Occupy Wall Street Movement Is Still Growing

by on November 1, 2011 · 8 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Economy

Occupy Wall Street protesters play drums and other percussion instruments at Zuccotti Park in New York. The Occupy movement is gaining ground because it’s hitting a responsive chord, Reich argues. Seth Wenig/AP/File

A combination of police crackdowns and bad weather are testing the young Occupy movement. But rumors of its demise are premature, to say the least.

By Robert Reich / Christian Science Monitor / November 1, 2011

A combination of police crackdowns and bad weather are testing the young Occupy movement. But rumors of its demise are premature, to say the least. Although numbers are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence suggests the movement is growing.

As importantly, the movement has already changed the public debate in America.

Consider, for example, last week’s Congressional Budget Office report on widening disparities of income in America. It was hardly news – it’s already well known that the top 1 percent now gets 20 percent of the nation’s income, up from 9 percent in the late 1970s.

But it’s the first time such news made the front page of the nation’s major newspapers.

Why? Because for the first time in more than half a century, a broad cross-section of the American public is talking about the concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the top.

Score a big one for the Occupiers.

Even more startling is the change in public opinion. Not since the 1930s has a majority of Americans called for redistribution of income or wealth. But according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an astounding 66 percent of Americans said the nation’s wealth should be more evenly distributed.

A similar majority believes the rich should pay more in taxes. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, even a majority of people who describe themselves as Republicans believe taxes should be increased on the rich.

I remember the days when even raising the subject of inequality made you a “class warrior.” Now, it seems, most Americans have become class warriors.

And they blame Republicans for stacking the deck in favor of the rich. On that New York Times/CBS News poll, 69 percent of respondents said Republican policies favor the rich (28 percent said the same of Obama’s policies).

The old view was anyone could make it in America with enough guts and gumption. We believed in the self-made man (or, more recently, woman) who rose from rags to riches – inventors and entrepreneurs born into poverty, like Benjamin Franklin; generations of young men from humble beginnings who grew up to became president, like Abe Lincoln. We loved the novellas of Horatio Alger, and their more modern equivalents – stories that proved the American dream was open to anyone who worked hard.

In that old view, being rich was proof of hard work, and lack of money proof of indolence or worse. As Herman Cain still says “if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”

But Cain’s line isn’t hitting a responsive chord. In fact, he’s backtracked from it (along with much of the rest of what he’s said).

A profound change has come over America. Guts, gumption, and hard work don’t seem to pay off as they once did – or at least as they did in our national morality play. Instead, the game seems rigged in favor of people who are already rich and powerful – as well as their children.

 

Instead of lionizing the rich, we’re beginning to suspect they gained their wealth by ripping us off.

 

Mitt Romney is defensive about his vast wealth (reputed to total a quarter of a billion). He’s reverted to scolding his audiences on the campaign trail for “attacking people based on heir success.”

The old view was also that great wealth trickled downward – that the rich made investments in jobs and growth that benefitted all of us. So even if we doubted we’d be wealthy, we still gained from the fortunes made by a few.

But that view, too, has lost its sheen. Nothing has trickled down. The rich have become far richer over the last three decades but the rest of us haven’t. In fact, median incomes are dropping.

Wall Street moguls are doing better than ever – after having been bailed out by the rest of us. But the rest of us are doing worse. CEOs are hauling in more than 300 times the pay of average workers (up from 40 times the pay only three decades ago), as average workers lose jobs, wages, and benefits.

Instead of investing in jobs and growth, the super rich are putting their money into gold or Treasury bills, or investing it in Brazil or South Asia or anywhere else it can reap the highest return.

Meanwhile, it’s dawning on Americans that in the real economy (as opposed to the financial one) our spending is vital. And without enough jobs or wages, that spending is drying up.

The economy is in trouble because so much income and wealth have been going to the top that the rest us no longer have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services we would produce at or near full employment.

The jobs depression shows no sign of ending. Personal disposable income, adjusted for inflation, was down 1.7 percent in the third quarter of this year – the biggest drop since the third quarter of 2009. Housing prices have stalled, home sales are down.

The only reason consumer spending rose in September is because we drew from our meager savings – mostly in order to pay medical bills, health insurance, and utilities. That’s the third month of savings declines, according to the Commerce Department’s report last Friday.

This can’t and won’t continue. Savings are now down to 3.6 percent of personal disposable income, their lowest level since the recession began.

Americans know a rigged game when they see one. They understand how much money is flowing into politics from the super rich, big corporations, and Wall Street — in order to keep their taxes low and entrench their privileged position.

The Occupy movement is gaining ground because it’s hitting a responsive chord. What happens from here on depends on whether other Americans begin to march to the music — and organize.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar RB November 1, 2011 at 8:53 am

Bob, check your data and expand your world view on wealth distribution, most people in the United States are part of the 1%.

“How much do you need to earn to be among the top 1% of the world? $34,000.”

“That was the finding World Bank economist Branko Milanovic presented in his 2010 book The Haves and the Have-Nots. Going down the distribution ladder may be just as surprising. To be in the top half of the globe, you need to earn just $1,225 a year. For the top 20%, it’s $5,000 per year. Enter the top 10% with $12,000 a year. To be included in the top 0.1% requires an annual income of $70,000.”
http://news.yahoo.com/attention-protestors-youre-probably-part-1-153806044.html

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avatar stephen weber November 1, 2011 at 9:45 am

Hey RB,

You are so right. But pitifully you need to understand that you sound uninformed.
Yes the 1% facts you provide are accurate (or I’ll agree without a debate).

