Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy America!

Americans are sick and tired of the status quo, Wall Street greed, the rich getting richer while they're losing their houses and jobs - etc. Thus, the whole Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Boston, San Diego, whatever. What to make of this whole protest movement, being touted as the equivalent of the great civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s and '70s?

The Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, was asked what he thought about the Occupy Wall Street protests last week. His response was that he thought there was some merit to it, some justification for blaming Wall Street greed for our current economic malaise and extreme inequality (99% struggling, 1% fatter than ever). And I suppose that's about right. Some merit. But not nearly as much as most protesters, and the general public, believe.

You can follow my reasoning for such a statement in the blogs posted here over the last few months, but let me recap their main points to give you the general idea. Working back in time, August's essay on Rioting in London suggested that people had become so accustomed to the good life of recent decades that they would simply be unable to accept anything less. Hard times? No job? Government cutbacks? Hell no - we're not going to take it! They would therefore protest, even riot, even - before too long - in the United States. And so we are starting to see that.

In July's Debt and Money I wrote that: "Our standard of living for the last few decades, which actually meant living way beyond our means, is about to change dramatically. To everyone who was used to “having it all” the last 20 or 30 years and who is downright outraged at how that life is being “taken” from them now – wake up! We, as a nation, didn’t deserve – hadn’t earned – all our material prosperity, and now are simply being presented with the bill. March in the streets, complain bitterly about our traitorous politicians, hold your breath ‘til you turn blue – but none of that will change this reality."

And in February, "The Party's Over, and People Don't Get It" was pretty much self-explanatory. It discussed, among other things, how the rest of the world was finally getting a piece of the pie and that Americans - for so long nearly alone at the top of the food chain - were being forced to do with less. Still better off than perhaps 95% of the world's population, Americans wouldn't gracefully accept this change, wouldn't readily give up the dream of having it all.

Certainly, much of what's going on now makes sense in light of these observations. So far the overall message of the Occupy Wall Street movement is: "we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!" Mostly, protesters are against the great inequality between the rich 1% and the other 99%, although that is of course an over-simplification since much more than 1% of Americans live happy, prosperous lives. But nevertheless, the target of their anger and dissatisfaction are the rich and the corporations they control. As Bernanke said, there is some merit to this view. In March's four essays on A Really Big Question, it seems obvious that while the excesses of Wall Street (basically: shorthand for "the rich") weren't entirely responsible for the country's miserable economic situation, with their inexcusable greediness and seriously stupid practices, they should get a reasonable share of the blame.

But they're not at the root of the inequality issue, IMO, nor is it clear that income inequality is really as bad as folks make it out to be; and that's where I differ with the protesters. The widening spread between the "haves" and the "have nots" in America over the last few decades is due to a number of factors such as our educational system, dramatic improvements in technology and communication, political changes overseas, and flagging levels of motivation in our young people. All of these, and much more, are discussed in great detail in my 2007 essay Income Inequality in America, which I'll repost to this website for those who want a better idea of what's really behind the inequality thing.

So I'm sympathetic to the movement - somewhat. Taxing the super-wealthy, prosecuting the Wall Streeters who broke laws and in the process caused immeasurable damage to the nation, limiting corporate power in our political system - I can get on board on those things for the most part. But the rest of it - it's all Wall Street's fault, capitalism is a failed system, the whole it's-not my-fault-I-lost-my-house-and-my-job thing - well, not so much. So I guess that mostly I see this movement and these people (with notable exceptions) as kind of a joke, based on an over-simplified and mostly uninformed view of the actual world.

17 comments:

Ana Lopez (Per. 2B) said...
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Brandon Matticks said...
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Samir Senner (P.2A) said...
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Sarah Hardimon (2A) said...
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Kai Pedersen said...
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Emily Charter said...

Not very long ago, I wasnt very sure what Occupy Wall Street was about, and although I do agree with the message riots never solve anything. You cant fight fire with fire. I think people should work harder to earn more money. The OWS protesters just accept the fact that there are harder times and protest against it. If you loose your job, suck it up, it happens to everyone. Just go out and look for another job. Although I agree with the point of OWS as being mad and not taking it anymore. Its not youre fault so everyone from Occupy Wall Street should calm down.

Elise Polk said...

Although this Occupy Wall Street has been going on for a while now, I’m still uncertain about what the protestors want. They’re rioting about how their loosing their jobs and how the 1% is too rich and they should spread the wealth, but I haven’t heard anyone propose an idea from the crowds. Maybe they have and I just need to do some research, but it doesn’t seem like this protest is going anywhere. This whole situation is so very confusing to me, but with regards to this blog, I agree that this whole Occupy thing is a “joke”, nothing is happening, and it seems that as it’s been going on for this long, that nothing is going to happen for a long time. Even the Super Committee can’t come up with a solution that will make everyone happy. That’s just how life works; there will be some who are successful, and some who won’t be.

