I think Tom H is missing the point. I'm not sure the OWS protests are about redistribution as much as they're about empowering the people to take back their democracy from the wealthy and corporations that seem to dictate it's direction.....usually at the cost of or on the backs of the 99%.

Marla Louise

The problem with Tom's question is that it is based on two false assumptions and perhaps even a false and insulting moral value.

The first false assumption is the presumption is that members of the occupy movement are not aware of the poverty of the world. I think they very much are, but as long as the 99% have no say in our government, we are powerless to help the less fortunate.

The second false assumption is that the purpose of the movement is wealth redistribution. While I am sure some in the movement look for this redistribution, many do not nor is it the driving ethic of the movement. Instead, the Occupy movement is looking for a level economic playing field (or at least a bit more level) and a government that is responsive to the 99%, not just the 1%.

Finally, there is the possible false and even insulting moral value that is implied in the question. The moral value that Tom implied is that every individual is only motivated by financial self interest. Therefore if one knew their financial self interest was in the negative, they would not take the action.

And while this moral value is quite prevalent with some Americans, including many in the 1%, I would suggest that many in the Occupy movement reject that narrow money only self interest. I certainly do.


Marla Louise

(I wish we could edit these post after they are written, found too many English errors after the fact in my previous post. To my defense I'm still on my first cup of coffee.)

I would like to point out another false assumption in Tom's initial post that I see argued way too often. It's the assumption that wealth is a zero sum game. It's the assumption that the only way to help those that are poor is to take from the rich. I reject that assumption as well. It's easily provable that wealth is not a zero sum game, at least in an Adam Smith Free Market. That's one reason I strongly support change and the Occupy movement. We need to return to a Free Market (as opposed to our current mercantile market and a complicit government that perpetuates the mercantile market) such that we can solve this problem.



Over the past few decades, the trend has been to export manufacturing jobs out of the U.S. and overseas to poorer countries with lower wages and less protections. I would suggest that the redistribution that the commenter is talking about has already occurred.

However, in normal circumstances, this might lead to a weaker dollar or lower domestic demand as the average wage in America drops, but the strength of the dollar and the rate of inflation is buoyed by the large amount of wealth still held by a percentage of people in this country. What's going on is that the American middle class gets the worst of both worlds - they don't share in the benefits of a wealthy America, but they also don't gain the benefits of a poorer America. They get the prices and cost of living of the former and the wage growth of the latter.


Oops. Tom's comment was too pointedly correct. Watch as Freakonomics commenters try to refute his beautifully succinct point with long-winded arguments.


There's something frightening to that line of reasoning. This commenter seems to be saying, "Tom's comment fits better on a bumper sticker than the list of demands issued by various members of OWS. Therefore, it must be more true."


I am a long-term volunteer at a public health NGO in Haiti. I posted on this precise claim, and its misdirected underlying assumptions, here:!/notes/meghan-elizabeth/the-99-arent-actually-poor-and-other-red-herrings/10150355137482900?notif_t=note_comment


@Marla, while I appreciate and applaud what you have to say, I have my own 1% of disagreement with one of your comments. The people are not powerless to help the less fortunate simply because the government is not responsive. The only obstacle to making a difference in the life of someone less fortunate than ourselves that most individuals in a free society face (even an economically divisive one like ours) is ourselves.


But it's easier to blame the rich/government/whomever than to take any personal responsibility.

Marla Louise

@jeff, I would suggest the very reason for the Occupy movement is people are waking up and deciding to take responsibility for our country. I for one am very proud of the movement and the people that are willing to risk a lot for a better country.

Joshua Northey

Well it depends on who you see as part of your moral/legal/societal community.

There are a lot of really obvious reasons why US citizens would see the US as its community in this sense.

While is a strong vein of redistribution, there are also a lot of people who would be just as happy with simple effective regulation done by technocrats not enslaved to the industries they regulate.

You have the banking sector writing the rules the banking sector operates under, and then when it helps destroy huge amounts of wealth through encouraging mal-investment, it says "Oops my bad! Now can I have some money, because I cannot pay my bills?".

Markets are incredibly powerful tools for goods distribution/information transmission/et cetera, they are also incredibly simple and have a lot of gaping holes. Government's main role in the economy should be to compensate for/paper over those holes.

Yet our political system is set up in such a way that government's main role in the economy is pandering to the donors to the parties' political campaign.


Eric M. Jones.


Enough said.


It’s an interesting point, but I think it only distracts from the issue. The right thinks of “wealth-redistribution” and thinks of someone holding them at gunpoint and taking their hard-eared cash and handing it out to the Moochers and Deadbeats who chose not to succeed. The OWS is more about changing institutions, society and government, to break the link between money and power and create institutions that serve the broader interest of all classes, not just an elite few.

The problems of the 95% relative to the 5% (of the world) are not analogous to the problems of the 99% relative to the 1% (of Americans). Their problems are the fault of their own poor institutions and their own elite classes (their own 1% or less) not the American middle class. (Though there is often coordination between their 1% and ours)


The "1%" have violated their capitalist agreement with the "99%". That agreement is "we will make the money, but we will take all the risk". Instead of owning up to their risk, they got bailed out. There's your wealth redistribution.


So OWS is all about the "communiss"?

I'd say its more about democracy, government of the people, by the people for corporate and special interests. Spot the flaw.

If the latter could seem to pull back from their single minded income redistribution in their own favour- from anyone less wealthy than them, to themselves- then people might content themselves with grumbling as before.

It's the various banking crises which have shown many of us that they lost control themselves and it has gotten to the stage where even those on what would seem to be very large incomes (to the average person) are starting to become seriously unnerved.

They actually do have to be countered and in the end that's what one person one vote means.


It is hard to give up your own wealth, once you have acquired it. I have no expectation that anyone give away they money beyond some small amount that acts primarily as a way of making them feel better. For this reason, charity will NEVER fill the role of government in redistribution of wealth.

I am in favor of a MUCH more progressive tax code, but I will say, without a hint of shame, that in filling out my tax forms, I seek to pay as little as possible. I expect the same of everyone else. Government expenditures are so diffuse that paying an extra $1000 (or $1 million, for that matter) in federal income tax will have no marginal impact on society. What I do expect is that the government make continuous efforts to improve the country and world that I live in. This requires wealth redistribution. Income inequality is corrosive to society-- this is an immutable fact. Capitalism is the best economic system we know of, but it is full of flaws. The dynamics of capitalism--proven time and time again-- provide for ever-increasing income disparity. Insofar as capitalists control capital and absorb the rent from production associated with an ever-increasing proportion of GDP involving capital, the gap between rich and poor will continue to widen.

Here is a lovely TED Talk on why inequality is a threat to everyone: