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.
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.
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