Occupy Wall Street and a Return to Checks and Balances

occupy wall streetSince it started its campaign on September 17th, much has been written about the movement calling itself Occupy Wall Street. On one side you have a growing collection of liberal politicians and media outlets applauding this new voice on the political scene. At the same time, you have conservative pundits and dailies looking for any reason to discredit the participants and their agenda in general.

The questions raised by both sides are these: who are these people, and exactly what are they asking for? A purposeful attempt by organizers to have all voices heard and to avoid creating a hierarchy within the movement has left these questions difficult to discern. Thus, you have tentative support from those favorable to what they hope the movement intends, and a wall of resistance from those who see as anathema any dialogue that calls for a divergence from the status quo.

So, as protesters raise issues of taxes, corporate greed, exorbitant tuition fees, lack of jobs, and even peace related issues, their counterparts snarl “accusations” of socialism as if they had hit upon some universally accepted demon. Yet, if one filters through all the items that make up the bulk of the protesters’ call for change, one common element stands out: a call for a return to a system of checks and balances in business as well as in government.

New York City Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, recently commented on the direct relationship between crime rates and the number of police on beats. No great debate here. Most would readily see the connection. However, when you take this same argument to Wall Street, you get a far different reaction. Conservatives happy to see the streets flooded with cops to protect the peace, cry that no system of checks and balances is necessary for the rich and powerful. I suppose the takeaway is that the rich are less likely to take advantage of an illegal opportunity to increase their largesse than the street thug. However, human nature is the same in us all as the many Bernie Madoffs of the world prove again and again. Tempt us without having to account for the greater good, and we all are inclined to take the bait.

To maintain a civilized society where all stand to benefit and thrive, thorough checks and balances are necessary to protect us from ourselves. True, EPA standards may hurt corporate profits. Eliminate them and every old forest would cease to exist, beaches would be covered in oil, mountains would be leveled, and our air and water would be toxic. We need only look to China for a 21st Century ecological cautionary tale. Remove all restrictions on business, and the demand for increased profits guarantees that jobs go to markets with cheap labor. Offer any group the advantage of not paying taxes and they will accept this bounty even as the majority loses its safety net of social programs. Perhaps Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes summed this issue up best when he said, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

In establishing the United States’ three branches of government, its founders cemented the need for checks and balances in the running of democracy. No one branch is ever likely to see the whole picture, and a system of checks and balances prevents a self-serving view from going unchallenged. Whether in government, private transactions or in our personal life, it is the system of checks and balances that forces us to come to the negotiating table with competing parties. This is all part of the endless dialectic that guarantees a society works to best advantage for all its citizens.

by William Repicci

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