The Unbuilt Tower


Ambled down to the People’s Citizen Park of the People today, or whatever it was renamed. Most days it’s the Government Center – a structure much like Minnesota in winter: brutal on the outside, lovely on the inside. Two slabs of slit-windowed offices straddle two blocks, with a soaring atrium in between. Walkways connect the slabs high above. The building was in operation for 20 years before they put up barriers to keep people from jumping. 


On one side of the building, a green knoll shaded by trees, lovely for a lunchtime bask in the sun. On the other, an expanse of red brick notorious for its slippery quality in the winter, with a predictable 70s-style fountain in the middle. Across the street from this plaza, the rusticated bulk of the old City Hall. There’s a tiny statue of Hubert Humphrey in front – our former mayor – and he stands there all year, hands upraised in a hectoring posture, talking to no one. Old timers still hear his voice when they pass, though.

I wandered through the crowd with Ricochet’s own Andrew Johnson (check him out in the College Contributors Feed), and we saw just what you’d expect. It was early in the protest, but half the plaza was filled. A nod to the wonderfulness of the Tahir Square event: check. Capitalism is the source of all problems including but not limited to seborrhea and psoriasis: check. This Economic Situation I Don’t Quite Understand = A Concept I Don’t Fully Grasp But Oppose: check. Met a fellow who had an upside-down American flag tattooed on his neck, a sign of permanent distress. His sign said 99% of the population lacked spiritual well-being. Because of the 1%. Anyway, on to the signs! You just don’t know where to begin:



Because it’s better to have a medium of exchange and a system for the mutually advantageous exchange of goods than a state of nature that requires you either kill your prey with your teeth or pick it apart when it’s already dead? Maybe? Humans are the only creatures who go to the moon! WHY?

Then there’s this guy:



So I asked. Why don’t you remember what water tastes like?

Because I’m too poor to have any, he grinned.  Wasn’t too poor for tats and nasal piercings, but never mind. I noted that this is literally the city of water. There was a fountain of water 20 feet away.  

“My shoes are too worn to walk.”

I looked at his shoes. “Your kicks are fine,” I said.

“I’m too tired,” he said. “Carry me.”

I think he was just having fun with it. All right, carry on. 



I asked her what her specialty was. You know, her craft.

“I’m an English major.”

“Oh, well, there’s your problem,” I said. “I was one too. There’s nothing for English majors. Wasn’t when I got out in the 80s.”

“That’s why I’m thinking of adding political science.”

Oh, dear. “Listen, do you like coffee? Or selling cool things? Or the internet? Go to North Dakota and start a coffee shop or open a small store selling something you like.  I’m serious. They’re sloshing with money there. Unemployment is 3 percent and Fargo is actually a cool place to live these days.”

That’s my answer to everyone, in fact. Go West, Young Person! Fargo is four hours away. It’s not like you’re moving to the end of the earth – but of course it seems like that, to some. It’s not like hip ‘n’ cool Minneapolis. It does sound like annoying advice, I’m sure – why should I have to move away for a job? But people think nothing of moving away for college. In fact it’s practically required. 

Brings to mind this piece (h/t Corner) from a New York electronic punk musician:


Like so many teenagers, I believed in the “American Dream,” that I could move to New York from the Midwest and become an artist. I would achieve both fame and success, and I would never have to think about money.


Didn’t get the memo when the American dream was thus redefined. Maybe it was a text message.  So no, I don’t think she’ll be moving. Probably take that political science major. Then grad school. What else can you do? There aren’t any jobs. (BTW: Yes, the green thing is an Phone.)



You mean, like the debt people take on themselves? Or the debt that’s put on their back by government?

“Obviously no,” she said, I think in response to my first point. “It’s just that you can’t go to college without going in debt, and you can’t get a job without going to college, and you can’t pay off the debt without getting a job, and there aren’t any jobs.” So that = slavery somehow. I asked what she wanted to study, and I think she said “English.” I said no, no, it’s not worth going $35,000 in debt to know something about Gatsby, and no employer cares anyhow. Why not something like nursing or dental technician to start?

“I’m squeamish about medical things,” she said. I understood completely; I would have said the same if someone asked me that question in college. Knowledge was its own reward. But then she said something practical that would never have occurred to me:  “But I’m considering cosmetology, hair cutting.”

“That’s great,” I said. “You meet people, you do something useful, and after a while you can find a cheap place and set up your own shop. Wouldn’t that be cool? To have your own salon?” (She had pinkish-reddish hair.) She nodded an I-suppose-so, and then I had to say “but then there’s the taxes and regulations and utilities and all the other costs of business.” I’d lost her now, because this wasn’t doing ANYTHING about debt being slavery. Stop extrapolating scenarios from the beautiful simplicity of my hand-drawn sign! 

