Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupy Wall Street VS. The Tea Party

Some people call Occupy Wall Street the left's version of the Tea Party and I think that is generally accurate. The strangest thing is that these are two groups that draw from roughly the same strata of society - the middle class and working poor - but while both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party believe America is seriously on the wrong track, they are diametrically opposite in what they believe should be done to correct the situation.

As near as I can tell, the Tea Party sees government as the problem. If it would just get out of the way, taking a "let the chips fall where they may approach, free market capitalism would soon put things to right. The worthy would succeed while the undeserving would fail, putting the U.S. into a kind of "survival of the fittest" mode. Tea Partiers are obviously much more confident in their ability to navigate the trials and tribulations of lay offs and illnesses and predatory lending than the rest of us. Is that because they tend to be more devout in their religious beliefs and assume that God will protect them? But if God's will is the dictating factor, then why bother forming a movement at all? Just have faith and leave it up to Him.

The problem with Tea Party thinking is that it has never proven out in our entire history. Prior to the income tax, the super-rich plutocrats spent their dollars on magnificent mansions and lavish parties, luxurious railroad cars and fabulous jewels. Essentially, we had an aristocracy based on wealth and a vast underclass who toiled in mines and factories and on farms with no protections from the whims of their bosses. They could be fired at will, made to work long hours with no breaks or vacations, thrown out in the street if they got sick.

With a few notable exceptions, the mega-affluent use a significant hunk of their money to influence (influence is a polite word for "buy") politicians to ensure that the laws will protect their interests and make them even richer at the expense of the lower classes. That is simply a fact of life.

Between 1949 and 1979, America went through a more egalitarian phase. During that period, the top one percent never raked in more than 12.8 percent of the nation's income (which still made them plenty rich). That figure was 10% when Ronald Reagan became president; it had risen 15.5 percent by the time he left office. When George W Bush was elected, the One Percenter's share had grown to 21.5. In 2007, it was 23.5.

In the 1949-1979 era, America's middle class was growing and prospering, helped along by labor unions. Factory workers could buy home and cars and send their kids to college. The government passed laws having to do with work place safety and overtime pay and unemployment compensation.

But somewhere along the way, under Presidents and Congresses, Republican and Democrat, we lost our way and America began to tip drastically in favor of the rich. Since 1980, America's total income has quintupled. The middle and lower classes collected almost none of the benefit but for that exclusive Top One Percent, it has resulted in an trillion dollar annual increase. Today, the Top Ones own 50 percent of all stocks, bonds and mutual funds. The bottom 50 own .5 percent. The Top One Percent own 40 percent of all the nation's wealth while the bottom 80 percent hold only seven percent.

Now along come the Occupy Wall Streeters. They think America's economic system is askew too but they have different ideas for how to fix it than the Tea Party. They believe government has to be part of the solution and should be in solidarity with the people rather than being a Wall Street toady. OWS doesnt have a bullet-pointed agenda. They simply want the people and the politicians to start thinking and talking about a fairer vision for America that might include rewriting the tax laws so the rich pay their fair share, federal spending on jobs that would also shore up our infrastructure and educational system, protecting social security and medicare, strengthening collective bargaining and limiting financial protectionism for corporations.

As in, was no bank or banker criminally complicit in the great meltdown we experienced thanks to the giant mortgage scam? Did it just sort of happen with no one at fault? Evidently, at least, our regulators never found any evidence to suggest that anyone should go to jail or even be charged with the mildest of misdemeanors. The government simply stepped in to bail them out and sent them back out to start over. Wall Street had the grace to look a little sheepish for about ten minutes, before embarking on another round of obscenely over-the-top CEO compensation pay-offs.

By and large, Americans are not into class warfare (from the bottom up, that is - no so, the other way around). Allow labor a way to make a decent living and they won't complain much. They don't waste time envying their betters, generally believing the rich probably got where they are via intelligence and hard work. You have to really push their backs against the wall before they wake up and begin to believe they are being systematically screwed over. That's where we are now.

I hope these protesters persevere and don't give up hope because you can be sure the corporations and the super-rich will be fighting back with every advantage they have and that's a lot. It includes unlimited dollars, lobbyists, politicians, and a media which generally conspires with them to make the Occupiers look like a bunch of fools and dufuses. Example, Erin Burnett on CNN - http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/bestoftv/2011/10/03/erin-seriously-protesters-wall-st.cnn#/video/bestoftv/2011/10/03/erin-seriously-protesters-wall-st.cnn.


Oh, yes, and they have the Tea Partiers too don't forget.

Meanwhile, I think Wall Street itself is laughing at all of us because we're doing what we always do - the working class battling each other while the One Percenters go right on with doing what they do, which is looking out for the big Number One.