Occupy Wall Street–Is This Our Future?

In the 1960s the anti-war protestors would shout, “The Whole World is Watching!”  With the Occupy Wall Street movement, that is true again, but with even more eyes.  The internet is a game changer for social protest movements.  Here in the west we rejoiced at the Arab Spring, but how are our politicians really feeling about our own uprisings?  Most are giving polite sympathetic words, but what if this anti-establishment movement takes off?  What does Washington really think when they hear anti-government movements from both the right and left?

The best reportage I’ve found on Occupy Wall street is at Wikipedia.  They also provide this very informative graphic on the rate of news reports for the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.

File:Occupy-wall-st-vs-tea-party.png

My guess as to why there were so few news reports on Occupy Wall Street at the start is the press did not think the movement was serious and was unprepared for its rapid success.  I’m guessing the American public also thinks it will be a short lived phenomenon.  But what if it’s not?  What if it’s the beginning of several years of social upheaval like we had back in the 1960s?

As I’ve gotten older I’ve wondered why the youth of each new generation didn’t protest for something they wanted.  Since I grew up in the 1960s and saw anti-war, civil rights, feminist, gay rights, and Earth Day protests I just assumed protesting was a natural part of the political scene, but they died out and the youth of America became quiet for a very long time.  Were they all happy with the way our country worked and comfortable with their vision of the future?  So what’s changed now?

We’ve had other recessions and spikes of high unemployment since the 1960s.  And we’ve had a few protest movements, like No Nukes, and various ecological and animal rights movements, but nothing that turned into a real political movement.  Is this recession different?  Has corporate greed and Wall Street really ruined our country enough that people are willing to bite the hand that pays them?  Or maybe it’s biting the hand that used to pay them.

Young people were told to study hard, go to college and then reap the rewards of our great and rich society.  Millions have run up huge student debts, gotten good degrees and can’t find work.  Their parents have also lost their jobs, and their grandparents have lost their retirement incomes.  Is it any wonder that I’m hearing Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” again:

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

What really is happening? Does anyone know?  We’ve always pulled out of recessions before, but this one is lasting longer.  Of course, we’ve always been helped by an economic bubble, like the technology bubble or the housing bubble.  The trouble was the housing bubble was destructive, pervasive and ultimately devastated the economy.  A huge percentage of our economy is depended on home ownership and rising property values.  Consumer confidence drives our economy – but everyone is too afraid to spend now.  And our economy runs best when unemployment is around 5%.  That’s far from full employment, and it’s not even a real number of people who can’t find work, but it does appear to be the right number that reflects economic stability.  We’re very far away from that figure and getting further.

My guess is most people thought unemployment would be back down again, or at least heading down, and now that it’s not there growing panic is leading to protest movements.  People blame Wall Street for the problem mainly because they think Wall Street got us in the mess and felt they should have gotten us out too, and they haven’t.  Instead Wall Street decided to keep its wealth, and the GOP took this particular time to downsize all governments.

Things aren’t quite that simple and some of the Occupy Wall Street protesters know that.  Look at “Here Are the Four Charts That Explain What the Protests are Angry About….”  Here is one chart, click on the link to look at the others.  This one shows the wages as a percent of the economy.  Because we live in a global economy where all workers compete, the average wage is decreasing even though corporate profits are skyrocketing.  This is the reason behind the whole 99% versus the 1%.  Corporations are more efficient at making money, but at the expense of the workers worldwide.

wages-as-percent-of-gdp

The rich (1%) are eating everyone else’s money up (99%) and the 1% is also desperately fighting to take all the money it can get from the Federal government too.  In fact, the super rich are so good at gaining wealth that I’d think that ordinary millionaires would be feeling the pinch too and would be wanting to join Occupy Wall Street themselves.

Corporate profits are up, as well as their gross earnings and cash holdings, but they aren’t hiring people.  What they discovered is they can trim the fat and do well.  The GOP is now demanding we trim the fat from the federal government, and the extreme conservatives are also seeking to trim the fat from city and state governments.  All this fat trimming is putting millions out of work and there is no economic indicator showing they will get to go back to work anytime soon.  Does Wall Street and the GOP just want to live with 9-10% unemployment forever if that means saving money for them?