Shane Jost said...

To be quite honest, I'm still aa little confused over what the protesters want as well. It would seem so far that although they are all protesting the same thing (the top 1% getting richer and richer, and th3e other 99% getting shafted of a piece of the pie), they all tend to disagree on the fine details of what it is exactly they want.

Brytani T. said...

I agree that the protestors are going nowhere with what they are doing. From what I know, the main point of the OWS movements is supposed to be the 1% of rich people should share their wealth. I think the movement will die down more and more until eventually no one hears about it anymore. I think Americans have the ability to and should work a lot harder than they do now, and if we worked for things, rather than sat around and expected them to fall out of the sky, this would be much less of a problem than it is now.

mayapapaya said...

I have noticed that many of your essays connect and tie into one another. I would have to disagree with the fact that the “Occupy Wall Street” movements are equivalent to that of civil rights or anti-war movements. Civil Rights movements were more for social causes rather than an economic cause, also many lives were impacted and changes were made from various civil rights movements. I haven’t seen or heard from any big changes that have been made since the movement started. I don’t really understand how Ben Bernanke, chairman if the Federal Reserve admitted that it is justified to say that it is a portion of Wall Street’s fault for the significant economic inequality. If Wall Street is only taking partial blame on the dramatic economic inequality, who else is to blame?

Jon Strebler said...

My essays on the topic make it very clear who I think is to blame for the rest, Maya.

Joanna Garcia said...

The essay had numerous valid points but it should have also highlighted that the Occupy Wall Street protesters did not have any concrete goals or ideals, just complaints being that most of the essays always discuss the alternative. Occupy Wall protesters are not providing their own ideas, solutions/alternatives to the economic problems because these would probably have an impact on them, either through government spending cuts or increased taxes.

Jasper Crusberg said...

The main question I got from this essay was “whose fault is it?” People in America don’t want to take responsibility for themselves. So they look to blame others. I’m completely with you when you say that you just can’t sympathize with the people who are blaming Wall Street because they have no one else to blame and they know no better. It’s almost as if their saying it has to be Wall Streets fault because it obviously can’t be my fault that “I-lost-my-house-and-my-job.” That is simply un-fair and ridiculous justification for conducting Occupy Wall Street.So yeah, so me blame goes to those on Wall Street but the rest goes to the rest. The 99%.

Saul said...

This Occupy Wall Street was a major thing last year. There were many incidents that occurred with this movement. What is trying to be said is that there needs to be more jobs available and for the economy to start building up again. The incidents that happened were very brutal. Many riots in many different places of the US. Some in Oakland, some in NY and many other places. This is not a major event because the news doesn't cover that much.

Selena Suiter said...

What is going on with the occupy wall street movement? Is it still going on, simply shut up by the media, opr has the attempt to achieve justice been abandoned? Have they made any lasting progress? I was never for the occupation, nor against it. I think the protesters had a good point to make overall, but, in my opinion, many of the protesters were a tad extreme and several had no clue what they were even there for. Just a group of people with the need to get SOMETHING off of their chests, with the glimmering hope of change. I don't believe that people should blame the loss of their houses and jobs on wall street or anything else. Most of the time, it's an unavoidable incident that happens, whether you like it (though that's never the case) or not. I do however believe that if enough people get together and demand fairness and equality, the long awaited changes that people(the what's-it percent)deserve will happen without a doubt.

Alex Tam said...

(Sying in afunny tone) Oooo....Wall Street?! Is it like the Vancouver riot? You know, the riot that got over a hockey game? Is it simillar? I hope not!
No, in all seriousness, I don't like how people protest just because someone declared the rich as greedy bastards, in a simplified manner. From recent blog entries,America itself is in the wrong dirrection, as the money was used for the elderly, Super PACS (don't understand), and sometimes (for dropouts), drugs. Are the rich just problems of the economy? No! There are stil numerous problems of the country! And in my perspective, Americans are being too lazy in their productive jobs, just laying back doing their "gaming" movement they loved (note Major League Gaming....really?). Depending on the behavior of Americans, it seems that they are shortminded after all, well only some, but I'm just going to count off the participants of the riot as "lazy".

Anonymous said...

The Wall Street followers need to understand that the money from taxes is for future generations to not have to face as many issues. The protests come about because of inequality but obviously will not resolve anything or much. Therefore, in order for there to be change people need to stop thinking of living a luxurious life and live the reality and think of changes to help fix the economy.

- Karla Zuniga