Here’s a novel idea:


What an idea; maybe we should give it a try. As long as we’re shakin’ things up, here’s an idea:


France instituted a 35-hour workweek in February 2000; the unemployment rate was 9.5. It’s 9.9 percent today. Obviously they were three hours off. That’s the ticket! That, plus taxing the rich. I’m still struck by that: why didn’t anyone come up with that before? 

Didn’t go around to the other side of the slab to see if people had taken over the grassy knoll. The view’s different – instead of the old stones of City Hall, there’s glass towers from the 80s boom.  Because of Capitalism, there’s one big tower where before there was a fleabag hotel. (The Senator, if you’re curious.)Because of the 1987 crash – which some blame on the rewriting of tax laws for real estate – the adjoining tower was never built. After a while no one notices that the building seems oddly alone on its lot, a twin meant to be conjoined. 

Government builds things, yes – roads, dams, bridges. But the more government you get, the more they take, the more some things don’t happen. You never see the things that don’t get built, the towers that never rose, the factories never built. Not at the People’s Plaza, though.The Government Center’s two wings were built simultaneously. One side houses the bureaucracy that regulates and approves, denies and forbids. The other side houses the courts. Which side produced more jumpers from the walkways over the beautiful space below, I can only guess. 


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  1. Profile Photo Inactive

    Why aren’t they protesting the high price (their parents) paid for the college tuitions which taught them nothing, apparently? I have been struck dumb by the astonishing ignorance on display.

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  2. Profile Photo Inactive

    It’s all very amusing until you see the face of what may be an authority figure at OWS.

    Here Reason TV visits OWS. Note the guy who comes over (about 1:45) and tells the kid being interviewed at the OWS administrative center by Reason TV to get lost. He makes references of the plumbers union:

    Here he is again:

    Another reference to the Plumber Union. Note the guys standing around behind him. Was there ever a movement more ripe to be harvested by Leninism and thugs?

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  3. Profile Photo Member

    More… more!

    I propose a new Ricochet feature podcast. James Lileks does man-on-the-street interviews with protesters at the occupations.

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  4. Profile Photo Inactive

    Given that you seem to be giving people good advice, I’d like to think that at least one of the people you talk — not all, just one — will remember that conversation, and give it a try.

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  5. Profile Photo Member

    Apparently Minnesotans are prepared to do the reporting that American reporters just don’t want to do. It is amazing to me that you can see this reported on in the press every day and not understand even the basic facts of what they are saying.

    This has inspired me to go down to my suburban town square today (after kids’ soccer games) and see if anyone has gathered around the Ben and Jerry’s store.

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  6. Profile Photo Member

    There’s always the Roseanne Barr “kill the rich” strategy. But then someone takes their place and you have to keep doing it, over and over, until finally Roseanne gets hauled off.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Inactive

    American Idle.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Member

    Speaking of incoherence… have you noticed how Jewish occupations are bad, bad, bad(!), but Leftist occupations are good, good, great!? As Prager says, God really does love everyone — even the moral idiots. He must, because He sure made a lot of them.

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    I was wondering when we are having the Occupy Tucson event. Turns out it is next Saturday. The Tucson Tea Party will not be counter-protesting – as they say, we don’t need to occupy Tucson, we are Tucson.

    Fall in Tucson is the best time of year – the end of the summer heat, blue skies every day, temperatures in the 80’s, cool nights.

    I’m tempted to go and have a look, but I think I’ll play golf, instead — to emulate our Dear Leader.

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  10. Profile Photo Inactive

    Human mulch…

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  11. Profile Photo Member

    To that girl at the top: yeah, well, at least capitalism creates something.

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Inactive

    Honestly, James, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. You and Andrew Johnson—to use a phrase the so-called protesters might appreciate—rock!

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  13. Profile Photo Inactive

    Your the greatest James!

    All in all it looks like it was a slow protest day.

    Hey!, can you run back and get the phone # for the chick in the 1st pic? I’ve always had a thing for good looking punk chicks. “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and all that… That is a girl….right?…

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  14. Profile Photo Member

    Confused future maybe-salon owner: “…but then there’s the taxes and regulations and utilities and all the other costs of business.” Did she perhaps show up late for a Tea Party rally? Or has she just not yet put 2 & 2 together and realized the fact that what she and her ilk are protesting may in fact be a result of said “taxes and regulations…and costs of business”. Probably not, but it does sound like the lightbulb is trying awfully hard to come on inside her head….

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  15. Profile Photo Inactive

    The more I hear these occupiers talk the more it becomes apparent this is just another scene for hipsters and aging hippies to feel a part of something. There’s little true ideological conviction involved compared to the amount of general desire to see and be seen. Couple their general desire to recapture the activist glory days of yore with the failure of their humanist messiah to lower the tides of their “suffering” and you unsurprisingly get some very loud frustrated people… not to mention the cost of Patchouli oil going through the freakin’ roof.

