One common theme among those who criticize the Occupy movement is the monetary cost of the occupations to the public. Occupy protest camps across the country have been met with substantial, and expensive, police presence; they’ve also required forms of accommodation and support from local governments.
When one compares the costs incurred from the actions of the two residents of Wall Street, the occupiers and the bankers, it gives some much-needed perspective on the costs of the occupations.
For the purpose of this article, let’s leave aside questions of the extent to which Occupy encampments may be over-policed and instead suppose that occupations simply demand more hours of police labor than, say, baseball games, marathons, and parades because these protests are happening around-the-clock and in multiple locations.
According to a recent study, published by the Associated Press, the total cost of the response to occupations nationwide is around $13 million. A vast majority of the costs incurred by the occupied cities was paid to officers earning overtime as they monitored encampments.
Cities where there have been significant police actions against protesters account for the greatest part of the $13 million: together New York City and Oakland spent roughly $9.4 million in their responses to the occupations. In addition to funding the police, a smaller portion of the money has been spent to clean those areas around occupations that have been used far more than usual (bathrooms, parks, etc.).
It is undeniable that the occupations around the country have cost cities money. But how do these costs compare with the costs of those other occupants of Wall Street — the bankers and stock-brokers?
According to the estimates of the International Monetary Fund, the recent banking collapse and subsequent recession have cost the world economy approximately $4.1 trillion; these losses manifest through lost value in assets, economic contraction, and lost income due to decreased demand. Most experts concur that this crisis is not attributable to a cyclical market slump, a resource shortage, a war, or natural disaster. Instead, it was the result of combining deregulation, recklessness, and greed. A relatively small number of unscrupulous banking groups sold toxic assets to make enormous profits, all to the detriment of the global economic system and the hundreds of millions of men and women this system affects. If we are to assess the social costs of the occupations, we should also assess the social costs of those whom occupiers are protesting against.
The recent actions of those who work on Wall Street, precipitating the financial collapse, are among the primary reasons occupiers are protesting. Many protesters believe that unless economic and social reforms are instituted, we risk ever-increasing income inequality, and another collapse.
To recap: the Occupiers protesting Wall Street have cost society $13 million in the form of wages to city employees, mostly police officers. The Wall Street banking groups have cost society $4.1 trillion in economic losses.
We can conclude that the recent collapse cost society approximately 315,385 times more than the actions of those who stand up to protest the actions that caused the collapse. It is also important to note that the money spent on police overtime goes to the middle class, while the bailouts and losses to the economic sector benefit top income brackets; large, virtually interest free loans during an economic crisis are very profitable for the rich because they loan the money out and receive a profit margin of the interest rate. Judging purely by the numbers, regardless of one’s views on the protests, the occupiers have cost society an insignificant amount of money when compared with the costs of the other residents of Wall Street.
Despite the fact that peaceful protesting is a constitutionally protected right, it remains the fact that millions of dollars have been spent containing and regulating the protests. In order to retain a balanced budget, as is mandated by most cities, revenue needs to be increased to offset the costs of police overtime. There are numerous ways this might be accomplished, without resorting to cuts in city budgets. One possibility is through a federal block grant, which itself would be funded by slight reductions in some federal programs. Here are two examples of programs that might be trimmed:
1) As calculated by the think tank AmericanProgress.org, the Bush tax cut for millionaires reduces tax revenue by approximately $120 million per day ($5 million dollars per hour). This means that the total costs of the police reaction to the “Occupy” movement could be recouped by cancelling Bush’s tax cuts for 156 minutes.
2) The costs of the responses to the occupations could be defrayed by trimming a little out of our military spending. A single F-22 Raptor jet has a marginal cost of around $138 million. Thus, cutting a single jet would fund the police responses to the occupations ten times over. The diminution of our military by a single F-22 would be negligible in terms of military effectiveness.
How much is the first amendment worth to us in this country? The cost of two and a half hours of tax cuts to the rich? The cost of one-tenth of a jet fighter? The Founding Fathers were clear in their views that the freedoms of speech, assembly, and the press are priceless; these rights are as important to the maintenance of our democracy as is our military defense. The first amendment to the Constitution guarantees these rights and preserves freedom of expression and petition even at the expense or inconvenience of the government.