Just as almost anyone has a near veto power in a bureaucracy even if they don’t have much power, so the street theatre of outrage can have a powerful effect on politics even if the majority of people think that the minority putting on some show are way out of line. When things are really bad this is a very good thing. I expect most people thought that civil disobedience in the early days of the civil rights movement was ‘going too far’, but it achieved a lot.

And now we have all sorts of nonsense. As Greg Mankiw reports from the Harvard Crimson:

For a Statistics 104 final project, a group of students asked 1,035 undergraduates to gauge their impression of Occupy on a scale of one to ten, with ten being most positive. They found that the average ranking of Occupy Harvard was 2.84 out of 10.

Now Occupy Harvard might not achieve much, but civil disobedience almost always has highly undesirable aspects of social holdup, whether it’s a picket line (effectively turning the collective action of workers into property rights in their jobs) or truckies surrounding Parliament House and preventing others using the roads in defence of various subsidies implicit or otherwise. Yet very often it works for its instigators.

Is this good? Like most things in life, it’s got it’s good side – and its bad side. As Alvy Singer’s mother says to his father in Annie Hall “Have it your own way, the Atlantic Ocean is a better ocean than the Pacific Ocean”.

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