    Every time I see/hear one the real hardcore anti-capitalists from this clan I can’t help but place an internal wager on whether or not they posted a facebook memorial to Steve Jobs on their iPhone this week.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Inactive

    The unbuilt tower didn’t matter.

    The taxes laid on the first tower, which made building a second one unprofitable, were used by government to build another bridge to where it would have been.

    However, the unbuilt tower eventually started to matter because the people who would have been working inside it—if it had been profitable to build—needed a job. So, government borrowed money from China to rebuild the bridge leading to where it would have been.

    Unexpectedly, union wages paid to workers rebuilding the bridge with money borrowed from China attracted everyone employed in the one taxpaying tower that was built. The vacancies caused the companies in it to go out of business.

    Once the bridge rebuilt, there were no companies to return to, so everyone needed a job. Because there were no companies in business to pay taxes and no taxpayers being hired, government borrowed money again from China to pay workers union wages to rebuild again the bridge leading to where the unbuilt tower would have been, next to the empty one.

    Thus, everyone milling around the People’s Citizen Park of the People are anti-capitalists, until government runs out of China’s money.

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  17. Profile Photo Inactive

    Sounds a lot like the Occupy Tampa group I fell in with yesterday, but with more tattoos and a much nicer place for the General Assembly to… assemble.

    N.W. Wiedemer: Every time I see/hear one the real hardcore anti-capitalists from this clan I can’t help but place an internal wager on whether or not they posted a facebook memorial to Steve Jobs on their iPhone this week.

    I saw a few memorial signs at yesterday’s occupation; there’s one in the posted pics.

    I tried to get a shot of the person carrying the “Death To Capitalism” sign walking next to the “R.I.P. Steve Jobs” sign, but sadly I was too slow with the camera.

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  18. Profile Photo Member

    It was a joy and pleasure to fill the role as James’ sidekick on this particular outing (perhaps it will develop into a comic book series in due time).

    What impressed me most about his interactions with the demonstrators was his approach. In a situation that would seem conducive to intense confrontation, James used his signature charm and wit to the point where I could tell the protesters weren’t sure if they were being challenged or advised. It was ultimately both, with the latter only coming about as an effect of the former.

    A quick update on Occupy Minnesota: the Star Tribune reported that the crowd had diminished sizably, to barely 100 people. I drove by later this afternoon and it appears significantly smaller.

    In related news, tonight is fittingly the Twin Cities’ annual Zombie Pub Crawl, so now there are two bands of lifeless drones looking to feed off innocent souls: those on the pub crawl and at Occupy Minnesota.

    Thank you again, James, for letting me tag along.

    • #18
  19. Profile Photo Member

    I’m going to show up with a sign that states:

    I support Big Poster Board.

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Contributor

    And thanks for coming, Andrew – maybe no one swung a sign at me because they could tell I was backed up by someone twice my height. ;)

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  21. Profile Photo Member

    Since coherence no longer is a requirement, let’s fight fire with fire:




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    tabula rasa: There’s always the Roseanne Barr “kill the rich” strategy. But then someone takes their place and you have to keep doing it, over and over, until finally Roseanne gets hauled off. · Oct 8 at 7:49am

    TR – True. And ain’t it odd that Rosaeanne fails to see she is one of the “rich”?

    I offer for the umpteenth time: Hollywood celebrities, regardless their political leanings, should never be allowed to speak publicly about anything more serious than their favorite flavor of ice cream.

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    Jimmy Carter: I’m going to show up with a sign that states:

    I support Big Poster Board. · Oct 8 at 4:54pm

    Ha! Excellent.

    Or – how about “Down With Big Poster Board.” That’d really play with their heads.

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  24. Profile Photo Inactive

    James – This is a terrific post. I would love to see a video version – You talking with the people. Something tells me that would be enormously entertaining.

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  25. Profile Photo Member

    Come by my office some day, Andrew, and we can grab a bite of lunch. BW3 is directly across the street.

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  26. Profile Photo Inactive

    I think you broke some kind of natural law for how nerdy one slogan is allowed to be.

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  27. Profile Photo Member

    James, PLEASE do not suggest that any of those people got to a state that actually works like North Dakota or Texas. The last thing we need is for the contagion to spread to the few remaining areas of the country that actually function. I live in NC and it’s been ruined by all the New Yorkers and other Easterners who fled their liberal hellholes only to drag this formerly Red state into a shade of Purple with a higher per capita debt then California and business climate that went from the top 10 in the country to the bottom half. Let the slackers and eaters remain where they are.

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  28. Profile Photo Member

    Or – how about “Down With Big Poster Board.” That’d really play with their heads. · Oct 9 at 7:58am

    Edited on Oct 09 at 07:59 am


    Even better.

    • #28

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