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The Globe and Mail

A history lesson for the Occupy protesters

The Occupy protests that began on Wall Street and spread to cities across North America and Europe gained early support from leftist politicians and union leaders. Here in British Columbia, for example, Victoria City Council passed a motion of support.

When demonstrators gathered in downtown Toronto on Oct. 15, interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, New Democrat MP Peggy Nash, Ontario Federation of Labour communications director Joel Duff and CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn were among the most visible marchers. When a group of about 500 moved into the city's St. James Park, sympathetic unions installed portable toilets, generators and even a yurt-house library for participants.

It's not surprising that Occupy Wall Street found some fertile ground in President Barack Obama's demoralized United States. In Europe, with youth unemployment as high as 40 per cent, such unrest is an inevitable outcome.

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But why in Canada? Our country has the strongest economy and among the lowest unemployment rates in the Group of Eight, no bank bailouts were needed and Canada's financial management is viewed as a global model.

Little wonder Canadian protesters couldn't agree on what they wanted. Even less surprising that the camps gradually deteriorated into hangouts for the dysfunctional dregs of society, pretending to be there for some noble cause.

Even as the physical occupations diminished, spokespersons for the so-called movement vowed to continue their mission to end the "corrupt and an unfair capitalist system where the 99 per cent are held hostage by the 1 per cent." This type of classic Marxist redistribution rhetoric inspired nearly a century of horrific suffering and subjugation for half the world's population while the other half, those "capitalists," achieved historic heights of prosperity, social progress and personal freedom.

Clearly, the Occupy protesters, and the union leaders and politicians who embraced their cause, were never taught those historical facts in school.

But history lessons alone wouldn't explain the fundamental reason why free enterprise has always delivered vastly superior results for improving the human condition – the human response to incentive.

Under 20th-century Marxism, communes were established wherein those who contributed little or nothing received the same benefit as those who worked hard. This lack of incentive was the root cause of the downfall of the communist Soviet Union. The painfully learned lesson about socialist redistribution theory is that whatever one person receives without working, another person must work for without receiving.

The vast majority of Canadians started near the bottom of the so-called 99 per cent. But rather than protesting to take away from those who had more, they found a way to get a useful education, started out working in low-paying jobs, gained experience and gradually moved up the income chain over several decades.

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Meanwhile, they paid their taxes, created jobs for others, raised families and helped build our country into one of the best places to live in the world.

There is an adage along the lines of, "If you're young and you're not a socialist, you have no heart. If you're older and you're still a socialist, you have no brains." So there's reason to hope that some of the young, ideologically misguided Occupy protesters will grow up to become productive, contributing members of society. There might even be a young Steve Jobs carrying one of those placards.

But how can one have any hope for those older union leaders who supported the protesters' prime objective of tearing down the free-enterprise system that pays their members' wages? Wise people are much more careful about what they wish for.

Editor's note: An earlier online version of this story and the original newspaper version of this story incorrectly stated that Canada has the lowest unemployment rate in the Group of Eight countries. Both Japan and Germany have lower rates. This online version has been corrected.

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About the Author
Gwyn Morgan

Gwyn Morgan rose from his modest roots on an Alberta farm to become one of Canada’s foremost business leaders and ardent champion of the importance of Canadian-headquartered international enterprises. Gwyn has served on the board of directors of five global corporations. More

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