The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy

'Occupy LA': What do the other 1 percent want?

Those participating in Occupy Los Angeles march toward City Hall.
Those participating in Occupy Los Angeles march toward City Hall.
Eric Richardson / blogdowntown

Yesterday, I blogged about what the "We are the 99%" Occupy Wall Street and Occupy LA protesters are all about. In the interest of fairness, I now want to explore the other side. I wouldn't call them the opposition. But if the 99 percent are angry that increases in income and wages have disproportionately gone to the top 1%, what do the 1% have to say in their defense?

Rich Kalgaard provided a basically textbook point of view in Forbes back in 2007, more than year before that…well, you know, that little problem with the global financial system:

[M]oneygrubbing--a.k.a. the search for profit--has its purpose. Money (profit) is a tool. It is capital. Without capital there is no capitalism. Innovation starves. Prosperity weakens. Societies stagnate. God-given gifts wither. This is especially true for humanity's wonderfully zany outliers: artists, inventors, entrepreneurs. They need capitalism more than anyone.

Money is good, therefore, because capitalism is good. It delivers the goods, literally, and better--broadly and individually--than does any other system. 

This is the kind of argument makes the 99%ers see red. But (1) I've taken Karlgaard's words out of context and (2) he's right. Although he's only right under certain conditions. Capitalism, for example, doesn't have to operate according to widely accepted rules of law. There's been no shortage of criminal capitalists in human history.

The system has shown that it can create broad prosperity, however. The 1% will ritually defend this, both because it's a sort of dogma for them and because they can highlight the facts: more people live better than before capitalism came along and performed its magic.

The 99 percent — its more rational element, anyway — aren't complaining about that. They're protesting the distortion that has entered what is inarguably a very productive system. It's not like this hasn't happened before. In the 19th century, the U.S. endured numerous panics and bank runs due to an unstable financial system and the excesses of frontier capitalism. The lead-up to the Great Depression was hardly an example of capitalism at its finest. 

We've been here before. And we've corrected course before. So what will the 1% learn this time around?

Photo: Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images