The Explanation May Not Fit on a Placard

Continuing with the Occupy Wall Street theme, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee released an “Open Letter of Support for the Occupy Movement”. It’s predictably full of pointless nonsense which I think underlies the larger problem with the Occupy protests. To be clear I do not assume that UUSC speaks for the movement. I’m only aiming at it because it states ideas that appear to be generally applicable to Occupy Wall Street.

From the beginning:

I stand with people around the country and the world who are calling for economic justice.

“Economic justice” doesn’t say anything. What’s meant by the term? Equality of process? Equality of outcome? There are different possible meanings. Some are legitimate and principled. Others are naive. Which is it here?

My values affirm that each person has inherent worth and dignity; that justice, equity, and compassion should be the guiding principles for human relationships; and that all people deserve access to the democratic process.

More ideals without evidence to demonstrate we do not have them in some form. In the abstract, sure, these are great. But what does it mean in reality? Who doesn’t have access to the democratic process? What are the intended consequences? What might be the unintended consequences? Can “the democratic process” create valid outcomes that you don’t like?

My recognition of the inherent worth of every person compels me to speak out against policies that privilege the demands of corporations over the human rights of people. I support the Occupy movement in its affirmation that protecting workers’ rights and ensuring that basic human needs are met must take precedence. All people have a fundamental right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their families.

Please provide examples of where the demands of corporations are privileged over the human rights of people. Government requires a balancing of rights. It’s primary task is protecting the rights of individuals. Corporations are individuals, which is to say a collection of individuals. If individuals have a human right to free association, the form of that association shouldn’t matter, right? Is the Occupy movement free association? Are the human rights of people the rights of individuals or the abstract of a right, like “free speech”? Are “workers’ rights” a subset of human rights or separate and applicable to everyone?

If someone believes my last paragraph, how does free association and an individual’s inherent worth and dignity matter only to the extent that their “fundamental right” to a standard of living is met? If the solution is to tax the rich (more), and that seems to be the Occupy movement’s demand, then there’s an implied point at which an individual becomes a valid target for the rest of society. Justice and equity require both a floor and a ceiling?

I also join the Occupy movement in decrying the wealth disparity that leaves millions struggling for economic security. Policies and legislation that promote economic marginalization are morally unacceptable. Everyone is entitled to a government that recognizes and promotes basic economic rights. Justice, equity, and compassion should be foremost in our government’s decision making.

Is this alleged wealth disparity the cause, or merely a coincidental fact? Wealth and prosperity is only fixed in the moment. But we don’t live in a moment. There is tomorrow, and if we create and produce, there will be more tomorrow. Some will get rich, some will not. This isn’t necessarily problematic or unfair. Stating that everyone should have some minimum is not the same argument as assuming that no one should have above some maximum. Is Occupy interested in creating and producing, and is it interested in consent in achieving economic security, which is not well-defined here?

I agree that policies and legislation that promote economic marginalization are morally unacceptable. However, the solution includes limiting government power, not relying on the right mix of benevolent politicians. The latter don’t exist in sufficient numbers to make a technocratic democracy work without horrible, rights-violating offenses.

Economic oppression is not only a violation of fundamental human rights, it is also a blow to democracy. When economic power is concentrated in the hands of a few and when corporations are awarded the same status as actual human beings, the democratic process is fundamentally compromised. Basic fairness requires that all people have equal opportunity to participate in political debate and to be represented in government.

Define “economic oppression”. Provide examples. Explain how the Occupy movement’s undefined solution resolves the problem. What are the intended economic consequences of democracy? What might be the unintended consequences? Can “the democratic process” create valid outcomes that you don’t like?

Economic power is concentrated for many reasons, including cooperation from politicians. Politicians will be involved in democracy. Democratic tyranny is possible. This is why equality of process is superior to equality of outcome. Democracy does not guarantee equality of process. How would the Occupy movement address this?

Have corporations been awarded the same status as actual human beings? Who will Apple vote for next week? In 2012? What about Starbucks? Again, corporations are a collection of people exercising their natural right to free association. Do they lose certain rights because they join collectively rather than act alone? What would be the consequences – good and bad – of altering the current corporate structures?

I envision a powerful and radically inclusive movement for economic justice. I recognize economic justice as a right that is due to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, immigration status, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status or distinction.

Is economic justice a right due to “rich” people who are to be taxed? What does this right look like for anyone classified as rich?

I sign this letter as an expression of gratitude to all who are working for economic justice in the United States and around the world, as an affirmation of my hope for fair and compassionate economic reforms, and as a renewal of my commitment to help make it so.

Are we listening to those working for economic justice who know nothing more than the slogans and solutions, those who haven’t attempted an understanding of the complex problem?

Link via Ethics Alarms.