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My Professor On 'Occupy Wall Street'


While the term “well meaning liberal” is increasingly laughable, there are a few good apples in the bunch – and one of the best is My Professor, Robert Cohen. In accordance with his position as a leading scholar of student protest movements in the 1930s and 1960s, he was interviewed over at the Huffington Post (who’s front page editor was in Professor Cohen’s class with me) about “Occupy Wall Street”.

Here is some of what he has to say:

I think far too much is being made about the lack of one specific demand. The historical significance of many demonstrations often transcends one specific demand because they articulate and symbolize dissent around a whole series of issues and conditions.

What is important is whether this protest grows and has influence first in the streets and then in the mainstream media and political system — and it seems to be getting there. This movement is demonstrating that the failure of the two parties and the Tea Party to offer realistic solutions to the economic crisis, the rising inequality of our economic system, and the endless wars that divert our resources and cause pointless bloodshed, are generating mass dissent on the left.

They need to gain influence in the media? Ask Rush about that.

Keep the “rising inequality of our economic system” part for in mind for this next part. The interviewer asks: “How does Occupy Wall Street prevent itself from being the left’s version of The Tea Party? In other words, how does it prevent itself from being co-opted by the Democrats or the mainstream media while remaining an organic movement?”

(I don’t know wtf that guy is talking about. He apparently thinks the TEA party has been co-opted by the GOP, dispute the fact that the GOP establishment is freaking out about how the TEA party is co-opting them!)

Profesor Cohen responds:

I think this question’s premises are backwards. If a movement is to have influence over mainstream institutions, it has to connect with them and lead politicians to begin addressing the concerns the movement has articulated about the need for greater regulation of Wall Street and the banks and more equity in our socio-economic system. Getting any of this to happen is a sign of at least partial victory — real influence, not co-optation.

The left wanted the New Deal to do far more in the 1930s, for example, to aid needy students. It wanted all of them to get federal aid. The New Deal’s NYA [National Youth Administration] could not help them all, but did help millions of these students through work-study scholarships. This New Deal aid represented only a partial victory, and the students movement pushed for more, but even this limited federal aid was far better than the zip that needy students had gotten before, under Hoover. So this was not co-optation, it was translating radical demands into more reformist programs. The political system is being tested as to whether it is responsive to its citizenry and if it is, that is a plus and not something to be written off as co-optation.

(Stick with me, folks)

Later, the interviewer asks: “The 60s protest movement in America was largely started on college campuses. Occupy Wall Street seems to have its origins mostly off-campus, and was organized primarily, if not exclusively, on the Internet. How do you believe the demographics of this protest differ from other large scale American protests throughout history, and what does that mean for Occupy Wall Street?”

Profesor Cohen says:

There are lots of students and recent college grads at the center of this movement, so I don’t think you are correct about its roots being solely off campus. But it is clear that already this movement has united blue and white collar workers, students and unions, in ways that did not occur in the 60s. The demographics remind me more of the 1930s — when very diverse segments of society, labor, students, the elderly, farmers, etc., were mobilizing for socially democratic solutions to the social and economic crisis of the Great Depression — than the 60s. And that’s because the economic crisis in both the 30s and today is so massive.

So, basically, Profesor Cohen believes OWS is a re-run of the 1930s social movements (side note: which should appropriately include the unmentioned charades of unhinged commie union thugs and noisy/clueless red student charlatans), but he makes the mistake of seeing another New Deal as the solution – when in fact the New Deal failed in every single one of it’s objectives outside of the creation of the Social Security/Welfare State opiate.

The talk of using another New Deal to fix social and economic inequalities is even more stunning, because it was the government intrusions of the 1930s that created today’s exacerbated inequalities in the first place! This was made clear in three articles, two by Walter E. Williams (WW1 and WW2) and one by Thomas Sowell (TS) which, for your reading pleasure, will be amalgamated into one:

[WW1:] Chapter 3 of “Race and Economics,” my most recent book, starts out, “Some might find it puzzling that during times of gross racial discrimination, black unemployment was lower and blacks were more active in the labor force than they are today.”

