Alexander C. Cartwright ’13 – Opinion Editor & Dylan DelliSanti ’14 – Opinion Columnist
The Occupy Wall Street movement has made its way to Ashland where, last week, five angry Randolph-Macon students gathered together to protest a system that they view as greedy and corrupt. Among their demands: a $100-per-hour living wage, an end to scarcity of resources, free Starbucks forever, sunshine and unicorns every Wednesday, making greed illegal, and a moratorium on the laws of physics.
Like all good Hampden-Sydney Men, we arrived at the protest, eager to engage in the RMC students in intellectual discussion- even if we needed to introduce them to it. We quickly realized that the only point worth debating with RMC would be one over capitalism, considering the absurdity of their other demands and the superiority of the Hampden-Sydney Economics department, the Randolph-Macon students had the opportunity to learn a lot.
One clever Randolph-Macon student protested that she did not like capitalism because it illustrates how terrible people’s values are without encouraging change. We asked her to explain, and she proceeded to argue that it is unfair for some elementary school teachers to be paid less than skilled construction workers. She concluded that it is wrong to value something worldly and materialistic like construction instead of education, and capitalism does nothing to fix society’s gross errors.
After glancing at one another in total shock, we asked the protestor how much she had paid for her diamond earrings she was wearing. After she responded, we then asked her how much she would be willing to pay for a bottle of water, to which she responded with a price that was less than what she had paid for her diamonds. The Randolph-Macon students responses are, surprisingly, perfectly logical. We are willing to pay more for diamonds then for bottled water. However, we then proceeded to ask, “aren’t your values incorrect? Shouldn’t you value an essential fluid like water more so than a luxury, worldly, materialistic thing like a diamond?”
At this point all of the protestors seemed shocked by their own stupidity. The Randolph Macon students lacked an understanding of marginal value. We explained, prices (just like teacher salaries) do not express our total value for a product or service, just its marginal value. The marginal value of a diamond can be greater than the marginal value of a bottle of water even if our total value for diamonds is less than water. It is also true that simply because we might pay a construction worker more than an elementary school teacher does not indicate we value construction more than education, but it does indicate that the marginal utility of construction is greater than that of education.
It was obvious that the concept was beyond the intellectual capacity of the Macon students. Even though Carl Menger started the ‘Marginal Revolution’ many years ago, the Macon students continued to protest. One especially angry protester told us that, aside from marginal value, we want government spending to stimulate the economy and get people to work. We asked if building roads would be a legitimate use of government funds. The RMC students replied in the affirmative. We then asked them, if the purpose of building these roads would be to create jobs, then Milton Friedman suggested we make everyone work with spoons instead of shovels or modern equipment since this would obviously employ more people. The RMC students were unwilling to engage our argument, and instead they attempted to equate our pressed shirts and bow ties to the appropriate attire for a Wall Street executive- to which we took no offense.
As night fall set-in at the protests, and the temperature dropped below forty degrees, many of the occupiers sought refuge in their parents’ basements… ironically, where many of them will be staying for the next decade.