Occupying the wrong place

At the Free Market Forum in Atlanta, Bryan students and faculty engaged in discussion with conservative minds on financial and business issues. / Photo courtesy Andrew Wilber

Andrew Wilber
Multimedia Editor

Last week, while members of the Occupy Wall Street movement protested in cities across the country demanding increased entitlements and government regulation, a small group of Bryan students and their professors traveled to Atlanta to attend an event dedicated to the exact opposite idea.

That event was the Free Market Forum, produced by Hillsdale College (Hillsdale, Mich.) and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities to promote discussion about free enterprise.

The official themes at the forum were markets, Government, and the common good, but topics like the national deficit, the Occupy Wall Street protests, and the debt crisis in Europe came up again and again, giving the entire conference an urgent and somewhat dire tone.

“Why am I burdening you with our problems?” asked British Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan at the opening banquet. After describing how overspending and entitlement have brought the EU into its current crisis, he added, “Because they’re going to become your problems.”

According to several speakers the next morning, it may not be a long wait. After describing how the US’s current welfare and social security programs have driven the national debt into the trillions, Michael Tanner of the CATO Institute lamented over the idea of increasing these entitlements and how liberals, specifically the Occupy movement, want to pay for them.

“They say all we have to do is tax the rich. If you were to not just tax the rich, but confiscate everything they own––every house and every car––it would only raise about $12 trillion. Not enough,” he said, referring to paying off the current debt, let alone what it is projected to be in the future.

Far from being all doom and gloom, a number of speakers made suggestions for how jobs can be created and national bankruptcy averted. Ideas included scaling back welfare programs, privatizing, and in some cases completely eliminating entire government departments.

Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute explained how many government departments like the National Weather Service could be better run as private companies that wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything, drawing on his own experience with the British government privatizing railroads. In a conversation that night, he said that to do this fairly, the key is competition.

While the subject-matter and solutions discussed at the forum were very political in nature, they centered around trying to fix a very real problem. Rather than attacking people at the other end of the political spectrum, nearly all of the speakers recognized that they were sincerely trying––however misguidedly––to fix the same problem.

“I saw some of the Occupy people in a US city where I was yesterday,” said Daniel Hannan.“[I] wanted to say: ‘You have picked the wrong target comrades! I totally understand why you are angry about these bank bailouts…. You guys are in the wrong place! You should be occupying the Fed.”