The Chicago Tribune published a commentary piece by Illinois Policy Institute CEO John Tillman.
An encounter with the occupiers
By John Tillman
had a direct encounter with the Occupy Wall Street protesters as I was
on my way home the other night. My office is a block north of their
Chicago base at Jackson Boulevard and LaSalle Street, so I've been
walking through the crowd almost daily as I go about my business. But
last Thursday night, I stopped and had a real discussion.
It was delightful.
I asked what it is they were upset with
and why were they vilifying corporations, noting that their umbrellas,
cardboard signs and the ink used to write their anti-corporation
messages all were made by corporations.
Like others, I've seen the news reports about their supposed
demands: a $20 minimum wage, forgiveness of all debt and a
socialist-style health care system. As the leader of a free-market think
tank, it will come as no surprise that I do not support those
solutions; they are not economically sound.
But I also know that when people are frustrated, their solutions do
not always match the problem. So I sought to get to the heart of what
this crowd considered to be the problems in America.
Here is what
I learned: First, they don't like crony capitalism in which politicians
and government pick the winners and losers. We agreed. Second, they
don't like it that people misbehaved on Wall Street. We agreed again.
But when I pointed out that the financial collapse occurred primarily
because of people playing within the rules created by government and
that it was the government itself that made the rules, we began to find
more common ground.
One thing that has bothered the occupiers is their image as
portrayed in the news media. They think corporate media are misleading
the public about who they really are and what they really want. I told
them my take, based on news reports, was that they are engaged in class
warfare and hate corporations and capitalism. They said that that was
not what it was all about; their occupation, rather, is about stopping
abuses of the system at the expense of average people. We agreed once
When asked for advice on improving their image, I said stop
attacking corporations and the rich; they are not your enemy. The root
problem is government that seeks to expand and empower itself rather
than empowering people. The best way for government to empower people is
to go back to the founding principles and focus on creating a level
playing field, not seeking equal outcomes or picking winners and losers.
We agreed again.
In the end, the 30-minute nighttime conversation taught me that
these folks have many of the same grievances as the tea party: They
don't like the out-of-control debt, they don't like the out-of-control
spending, they don't like the insider dealmaking and crony capitalism,
and they don't like it that they feel like they are left holding the bag
while the insiders with access to power get away with everything.
There appears to be this great schism in the tea party movement
about how the occupiers should be treated: rejected as crazy leftists or
I'd argue that occupiers and tea partyers should join
forces. Given what I heard the other night — at least from this
particular set of occupiers — we share far more in common than they
What I have found most interesting about the rise of the tea party
is that the two groups who dislike them most are the
Democratic and Republican establishments. If the tea party and occupiers
find common ground, we'll see the Democrats and Republicans finally unite in a bipartisan fashion against them both.
John Tillman is CEO of the Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market think tank.