It has become disturbingly common in this town to hear the Occupy Wall Street and its associated protest movements characterized as lacking any concrete goals, and perpetrated by a sea of dirty, jobless hippies who want their student loans paid. The view that they are only protesting corporate greed is evident from articles such as Society’s Greed,The Distribution of Lies, and How to Save the Economy, all from student publications. These three articles express common themes that have been relentlessly espoused by the conservative critics such as Ann Coulter, who in typical fashion recently claimed that the OWS protesters needed only “showers, jobs and a point.” The general lack of incisive media attention on the Occupy protests has yielded a hopelessly misinformed public, as I have found it not uncommon in this town to hear otherwise well informed students claiming that the ‘Occupy’ movements are pipe dreams lacking in purpose or at best hypocritical attacks on corporatism.
I am not surprised in the least. The mainstream media (which is dominated by Fox in the US) is one of the principal targets of the movement, as it has helped justify to the masses the cult of corporatism and that has prevailed in American politics for the last few decades. The Republican Party has done splendidly well in recent years, sweeping into control of Congress with help from rabble-rousers like Limbaugh, Beck, and Hannity. Systematic demagoguery has turned proactive efforts such as Obamacare, the economic stimulus (which averted another Great Depression), and re-progressivising the tax burden, into socialist attacks on America’s finances. Fox and their legion of cronies patted themselves on the back, having scooped a major victory in the eyes of the electorate—having turned Obama, and not the obstructive Tea Party republicans in Congress, into the villain. As his poll numbers sank, the economy threatened to slip back into the doldrums.
Then a remarkable thing happened: two months ago, a few brave souls decided to take a stand against the historic economic inequality plaguing the US, camping out in Zucotti park in Manhattan, opposite the Wall Street bankers who had netted incredible profits at the expense of the US taxpayers. This movement, unlike the astroturfed and Koch-funded Tea Party, was a popular expression of disgust with the economic and political system. The Occupy movements struck a chord with millions worldwide, as people picketed in over a thousand cities. At its core, however, Occupy is an American movement, constituted of an angry middle class that has seen its finances eroded over the past 30 years. As Jeffrey Sachs notes in the New York Times this is not a flash in the pan: the concerns of the protesters have been growing since Reagan declared big government the biggest problem facing America, rather than the true issue of global economic competition. Since then, administrations on both sides of the political spectrum have slashed at the social safety net, infrastructure and education, and attempted to pay for it through voodoo economics that channel outdated supply-side reasoning.
While anyone who has taken econ 101 will scoff at the Laffer curve (which is invoked by Republicans who claim that tax cuts will pay for themselves), it inexplicably forms the backbone of current Tea Party economic logic, which nearly resulted in a full-scale default of America’s debt this summer. This impossible economic logic has been in abject failure over last thirty years: a diminishing tax burden on the wealthy and a virtually nonexistent corporate tax, coupled with excessive military spending, has completely undermined the federal Government’s ability to care properly for its citizens. The facts speak for themselves: income inequality is worse in the United States than any other industrialized nation. In fact, it’s worse than Pakistan or Ethiopia. This graph shows the increase in the share of wealth owned by the 1%. The top 1% are not being singled out of jealousy or baseless resentment; their wealth has increased tremendously over the past three decades, while the middle and lower classes have witnessed economic stagnation and decline, according to the CBO.
The tipping point from the growing anger at government came after the bailouts of the biggest investment banks on Wall Street, who then proceeded to reap enormous corporate profits, promises of greater regulation gone hopelessly unfulfilled. While Wall Street is a visible symbol of corporate excess, the Occupy movements in the US aren’t merely about protesting the wealthy, as is claimed all too often. There is nothing wrong with amassing wealth—but there is something wrong with bankrolling elections and generating federal favours for the super rich. Inequality in the US has not simply risen out of a thirty-year statistical anomaly; a period in which the Republican Party has largely dominated Congress and instilled their peculiar economic ideology has decreased the federal Government’s investment in social services, as well as taxes on the richest segment of the population and the largest of corporations. A muddled and loophole-ridden tax code has allowed those rich enough to exploit its quirks and pay less than their fair share of taxes. This goes for corporations, too: Bank of America—recipient of a significant bailout back in 2009—earned six billion dollars last year, as well as a one billion dollar tax cut, courtesy of the US taxpayer.
Recent developments in the American political system have enhanced the ability of the super rich to simply bankroll elections: freed from the shackles of proper campaign finance reform, and fair redistricting, Super PAC’s—unaccountable political organizations that allow unlimited, anonymous funds to flow into the electoral system—have emerged as the latest enabler of the corrupt system. The farcical debt-reduction debate this summer is further indicative of how truly entrenched the conservative plan is in Congress, as Eric Cantor and his Tea Party cronies banded together and refused to budge on raising taxes on rich individuals and corporations, taxes that are at their lowest since the Great Depression. Two unpopular wars, Medicare and Medicaid, a growing debt, and insufficient revenue are bankrupting America. The electoral, ‘democratic’ process is a sham, and the two-party system no longer offers a choice. Republican or Democrat, the same corporate and special interests get re-elected every year.
Therefore Fox news’ claim that “Occupy is about replacing our democratic institutions with naked force, replacing the rule of law with the intimidation of street thugs, and our constitutional republic with . . . autocratic tyranny,” is almost perfectly inverted: replace ‘Occupy’ with ‘corporate interests’ and you arrive at a surprisingly accurate description of the current political situation. The protesters didn’t start with any specific goals because the movement is more of a manifestation of public anger than a calculated lobbying campaign, but they will get results nonetheless. The bottom-up movement is two months old and growing, and will not go away anytime soon. While it began as an indictment of the financial criminals Wall Street, Occupy has become a wholesale rejection of the current state of affairs in the United States today, and in its haphazard, uphill struggle, it has captured the attention of America, and the world. It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn good start.