Bailouts for Me, but Not for Thee

Occupy Wall Street demonstrators advocate policies that helped create the mess they’re protesting.


“We are blessed with 2 full time jobs but still pay on student loans 16 years after graduating,” wrote one. “We live paycheck to paycheck and are one car repair away from missing our mortgage payment.” Another said he wanted to become a science teacher, “but I’m shrouded in inflated student debts I didn’t foresee.” There was a 41-year-old MBA with $80,000 in student debt, a second-year college student who has racked up $20,000 in debt so far, the over-educated couple who probably won’t be buying a house or having kids because of student loans, the public school teacher who lamented that “my kids owe a quarter of a million $ in student loans.” As a fellow 99 percenter summed it up, “I did everything i was supposed to do: went to college, got good grades, participated in sports and clubs, graduated on time. 3 years later i have nothing to show for it.”

To the extent that people were merely describing the grisly details of living through what has been the first- or second-lousiest economy since the Great Depression, most of us can empathize (even those of us who made the conscious decision to never incur student debt or buy a house). There is a growing body of economic literature suggesting that higher education is experiencing a price bubble at a time when the job market for graduates is more difficult than usual—though still exponentially better than that for nongraduates. But when unhappiness over the disappointing results of freely made choices spills into policy recommendations, the putative libertarian-progressive alliance breaks down—and the logic of the Occupy Wall Street movement eats its own tail.


As of this writing, the Occupy Wall Street movement appears to have legs. I am generally happy to see public displays of disaffection with a governing elite that has inflicted so much bad economic policy on the rest of us, even more so when the protesters lean toward the political party that currently occupies the White House. (Many Tea Partiers I’ve talked to express personal regret that they didn’t get their start opposing George W. Bush.) But I will reserve my enthusiasm until the moment that protesters stop bashing capitalism and start confronting the incoherence of opposing bailouts for everybody but themselves.

Comment: Image above: Ouroboros the ancient symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail.

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