With the Tea Party, the issues were clear. Government was too big, taxed too much and needed to rein in its out-of-control spending. Its message was a clarion call for limited government coupled with fiscal responsibility.
At rallies that had the flavor of church picnics, people gathered to address their concerns, bagged their trash and returned to their jobs and homes to continue to lobby their government through constitutional channels.
No such clarity can be found in the encampments that mark the Occupy Wall Street rallies, which occupy little of Wall Street but litter cities across America, creating dangerous environments and showcases of human degradation.
The protesters rail against the structures of government and business while demanding that those same institutions guarantee cradle-to-grave services, funded by people other than themselves. The same flavor of these demands can be found in Greece and Italy, where people rally for the continuation of benefits that no one can afford, to be paid for by others. It is the same demand for financial “fairness” that was propagated by Karl Marx.
Interestingly, the only clearly heard catchphrase from Occupy Wall Street is the call of the “99 percent” (mainstream society) against the privileged and aristocratic “1 percent.” But the definition of the 1 percent depends on who is doing the calculating and from where they hail. The likes of Michael Moore, Jay Z and Warren Buffet strangely have been given a pass.
Few protesters seem to be aware that as citizens of the United States, they’ve already experienced an unfair financial advantage. According to World Bank figures, the poorest 10 percent of Americans have more income than nearly 4 billion other inhabitants of the planet. Put another way, Americans are relatively rich compared to most of their global counterparts.
Even for those in need in this culture, numerous social institutions rally to aid their fellow citizens. Soup kitchens, private charities, churches and shelters for the homeless work through faith-based and community groups to care for the needy. And then there is government.
In August, the number of people in the United States relying on food stamps hit 45.8 million - nearly 15 percent of the population. Food-stamp rolls have risen 8.1 percent in the past year, the Department of Agriculture reports, though the pace of growth has slowed from the depths of the recession.
In 2010, the American labor force was made up of approximately 154 million people. That means that for nearly every three workers, one person was on food stamps - a shocking statistic.
It is interesting to note that according to the Bible, one of the criteria for receiving aid was a willingness to work. Entitlement was not an option. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
Paul is not being cruel or heartless in this passage. He is expressing a truth that those who are able but unwilling to work should be disqualified from receiving charitable help, thereby allowing their natural need for food to drive their effort to work. This is a profound and often overlooked financial principle.
However, it was a criterion clearly understood by the nation’s founders. The American experience allowed people a level playing field for “the pursuit of happiness.” It created “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” The uniquely American ideal allows for all people, regardless of race, creed, color or family of origin, to excel. Then and now, it makes no guarantees. Yet this system has produced some of history’s greatest advancements for humanity because of this equal footing known as a meritocracy.
Care for those who did not achieve their dreams fell to their families and fellows in the community - the people who knew them best and understood them most.
Attitudes toward poverty, debt and entitlement make reaching common ground with those in the Occupy Wall Street movement difficult. Compared to many around the world, they live in relative comfort, with access to food, shelter and liberty. But rather than embracing equal opportunity, they seem to clamor for equal outcomes.
This puts them not only in opposition to the Tea Party but in marked contrast to most Americans, who do not support the European versions of socialism that are self-destructing.
Perhaps it is time for the Occupy Wall Street movement to reflect on the words of Paul: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown, a nonprofit business and personal-finance policy and education organization, and author of “The Root of Riches: What If Everything You Think About Money Is Wrong?” (Crown Financial Ministries, 2011).