Over one half of American households earn less than $50,000 dollars and about 1/6th earn over $100,000, with the rest between the two figures.  See Wikipedia for all the figures on U.S. Household Income.  But also look at Wikipedia’s article on Wealth Inequality in the United States.  Wikipedia says at the end of 2001, which is ten year old data, 10% owned 71% of the wealth, and 1% own 38%, and we know that last decade has accelerated this divide.

Is it any wonder why people are joining the Occupy Wall Street movement?  If you look at the charts here and the ones I link to, the trends aren’t good.  Unless there’s a drastic change in the system, Occupy Wall Street is just the tip of the iceberg that we’re about to crash into.  Expect more fat trimming, which means more unemployed people joining the movement.  But also expect a lot more social upheaval as we adjust to long term high unemployment.

Our economy has gotten too efficient.  We need far fewer people to keep things running.  And it’s much cheaper to hire people in other countries to make things.  As long as corporations are only concerned with profits and their bottom line, and if our various levels of government are forced to do more with less, the trend will be towards growing unemployment.

The solution?  Raise taxes and go back to a larger government and smaller profits for corporations?  That would put more people to work, but there’s a growing anti-socialism climate in this country.  Too many people resent paying for things they don’t think they need, like school teachers or scientific researchers.  What they fail to see is big government makes for a big thriving economy.  Wishing for a small government is equal to wishing for high unemployment.  There’s not enough private enterprise to put all our citizens to work.

Either we have to accept big social programs or we’re going to have to learn to live with lots of poor people and protestors in the streets.  Me, I’d rather pay more taxes than see so much suffering.

Conservatives believe that cutting the size of the government and taxes will grow the economy.  When will we see this?  Bush cut taxes years ago.  As far as I can see, cutting taxes has lead to a faltering economy.  Cutting taxes is letting the 1% get a larger share of everyone’s pie.  And people are waking up to that, and that’s why we have Occupy Wall Street.  It’s why we’re seeing social unrest across Europe too.

Conservatives will counter that we’re running up too much debt.  But we wouldn’t have that debt if we hadn’t had the Bush tax cuts, or wasted so much money on wars and buying influence around the world.  Which is more helpful, hiring more teachers in America, or building militaries for people who want to be our enemies?  At some point it will become more important to apply our nation building funds to rebuilding America.  The Occupy Wall Street people are asking for that help now.  How long will the GOP deny that help?

JWH – 10/16/11

20 thoughts on “Occupy Wall Street–Is This Our Future?”

  1. Thanks once again for hitting the nail on the head. My question now is, will those of us who are the grey heads join in this revolution? We are also being affected by this up side down income gap. The 1% want to do away with Social Security, Medicare and Medicade. Few of the elders realize that Medicade is important because that is who pays for long term care when we cannot. Too often we think Medicade is just for the people on welfare and it is not “us”. What kind of protest can we do that will also get attention besides the AARP kind? Someone needs to wake up!

    Keep writing! You are good!

    1. The conservatives want to do away with social programs giving all kinds of reasons, but in reality it’s just another way for them to get more money. They shout against socialism, but millions of people depend on our social programs. Most of the Tea Party are on the social security rolls, so I found it strange they campaign to do away with it. I don’t think most Americans know just how important social security is to our country.

  2. Jim, we are seeing more news reports about Occupy Wall Street, true. But are those news reports positive or negative in tone?

    The 1960s anti-war protestors ended up giving us Richard Nixon and – after a very brief interruption because of Nixon’s criminal activities – Ronald Reagan. Let’s face it, there was always some extreme behavior that could be shown on TV to frighten older Americans. So the whole country moved to the right.

    Young people can protest all they want, but as long as they don’t vote as reliably as old people, it won’t have much effect. In 2008, they were enthusiastic and they voted. But that “change” never happened, so now they’re feeling discouraged. (Unfortunately, young people tend to be easily discouraged.)

