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Unintended Consequences of Occupy Movement

Port Disruptions Not the Way to Go for the Occupy Movement

Some believe the Occupy Wall Street movement seems to be all about socially engineering our country so that the rich get poorer and the poor get richer. Certainly, there are those in the movement who believe in a more socialistic society and wealth redistribution. Personally, I don’t think this was the genesis of the movement. It was to speak out about corporate greed and hold banks and investment firms accountable for the financial meltdown of 2008 that still causes pain for so many. Nevertheless, a valid question to ask is what motivates the hard core protesters that remain and disrupt work at ports of entry and block roads and streets.

Just this past Monday, thousands of demonstrators forced shipping terminals in Oakland, Portland, and Longview, Washington, to halt parts of their operations. Protesters claim they targeted the ports to focus on the "economic engines for the elite." Protesters are most upset by two West Coast companies: port operator SSA Marine and grain exporter EGT. Investment banking giant Goldman Sachs Group Inc. owns a major stake in SSA Marine and has been a frequent target of protesters.

Demonstrators say they are standing up for workers against the port companies, which have had recent high-profile clashes with union workers. Longshoremen in Longview, for example, have had a longstanding dispute with EGT, which employs workers from a different union to staff its terminal. The longshoremen's union says the jobs rightfully belong to them.

I’ve been a strong supporter of the Occupy movement from the beginning based on its message of protesting greed and the growing inequality of incomes in society caused mainly by the rich, such as corporate CEOs, earning millions while the average working Americans' wages stay stagnant or decline. Moreover, some CEOs earn millions in severance packages even after their company has failed. There is no denying the actions of banks and financial institutions, aided by government-sponsored entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, created a housing bubble that has cut personal wealth by 50% in some cases. Those actions also have contributed to our persistently high jobless rate and disgruntled workers leaving the workforce.

The other side of the issue is that protesters have to think carefully about how their actions affect others – a basic tenet of ethical behavior. By disrupting work at ports and in business communities they may get their message across and bring attention to their cause but it may lead to business slowdowns that ultimately cost jobs and other economic costs.

Few consider the strain the protests put on municipal government. Police details are costly with police union’s often demanding overtime pay for such assignments. In New York City alone, the NYPD reported $2 million in extra security costs due to the protests. Atlanta estimated its costs for policing its own homegrown Occupy movement at $300,000. Oakland, the site of the most violence, claimed costs of $700,000.

Local businesses feel the costs as customers seek alternatives. Unfortunately, it seems the small businesses are hurt the most – the very groups we should be supporting during the economic downturn.

These are “unintended consequences” of the Occupy movement and that seem to be negatively affecting public support for the cause. According to a Gallup Poll taken November 19-20, support for the movement declined from the previous month from 25% to 20% while disapproval went from 20% to 31%. It’s quite possible the results will be lower when the next poll is taken.

I believe the Occupy movement has to take it to the next level and identify positive changes in the way our economy is run. Be a force for change, not disruption. It’s one thing to constantly stare down the opposition. It’s another to formulate solutions to the very problems the movement protests against. And, find a way to get your message across without disrupting the normal flow of economic activity and hurting the very people we should be helping.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 15, 2011