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Home » Archives » December 2011 » Response To Sallan Column

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12/07/2011: "Response To Sallan Column"


To the Editor:

I certainly have no issue with the main theme of Mr. Sallan's recent column [The Value of Money and Occupy Wall Street]. The occasional homily to the values of hard work, thrift, and respect for each is useful. Although it is perhaps instructive to remember that every generation, as it gets older, seems to think that the generations younger than they lack these virtues. I have no doubt that Mr. Sallan's grandparents thought their grandchildren's generation lacking the same virtues that he now sees lacking. Mine certainly did.

I write simply to point out that Mr. Sallan has erected a nasty and pernicious "straw man" in his characterization of the Occupy Wall Street protestors. In repeatedly characterizing the protestors as "lazy, spoiled kids," Mr. Sallan repeats an idea which has become widespread in the mainstream media, and, I dare say, among those who are inclined to see protest as ineffective, useless, or illegitimate.

It turns out, when one checks the facts (which I would usually expect from a writer of Mr. Sallan's caliber and professionalism), that the average age of Occupy Wall Street protestors in early November was 33. This was determined by political scientists from Fordham University, who sampled the protestors at Zucotti Park and gathered data on demographics and the protestor's intent, ideas, and ideological associations. Since standard statistical theory assures that a sample (of the size gathered in the study) is symmetrical and "bell-shaped" around that average, and since we know there are plenty of young people participating in #OWS, we can conclude that there are also a large number of people older than 33.

Enough people older than 33, in fact, that Mr. Sallan's characterization of the Occupy protestors as "lazy" kids is not simply incorrect on a factual level, it's blatantly misleading. This would be a simple enough matter, if repeated assertions of the protestor's obvious failures at "hard work" and looking after their own lives and finances were not such a central aspect of his argument. I wonder if, confronted by examples from the upper half of the age distribution among the protestors, Mr. Sallan would be so quick to judge their track record of hard work and thrift?

I want to reiterate that I have no problem with Mr. Sallan's main points about hard work and the value of money. I do find his characterization of the Occupy protestors to be offensive and inaccurate. I have often enjoyed his columns in the past, but I will read them with a much more critical eye in the future, given the casual disregard for facts displayed in his most recent.

Mark Madsen
San Juan Island

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