    Do you really think that they’ll vote in 2012 like they did in 2008? This could easily be the worst thing that Barack Obama has done as president, to discourage his own supporters.

    1. This is an excellent insight Bill. Yes, the protesters of the 1960s scared the silent majority. The Occupy Wall Street protesters and the protesters of the 1960s are too self-indulgent, sometimes illegal, often childish, and just plain scary or repugnant to the silent majority. Yes, we got Nixon, who campaigned he would end the war. And the protesters turned the country against the war. But they also caused a lot of bad feelings. They widen the generation gap. These new protesters will cause more polarization in our political system.

      If you go to the Occupy Wall Street web site you will see a lot of wacky ideas too.

      But what are our choices? Let the GOP get their way? The protesters are clearly defining the fight, the trouble is the normal Democrats don’t want to take sides and start a real fight with the GOP.

      1. Well, I asked you about the tone of those news reports, Jim, because that’s the key. It’s easy for Fox “News” and other media to pick out the bad apples – the ignorant, the violent, the crazy – which are in all groups, to some extent.

        And yeah, the Democrats never want a fight, even when they’re backing a popular position. The Republicans are just the reverse. They always want a fight. If their position is unpopular, they just shout louder, until they convince enough people that they must be right.

        Of course, they’ve got the wealthy on their side, so they have plenty of help in getting that message across. Still, it’s just crazy that we let them have their own way. From the polls I’ve see, Occupy Wall Street is TWICE as popular as the Tea Party.

        But you’d never know that from how they’re treated by our political parties, would you? The GOP eagerly embraces the Tea Party, while the Democrats, at best, tiptoe around Occupy Wall Street, trying not to commit themselves.

      2. So Bill, should the left abandon the Democratic party and start a new one?

        The Occupy Wall Street people need to police their own. Too many protesters probably feel if they don’t get arrested they aren’t doing their job. And there’s a certain glamour to getting arrested for a cause. But all of that is fuel for the other side because the average American loves law and order.

        I’m reading a memoir about a couple that move to a Greek island and the corrupt politics there sound like a nightmare. I can understand why the right is afraid of big government. But on the other hand do we want a smaller, uncaring government that lets millions go down the financial drain?

      3. Of course the left shouldn’t abandon the Democratic Party and start a new one! That would just guarantee a win for the far-right. Even the Tea Party types weren’t that dumb! (Multiple parties might work in a parliamentary system, but not in ours.)

        The far-right simply worked hard and took control of the GOP. They’d long been a fringe of the party, but now they run it. (Partly, that’s a result of the party wooing white racist “Dixiecrats” after the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed.) At the very least, they’ve got every Republican politician desperate to keep them happy – no matter what their private thoughts might be.

        Now the far-left is just as loony as the far-right, so I don’t want them taking control of the Democratic Party. But I do want progressives to take control of it. As the Republican Party moved right, so did the Democrats. I don’t want the Democrats to abandon the center, but I do want them to stand for progressive values.

        And speaking of government corruption, can anything encourage corruption more than permitting anonymous corporate political donations? Secrecy is not the only problem with that, but it’s one of the biggest ones. The Democratic Party should stand firmly on the side of open government.

      4. So Bill, what kind of platform should the Democrats draw up right now that would help them succeed against the GOP? What can we change that would actually help our situation? How should the Democrats involve themselves with the Occupy Wall Street movement?

      5. Jim, your questions got me thinking about what kind of Democratic Party I wanted, so I just wrote a blog post about that.

        It was rather a spur-of-the-moment thing, so maybe I’ll wish I’d given it more thought first. But I really need to get to work around here, so it’s going to have to be enough, at least for now.

      6. Your platform seems to have two planks. You want a party that is scientific and evidence based, and you want a party that’s transparent and honest. I think we need more than that. If the GOP became scientific and honest, they could still downsize the government, get rid of social security, and cut taxes. I wish all parties would be scientific and transparent. I think the Democrats have to be for something. We know exactly what the GOP wants, and how far they will go to get what they want, even to being dishonest. The Democrats just can’t be anti-Republicans.

