Thousands of protesters gathered in Wall Street and hundreds of other locations around the country to signal that enough is enough. The country is moving in the wrong direction, the political system is broken, Main Street is dying, and average people are no longer represented in our government. It is true that the Occupy Wall Street protesters lack a clear message and a solid PR strategy, but everybody that lives paycheck to paycheck or watched the steady decline of the middle class over the last 30 years should instinctively understand their motivation. Corporate control of our government is destroying this country.
Individual protesters voice a number of specific concerns like unaffordable costs of college, lack of decent paying jobs, the failures of globalization, increasing health care costs, polluted air and water, bank bailouts, failing schools, and record wealth inequality, but these concerns all share a common thread. We have lost control of our democracy to large multinational corporations and a small number of ultra-wealthy individuals. This corporate control of our government is slowly but steadily destroying the country and the middle class.
Many people in American misunderstand the role of government in our society. The question is not between small government and large government. Government has to choose winners and losers and define the rules of our economy everyday. Over the last 30 years the GOP has successfully defined any rules that favor large corporations and the rich over small business and the middle class as 'small government' and defined rules that regulate the worst excesses of corporations or demand that they play by the same rules as the rest of us as 'big government'. After 30 years of increasingly conservative ideology, government is just as intrusive as ever for average Americans but unrestrained corporate power is destroying America's once great middle class.
Over those 30 years, our economy has continued to grow, productivity continued to climb, and some people have gotten very rich, but at the same time the middle class was decimated as health care, education, and energy costs grew and wages stagnated. The middle class has responded by sending both parents to work, working more hours, and finally taking on debt, but now those coping mechanisms are no longer enough and far too many middle class families are falling into poverty. Despite what you hear, America is not a poor country, but because corporations and the super rich control our government, we have made poor choices that resulted in extreme wealth for a few at the expense of broad middle class.
Look at just about any issue and you will see a common thread. We pay twice as much as most other countries for health care. This is a staggering $1 trillion extra cost each year, about $3,500 per person, just for the freedom to be denied coverage and drown in paperwork, but no serious reforms are possible because health care and pharmaceutical companies control our government. We spend $1.2 trillion dollars a year on all military related spending, more than all other countries combined. This is about $4,000 dollars per person per year and much of it is wasted on weapons systems we don't need or goes to unaccountable private defense contractors who control our government. Thanks to our corrupt system, we spend an average of over $44,000 for a family of four just for health care and military spending and then we wonder why we have deficits.
Globalization and free-trade have also decimated the middle class by making American workers compete with sweatshops around the world, but rather than sharing the supposed economic benefits of free-trade, the CEO's who get rich from off-shoring American jobs pay lower tax rates than their secretaries. By attacking Unions, politicians have pitted workers against each other for an ever declining share of the profits from their labor.
While small corporations pay a high tax rate in the U.S., large multinational corporations employ legions of accountants and lobbyists to hide profits overseas and pay little or no U.S. taxes. The financial industry skimmed off 40% of corporate profits in the U.S. by using complex securities, predatory lending, and a horde of lobbyists pushing deregulation. After their reckless behavior nearly destroyed the world economy, they demanded that taxpayers bail them out and we did because Wall Street controlled our government. Hedge fund managers, many of whom make over $1 billion per year by gambling with our economy have a special 15% tax bracket written into the tax code because the ultra-wealthy control our government.
Global oil production has been stagnant since 2005, ice caps are melting, and ocean acidification is increasing, but we continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry but provide little incentive for alternative energy production because oil and gas companies control our government. Time and time again, politicians ignore overwhelming public opinion in order to do the bidding of the economically powerful.
This is a bipartisan problem. We have tried electing a different party in each of the recent elections, but the net results always seem to be the same. When you have an electoral system that allows and rewards bribery, the predictable result is a democracy of the highest bidder. This has led many Americans to become deeply cynical and give up. The occupy Wall Street protesters, to their credit, decided to actually do something to try to fix the Country. With our electoral system severely undermined by rampant corporate bribery and a corporate media that doesn't care, they had to resort to a more direct form of democracy.
It may be too little, too late, but if they can wake up a middle class that has seen their dreams crushed by the reality of debt, underemployment, and failing schools, we might just have a chance. To succeed, they have to be able to articulate a clear vision of what went wrong in our country and point the way to solving the problem. They can't be distracted by the multitude of symptoms, they have to focus on the root of the problem–corporate control of our government is destroying the middle class. The solutions then become obvious, we need to reform our electoral system to rein in the corrupting influence of corporate money on politics and demand representative government so we can once again have an economy and a government of, by, and for the people.