But.

It is truly a semantic argument that you should have gotten.
The ones that own most of the planet are closer to .01%.
I’ve heard a solid figure of 15000 people.
But it is easier to pick an integer number. 1%

And you are using the world facts. As opposed to just our society.
The bottom line is this.
There are people that have billions of dollars. These people own just about everything. And the path our society (and the world) is going is that without a change they will in fact soon own everything.
And at what point as this unfolds will people like you realize that there is no morality in this path.

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avatar RB November 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm

If we lived in a closed system (no migration, no free trade, no currency exchange, etc.) you could limit the discussion and solutions to just your society. However, we live in an open system were America consumes too much and produces too little. We live in a world were the price of oil, gas, cotton, food, and labor is not determined by what those in the United States expect, even if they are a part of the 99% (U.S.) and 1% (world).

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avatar Clay Harkness November 1, 2011 at 10:37 am

This is a logical fallacy. Consider the equivalent argument: Group A says that it is unfair that Group B has 90% of all of the food in country A. Groups A and B together have 90% of all of the food in countries A and B together. Therefore Group A is wrong and it is fair that Group B has 90% of all of the food in country A.

Of course your argument is made even more fallacious when you consider that the COST of products varies by place. You can live very comfortably off of one amount of money in one place, but it won’t buy you hardly anything in another. However, even if that wasn’t the case, just because you’re a hypocrite doesn’t mean you’re not right. If a murderer says there’s too much killing going on, that doesn’t mean you should ignore a sky high violent crime rate. It’s easy to dismiss the occupiers because they’re [young, drum banging, smelly, hippy freaks that have never held a job in their pathetic lives, ugly, 9 toed, philandering, vegan, nerd linger, republican, halfwit, know-it-all, drug dealing, lemming, psycobilly, Canadians], but the rest of us who can’t do anything because we’re chained to the company store are relying on them. God help [us, them, you, me, only me, the U.S., Greece].

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avatar JEC November 1, 2011 at 10:12 am

RB – factually accurate, materially irrelevant. There is never an average person, that’s just a statistic. There is no global nation because each society resides in it’s place – mountains, desert, islands, some with resources, some without. As the old Chinese proverb goes – peace in the world starts with peace in the family, the village, the nation; we live in defined cultural groups – some societies are more efficient, make better use of their resources than other societies. Oh, and make sure you adjust for currency differences. Consider the price of gold – went up hundreds of percent in dollars, only ten percent in pounds. And in many of those countries a person can actually eat on a dollar a day (according to the commercials). In an American city could you eat enough food to survive on a dollar a day? I couldn’t. But wait, you’ll have a chance – America’s drop isn’t over. Watch the winter –

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avatar RB November 1, 2011 at 12:58 pm

I don’t think Americans could eat and survive on a dollar a day. I don’t think Americans could survive with just one car, just one flat screen TV, just one phone, or just one pay check. IMO, this is just the pause before the second drop when rates go up. The inflation the government can’t seem to find is coming.

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avatar BJ November 7, 2011 at 9:47 am

His argument was one based on our countries economy. Yeah, in ethiopa, any person here with a $300 apartment is part of the 1% to them. What’s being said is the 1% in our nation, our economy, where the average household income is not in the millions of dollars (the 1% of our country) where there is what… 10%+ now without jobs? Granted, anybody can go to a local fastfood joint and get a part time job there, but that is surely not enough to cover a family with rising inflation. This in turn, breeds more people to selling drugs and prostitution, illegal money is easy money, not taxed and not going into our schools and fixing up roads (oh wait… our taxes already aren’t going to those anyways) Hell, I figure being a drug dealer is probably the smartest thing to do right now, no banks holdin’ on your hard earned cash, you can certainly feed a family with it AND to top it off, you can afford that nice fancy private school and body guards for your kids.
You guys can stay on Occupy Wall Street and fight for your rights, the way our gov’t is going, its easier to bend the rules and get through loopholes to make a dishonest living. If the police are going to arrest me, it sure as hell won’t be for following the laws and walking down a street!

(Hopefully anybody who reads this can pick out the obvious sarcasm, I love you guys on OWS, stay strong bros!)

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avatar stephen weber November 7, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Well I do tire of hearing of people actually starving in other countries. I know that the poor of our country just get hungry but we are well above starving.

But that doesn’t mean that our country can’t do so much more for ourselves.
The last author although he claims sarcasm is reading the society correctly. The middle class needs to stop thinking they are living the best life possible and realize they are being scammed by the multi billionaires who control all the strings. Because we are heading for a huge world war. The rich are hoping the voice of the sane, The occupy protest, will be crushed by their minions who they allow to feel slightly above slavery- the middle class.

Why is life like slavery in America?
Yes it is much better then years decades and centuries ago. But that is no excuse to accept that your life time must get worse and not better. And it is almost ready for one more disaster and civil unrest will start up again here .

And no doubt the wealthy will provoke a war. This will occupy the middle class and lower the population enough so we can continue after with the spoils of war.

I like this dream world. Where groups of all ages and colors gather together in parks and start to learn to communicate. What was democracy really about?
I hope they succeed. . . .

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