        The Occupy Wall Street protests the 1% taking so much of the economic pie from the 99% but they don’t say how to fix the problem.

      7. That’s just one plank, Jim. If it’s scientific, it has to be transparent and honest. Furthermore, why oppose GOP attempts to “downsize the government, get rid of social security, and cut taxes”? It’s because the evidence shows that those are the wrong things to do, at least right now. (There would be times when at least some of those things would be the right thing to do.)

        It’s not that Democrats should just be anti-Republicans. It’s that Republicans have become exactly the opposite of what a rational political party should be. See what I mean?

      8. I see where Republicans have become faith based. They want what they believe rather than what reality is telling us. They aren’t rational, but they sure do know how to rationalize.

        I’m for big government because it means low unemployment and a country that looks and acts modern and rich. I want lots of science programs and public works. I want the arts supported and PBS. And we can have it all by paying just a little more in taxes. What the GOP wants is to pay a little less in taxes and have a poor country, no space program, no PBS and millions out of work.

        But I don’t see the Democrats attacking the GOPs small government goals.

  3. “My guess as to why there were so few news reports on Occupy Wall Street at the start is the press did not think the movement was serious and was unprepared for its rapid success. I’m guessing the American public also thinks it will be a short lived phenomenon. But what if it’s not? What if it’s the beginning of several years of social upheaval like we had back in the 1960s?”

    I completely agree. I never can get a bead on the way our news works. Sometimes they will be gung-ho right from the start and blow a story way of proportion and other times they seem to miss what turn out to be really big deals. I know I was certainly dismissive of the movement at first, and I think a lot of that is simply because there has been so much complaining and so much frustration over the past few years that, sad to say, you become accustomed to it and immune to it.

    This is certainly a big deal and I think your questions about is this the future are valid and certainly in the short term the answer has to be “yes”. If you look at the reports over the past month or so there have been protests and uprisings in country after country after country, all voicing dissatisfaction with economic issues, governmental issues, etc. It is not hyperbole to say that the whole world is in turmoil right now.

    And I think that may be what is different about this recession as opposed to others. I haven’t researched this, so this is just a thought, but have we ever had a situation, at least in modern times, where not only were we going through major economic issues but most of the Western world was as well?

    It is an interesting, if not scary, time.

    “Conservatives will counter that we’re running up too much debt. But we wouldn’t have that debt if we hadn’t had the Bush tax cuts, or wasted so much money on wars and buying influence around the world. ”

    That is true, and a very valid point, but it doesn’t take away the fact that we do have too much debt. The issue has to move past whose fault it is and change to what are we doing to do do reduce debt and what changes can be made long term so that we don’t find ourselves in this situation again. It is easy to look back and say this is how we came to this place, but what is not easy for anyone is the answer about what to do to fix it.

    1. But if we had not had the Bush tax cuts we would be paying off the debt, or even have it paid off. No, I agree, we have too much debt. We never ever did the hard thing and cut spending, but twice in our lifetimes we’ve had massive tax cuts. It’s no wonder we have so much debt. It’s like a working man saying he’s going to only work 20 hours a week but not spend less. I say repeal all of the Bush tax cuts until we pay off the debt, either through the extra revenue or even through the revenue and additional spending cuts.

      1. I agree and am not arguing that, but it is a waste of breath at this point to be saying, “if we only hadn’t done…”. Instead we need to be saying, “let’s learn a lesson from this, never do this again, and now here is how we fix it…”

    2. Carl, knowing why we’re in this mess is an essential component to deciding how to get out of it again. We have to recognize what we did wrong in the past in order to figure out how to fix it.

      And we have to correctly place the blame so we know better than to trust the same people who got us here (especially when they try to place the blame elsewhere).

      But regarding “the fact that we have too much debt,” is that actually a “fact”? How so? Borrowing costs are almost nothing right now, since interest rates are so very, very low. So I’d say it’s pretty clear that “too much debt” is not really our big problem, not right now.

      If too much debt really was our big problem, we’d see interest rates climbing sky high. And in fact, that’s what the right-wing has been predicting for almost three years. Instead, interest rates have continued to drop.

