Occupying Wall Street Is The Least We Should Do
When Occupy Wall Street began in New York City a few weeks ago, my first reaction was "What took them so long?"
The democracy of the USA is threatened by corporate greed. It's long past time for the 99 percent to protest. This began at the theoretical heart of American-style capitalism, but the protest needs to become a real nationwide movement. Hearteningly, "occupations" have already begun in other cities.
Even as the worst of the economic crisis of 2008 played itself out, the leaders of the big financial firms that had recklessly set up this scenario had one thing on their minds: how soon can we go back to giving our staff million dollar bonuses, so that we can justify giving ourselves bonuses of hundreds of millions of dollars? Corporate greed and short-sightedness has only got worse since then. One rational (and long overdue) response to this insanity is to get loud.
Where have these protesters been for these last few years? We've seen protests against universal health care insurance by old curmudgeons secure in the knowledge that they're covered by Medicare. There have been protests against deficit spending that would help to pay for infrastructure projects, by people who desperately need jobs. We've seen protests by teachers' unions fighting against efforts to reform a failed education system that increasingly turns out graduates who couldn't work an assembly line, much less work as a member of the "creative class". But we haven't seen protests of any magnitude or continuity against the outrage of CEOs making well over a thousand times what their employees earn. Until now.
To an extent, this dearth of protest was understandable. CEOs are not public figures who have to earn voters' trust by doing the right thing. So long as they don't actually break the law, they are private individuals not subject to popular appeals. They do what they want.
That's the theory, anyway. But it's a wrong theory. Many Wall Street firms benefited from a system where they could effectively borrow cash at negligible interest from the American treasury and gamble it on the stock market. Big corporations benefit from subsidies to the tune of billions of dollars. Large scale private business interests are tied to big government (as they have almost always been), which in a democracy by the people and for the people, means that ordinary citizens have a right to speak out. Not to mention that when private individuals command resources equal to that of towns and cities, they arguably cease to become purely "private" individuals. To paraphrase Spider-Man, with great wealth comes great responsibility.
This leeching off the American economy long ago reached asinine proportions. CEOs and top-level executives make more in the first hour of the year than most people make... well, all year. Adding insult to injury, this "top one percent" does not pay its fair share in taxes, hiding their dough in offshore tax shelters. They suggest that they would be willing to pay more in tax "if only the government would spend money more wisely", an utterly flimsy and transparent rationalization.
Just imagine staying at a hotel and telling the desk clerk in the morning, "I had a decent enough sleep, I'll give you that. But I didn't use the gym or the swimming pool. Also, breakfast did not include the particular brand of granola that I grew up with. Your hotel security seems professional, but how do I know that anyone was going to try to accost me in your lobby otherwise? I'm only going to pay 30 percent of my bill and you should be happy to get that."
This is the game that these slippery one percenters are trying to pull. But paying your taxes can't be optional for some and mandatory for the rest.
The worst part is that it's not that they can't afford to pay their fair share. They just don't want to. And unlike the rest of us, they can get away with it.
Of course, the selfishness of the top Wall Street executives is echoed by that of the heads of corporations that have squeezed workers even as their reserves have grown. They seem to have forgotten the simple truths understood by the early American corporate heads like Henry Ford: you have to hire workers and pay them decent wages so that they can afford your product. That's not socialism. That's just how the market works. A perpetual underclass of unemployed people is bad for America. It's bad anywhere, actually.
Jonathon Narvey is the Editor of The Propagandist