replicate the good work of others I suggest we avoid the harsh judgment of history by actively opposing this amendment this coming primary election. North Carolina voters should envision those whites who stood in the way of integrated schools, or men who opposed the rise of women, or the states that held fast to interracial marriage and sodomy statutes. In each case the future was clear and those who stood in the way are not judged kindly.

Opposing this amendment is the right thing to do for reasons I’ve offered and many I haven’t. The fact that it comes up in a primary election makes your vote all the more important. Turnout is generally low and with a contested Republican presidential primary, the electorate will be older and more conservative thus more likely to vote for the amendment.

I’m proud to live in North Carolina and also proud that we are the only state in the south east not to amend our constitution to ban gay marriage. We can remain proud tomorrow by defeating this amendment today.