      Our big problem right now is the lack of jobs. Put Americans back to work and that will solve our biggest problem plus it will be the best thing we could do to lower the budget deficit.

      The last thing we should be doing right now is cutting government spending. That’s just making our biggest problem even worse (in order to solve a problem that’s not really a problem, not right now).

      Note that I do agree that the deficit is too high, and that’s just one of the reasons I support raising taxes on the rich. But it’s nowhere near our biggest problem right now. Interest rates show us that.

      1. Here we go again. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful but I do get tired of things being read into what I write that have nothing at all to do with what I wrote.

        I never once said we shouldn’t “know” what got us into this mess. In point of fact my very first comment included a quote from Jim’s post about the Bush tax cuts being part of the problem and acknowledged that I thought it was “true” and “a valid point”. I then said that we have to “move past whose fault it is” and have to start fixing the problems. Do you disagree? I get the feeling, perhaps wrongly, that you are one of those people who are reluctant to let go of your frustration and anger towards republicans and past republican failures in order to actually see thing progress towards solutions. At what point are you willing to learn from the past and move towards the future trying not to repeat past mistakes? Do you think it is actually possible to move forward while continually rehashing past mistakes again and again and again?

        I’m not advocating we don’t investigate the cause, I agreed with the cause. I’m just sick of not hearing solutions, or at least hearing solutions that continue to be wrapped up in pointing fingers first.

        And if you are seriously trying to argue that debt is not a big problem? You absolutely have to be kidding me. Debt is always a problem. Owing people money is never a good thing. Owing money to other countries is even worse. We used to be a nation that lent to other countries, and we were collecting the interest. Now we are a nation that borrows. And it doesn’t make any difference that the interest rate is low. The interest could be hundredths of a percent, thousandths, and it still mounts up incredibly fast when you are millions or billions or trillions of dollars in debt.

        If borrowing our way out of our current crisis is the best solution to our problems, we are simply putting off our problems until later on. We cannot keep mortgaging our future. It doesn’t work in one’s personal finances and it certainly doesn’t work in the operation of a national government.

      2. No, Carl, I completely disagree with you about that. Debt is not always a problem. In fact, debt is often a good idea. For an individual, for example, going into debt to pay for a college education is frequently a good idea. If it’s not too much, it does work in one’s personal finances.

        Of course, governments aren’t individuals. Governments aren’t even corporations, though that’s closer. And corporations often stay in debt permanently. As long as they stay credit-worthy, they just roll over the debt. And it works for them, as long as it’s not too much. As long as they can support the debt load, it can continue indefinitely – generation after generation, in fact. Most corporations never have to pay off their debt.

        Governments are the same way. They can stay in debt permanently. The important thing is what that debt is used for. If you use the debt for education, for infrastructure, for investment in our country, being in debt can be a positive good which will pay off over time. Of course, going into debt in order to give tax cuts to the rich is a waste. But it’s not the debt per se that’s the problem, not at all.

        Naturally, there’s a limit. We went way too much into debt the past ten years. I agree with that. But the big problem was why. If we’d used that debt to improve America’s system of education or to develop a Manhattan Project to research alternative energy or some other kind of investment like that, we’d be in great shape right now.

        Too bad we weren’t that smart. I never supported increasing the deficit during the Bush years, not for the purposes they used it for. Still, right now, that debt is not the biggest problem we face, not even close. Yes, it’s too much, but interest rates are almost at zero. Just like people, just like corporations, governments can afford a bigger debt load when interest rates are so low.

        We have far bigger problems right now than the deficit (the biggest, I’d say, being terrible unemployment). If the economy was booming, then yes, that would be the time to pay down the deficit (exactly as Bill Clinton was doing in the late 1990s).

        But in the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression – with interest rates this low, to boot – our deficit is the last thing we should be worrying about. We need to get people working again, which means we need government stimulus, not just the reverse.

        And, in fact, lowering unemployment and jump-starting our economy is the best thing we could actually do to lower the deficit anyway, at least in the long-term. Sure, it might cost a little in the short-term, but it would more than pay for itself in the long-term.

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