Common Ground Between Occupy Wall Street And The Tea Party

More in common than they might think.

University of Chicago Law Professor Todd Henderson suggests how the Occupy movement and the Tea Party movement could find common ground:

The ‘Occupy’ movement will never succeed against its “one percent” adversaries until it begins to understand that there is not a single one percent, but rather many.

An entire field of economics, known as “public choice,” studies how small, concentrated groups with similar interests generally prevail politically against larger groups of diffused interests. And, in our society, these concentrated interests – like unions, defense contractors, religious groups, farmers , etc. – are not necessarily part of the “one percent” Occupy talks about, and several have even joined or co-opted the Movement. But they are part of the broader one-percent problem.

I recently participated in a debate about the Occupy Movement at the university where I teach. The representative from Occupy Chicago claimed to be speaking on behalf of the 99 percent, but the problem is that there is no single coherent 99 percent.There are many 99 percents depending on the issue at stake, and any successful 99 percent movement must be more nuanced and draw finer lines than the Occupy Movement has so far.

When focused broadly on just income or wealth, the message of Occupy is too radical to represent anything close to 99 percent of Americans.


[T]here is something important about rhetoric of the one percent. “Public choice” economics explores the problems of concentrated interests. There are fewer corn farmers than taxpayers, and the gains from ethanol subsidies are large for each corn farmer, while the costs per taxpayer are quite small. The costs of coordination and the financial incentives mean the farmers will get their way so long as the government has the power to subsidize or penalize. This simple dynamic explains much of how our government allocates resources. And, unlike Marx or Citizens United, it is something the Tea Party and Occupy can agree upon. Although it may seem far-fetched at first glance, if Occupy found common ground with the Tea Party or the sentiments behind it, much could be done politically. After all, there are many 99 percents.

As I’ve said before, there is one way that the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are alike. Both movements make the mistake of only focusing on one institution as the cause of the problems they see around them. For the Tea Party its government, for the Occupy movement its business. What each side fails to recognize, though, is that what they each see as the sole cause of what’s wrong in this country is only half the story. The occupy movement is right to decry the extent to which banks and other large corporations are able to manipulate the rules-making or tax systems for their benefit, what they fail to recognize is the fact that the government has expanded beyond its proper boundaries to the point where it is able to manipulate the economy and pick winners and losers that causes businesses to spend so much time and money lobbying in Washington to protect their interests. The Tea Party is correct when it decries the vast expansion of government spending, the irresponsible load of national debt, and the continual intrusion of the Federal Government in new areas of life, but they fail to recognize that businesses are at least partly responsible for bringing that world about. If the two sides could see what they’re missing, they’d see that they’ve got more in common than they might think.

And, as I’ve said more than once, the 1% doesn’t just include bankers on Wall Street, it includes the people who have appropriated the levers of power in Washington to themselves for the benefit of their friends, whether those friends happen to be corn farmers in Iowa or union bosses in Detroit. There’s room for agreement here, but it requires both sides to recognize that there are enemies in government and in the businesses that benefit from their relationship with the government. As long as that situation is permitted to continue, then all those protests about “Big Government” on the right and “corporate greed” or “income inequality” on the left won’t amount to a hill of beans.

Henderson is on to something here, but I have to doubt that anyone is going to listen.

H/T: Professor Bainbridge

Photo credit: Politico

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    So, once again the argument that if government were smaller it would be less corrupt.

    So, which part of government could we best reduce in order to bring about the end of rent-seeking? I know! How about the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FTC and the FDA?

    Because then, what’s cool is, the government would be small enough that big business wouldn’t have to buy them off, Big Business could just kite checks, form monopolies and poison people at will for fun and profit. Yay! Utopia!

  2. sam says:

    Both movements make the mistake of only focusing on one institution as the cause of the problems they see around them. For the Tea Party its government, for the Occupy movement its business.

    Ok, so what we need is the Occupy Party.

  3. Biggest commonality: both groups are catpaws for establishment political interests who found it useful to have a grassroots mask to wear on occasion.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    What establishment uses Occupy as a catspaw?

    And if you say the Democrats you’re going to need to explain why Democratic mayors are sending in police thugs to beat up on peaceful demonstrators.

  5. ponce says:

    If only the Constitution didn’t protect the rights of minority “persons.”

    Because Exxon and poor black children are exactly the same.

  6. b-psycho says:

    Occupy, as exemplified in their addressing of foreclosures, is moving towards a realization that rent-seeking is theft, and promoting the idea that the gains of such should be treated as void. That’s a point in favor.

    The Tea Party is moving towards…what? Serious question.

  7. Moosebreath says:


    “The Tea Party is moving towards…what? Serious question.”

    Control of the Republican Party.

  8. john personna says:

    It is silly to say that when OWS faults a “corrupt political system” they are not targeting the political system, only half that system.

    But if you allowed yourself to grasp their complaint, the easy dings wouldn’t come so easily …

  9. Seerak says:

    Next up, a post on the common ground between the American Revolution and the Russian Revolution. After all, they both displaced tyrannies, so they *must* be able to reach some common ground.