[TS:] Moreover, the duration of unemployment among blacks was shorter than among whites between 1890 and 1900, whereas unemployment has become both higher and longer-lasting among blacks than among whites in more recent times.

[WW1:] How might one explain yesteryear’s lower black unemployment and greater labor force participation? The usual academic, civil rights or media racial discrimination explanation for black/white socio-economic differences just wouldn’t hold up. I can’t imagine even the most harebrained professor, civil rights leader or media “expert” arguing that there was less discrimination a century ago and that explains why there was greater black labor market participation. Racial discrimination or low skills can explain low wages but not unemployment.

[TS:] None of this is explainable by what most people believe or say in the media or in academia. But it is perfectly consistent with the economics of the marketplace and the consequences of political interventions in the marketplace.

“Race and Economics” explains how such interventions impact blacks and other minorities, whether in housing markets, the railroad industry or the licensing of taxicabs– and irrespective of the intentions behind the government’s actions.

Minimum wage laws are classic examples.

[WW2:] One effect of a minimum wage law is that of discrimination against the employment of less-preferred workers. Within the category of less-preferred workers are those with low skills. Teens are disproportionately represented among such workers and are therefore more adversely affected by minimum wages. Black teens are disproportionately represented among teens with low skills and therefore share a greater burden of minimum wages.

[TS:] The last year in which the black unemployment rate was lower than the white unemployment rate was 1930. That was also the last year in which there was no federal minimum wage law.

[WW1:]During the 1930s, there were a number of federal government interventions that changed the black employment picture. The first was the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which mandated minimum wages on federally financed or assisted construction projects. During the bill’s legislative debate, the racial objectives were clear. Rep. John Cochran, D-Mo., said he had “received numerous complaints … about Southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South.” Rep. Clayton Allgood, D-Ala., complained: “Reference has been made to a contractor from Alabama who went to New York with bootleg labor. … That contractor has cheap colored labor that he transports, and he puts them in cabins, and it is labor of that sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country.” Rep. William Upshaw, D-Ga., spoke of the “superabundance or large aggregation of Negro labor.” American Federation of Labor President William Green said, “Colored labor is being sought to demoralize wage rates.” For decades after Davis-Bacon enactment, black workers on federally financed or assisted construction projects virtually disappeared. The Davis-Bacon Act is still on the books, and tragically today’s [ultra-left wing Congressional Black Caucus], doing the bidding of their labor union allies, vote against any effort to modify or eliminate its restrictions.

[WW2:] One of the more insidious effects of minimum wages is that it lowers the cost of racial discrimination; in fact, minimum wage laws are one of the most effective tools in the arsenals of racists everywhere, as demonstrated by just a couple of examples. During South Africa’s apartheid era, its racist unions [many of which, as Profesor Williams points out in his 1989 book South Africa’s War against Capitalism, were controlled by the lilly-white South African Communist Party] were the major supporters of minimum wages for blacks. South Africa’s Wage Board said, “The method would be to fix a minimum rate for an occupation or craft so high that no Native would likely be employed.” In the U.S., in the aftermath of a strike by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, when the arbitration board decreed that blacks and whites were to be paid equal wages, the white unionists expressed their delight saying, “If this course of action is followed by the company and the incentive for employing the Negro thus removed, the strike will not have been in vain.”

[TS:] Minimum wages were required more broadly under the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 and under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, with negative consequences for black employment across a much wider range of industries.

[WW1:] Being unemployed has significant negative social consequences, one of them noted in the 1960s by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who raised the alarm about the link between joblessness and the decline of the black family, saying that men without work become less attractive as marriage partners. Between 1890 and 1940, a slightly higher percentage of black adults had married than white adults. Today black marriage rates have fallen precipitously, where 72 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers.

Profesor Cohen concludes the interview saying: “this is already the largest left movement since the 1960s”.

If this is the best they’ve got, then we may be in for smoother sailing then we thought. (Don’t count on it, though)


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