Unhappy Campers


Nearly a year after it began, Occupy Wall Street (OWS), which quickly turned into the larger Occupy movement, continues to confound the media in ways small and large. In some early reports it came off as little more than a festival for the counterculture. Soon some observers feared—while others hoped—it was a rehearsal for some kind of revolution.

The revolutionary impulse was fueled by a few outrageous numbers. Twenty-five hedge-fund managers had been paid, in one year, as much as 650,000 entry-level teachers—and the teachers had to pay higher taxes. In 2010, 93 percent of the economy’s gains went to the top 1 percent, which owns more than 60 percent of the nation’s financial securities and business equity. Meanwhile, the bottom 90 percent is saddled with more than 70 percent of personal debt, and the bottom 40 percent own less than half a percent of the nation’s wealth. 

Impressive as they were, the raw numbers weren’t enough. They had to be translated into a language that was morally resonant and intelligible to non-economists. Not surprisingly, references to the Bible were not uncommon among the protesters. The anthropologist David Graeber proposed a debt jubilee to redress decades of rising inequality. Chaplains and rabbis carried a golden calf around Zuccotti Park. Late last year Catholics United brought the calf to Washington, where they petitioned House Speaker John...

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About the Author

Frank Pasquale is professor of law at the University of Maryland, author of The Black Box Society (Harvard University Press), and co-editor of a collection of essays tentatively titled Laudato si': Reflections on the Legal, Political and Moral Authority of Catholic Social Thought in an Era of Climate Crisis.