    (Principles? What are those?)

  10. @michael reynolds:

    Tea Party:Koch Brothers::OWS:AFL-CIO

  11. Liberty60 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    You obviously missed the news coming out of Oakland.

  12. Ron Beasley says:

    I have thought all along they were unhappy about the same thing. I think the serious members of both sides realize the problem is both the Plutocrats in the corporate world and the Plutocrats in government. The problem is the tea party also hates the heathen Democrats and the idea of a black president. The divide is really all about social issues (religion).

  13. Liberty60 says:

    Doug, Occupy completely gets that the 1% include not just bankers, but the politicians in Washington.

    Really, they do.

    Where they differ from the Tea Party is that they want government that sees itself as a neutral entity that safeguards the interests of the People, and is given enough power to enforce that will.

    Hard to square that with making it small enough to fit in a bathtub.

  14. b-psycho says:

    @Liberty60: …so you realize the government is just the enforcement arm for corporatism, yet you expect government to end it?

    No state has been, is, or ever will be neutral, for the simple fact that those with its power always have their own interests. It’s a formalized extension of the ruling class.

  15. Liberty60 says:


    So instead of calling it neutral, lets say that we want the government to be responsive to the will of the majority, not just a small monied minority.

  16. b-psycho says:

    @Liberty60: But it IS a small, moneyed minority…

    If there really is a discernible Will of the People, of what use is the state to it? At all?

  17. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Evidence that the AFL-CIO significantly funds or directs Occupy?

  18. Andre Kenji says:

    Both of them are very equal. Both of them uses stupid costumes, both of them carry stupid signs and both of them have no idea about what they are protesting.

  19. John D'Geek says:

    @Liberty60: The French Revolution proved that the Will of the Majority was just as tyrannical as the Will of a Minority (e.g. Kings; Parliament; The Elite).

    That’s why our Constitution was based on the Rule of Law instead of the Will of X. Unfortunately the Rule of Law seems to be being used as tissue paper. (e.g. the General Motors Fiasco).

  20. Rob in CT says:

    Nobody (here) is arguing against minority rights or the Rule of Law. Some are arguing that, right now, what we have is near-complete domination by a tiny minority, and that this is bad.

    Pushing back against the status quo != French Revolution.

  21. Liberty60 says:

    @John D’Geek:
    I completely agree, and its good that we don’t confuse democracy with mob rule.

    Returning to my original post, Occupy has as its main grievance, that the rule of law is subverted by the monied elite.

    So they want a government that is strong enough to enforce the rule of law even in the face of private power.

    This directly contradicts the Tea Party idea that reducing government power will somehow rectify things.

  22. John D'Geek says:

    @Liberty60: OWS demonstrates one of the problems of “slogan driven” politics. (aka the law of the soundbite). There is a lot I can agree with OWS on in principle, but those that confess to speak for OWS are … well, loonies. I recall, for example, reading one sign demanding 100% employment — physically impossible in a free country.

    Yes, I have a problem with Goldman Sachs, BoA, and so forth. But, I have a much bigger problem with Socialism. (By which I’m referring to the wholesale dismantling of Capitalism, not individual programs. I may or may not have problems an individual program.)

    I think we can agree / are agreeing that the rule of law has been subverted by the Elite. I don’t believe that it’s the “monied elite” exclusively; rather all of the Elite, regardless of where they gain their elite status from. To me, corn Farmers are just as bad as Goldman.

    The main problem I have with the size of government is that the government refuses to be restricted by the Rule of Law.

    The FDA was mentioned earlier by a different poster (different thread, maybe?), and that’s probably a perfect example. The FDA is supposed to be protecting the consumer. They’re not — they’re only interested in power, not responsibility. Take for example, “User Fees” … which is really just a bribe (the larger the fee, the better the response). The well known problem of favoritism (holding up approvals of one company strictly for another company’s benefit). And if you use your “Freedom of the Press” to criticize them, good luck to you when you try for their approval.

    I want an FDA that actually protects our citizens, takes responsibility for its actions, is predictable, and all the other things that the Rule of Law implies. But we don’t have that. And if we can’t get that, we’d be better off just trashing the whole agency and letting the consumer watchdog groups take point.

    The Department of Education is one large “Constitutional Loophole”. Sure, they can regulate colleges (which almost universally engage in interstate commerce); but the 10th amendment prohibits them from regulating school districts (except, perhaps, those that advertise across state lines … which is just a handful of private schools). So they don’t. Congress just takes the school district’s money and refuses to give it back unless they play ball.

    And therein lies the rub.

    Most of what congress does is through the “Constitutional Loophole”. They can’t make you, e.g., drive 55 unless you’re on federal property … so they don’t. They simply take your state’s money and refuse to give it back unless they make you drive 55. As far as I’m concerned, that is deliberately subverting the Rule of Law (by picking and choosing which laws they wish to follow.)

    Most of our federal government exists only because of “the Grande Cheat”.

    Put another way — if OWS is the 99%, then why aren’t conservative interests being represented? Am I really supposed to believe that 99% of the US is Liberal?