My local paper just printed an op-ed that I wrote responding to an earlier op-ed ridiculing the OWS protests.
[A] recent community perspective ... claimed that the Occupy protests in Fairbanks and elsewhere are misguided and unnecessary (News-Miner, Oct. 30). He argued that because wealth inequality results in greater tax revenue it is therefore somehow good for the economy. This argument is both wrong on the merits and misses the point of the protests. Wealth inequality hurts the economy and society in numerous ways, but the protests are not about inequality in outcome, they are about inequality in opportunity.
A typical working person in America has every reason to protest. If they are lucky enough to have a job that hasn’t been outsourced, they are probably working more hours or earning less than workers a generation ago. Most are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and if they have a retirement account, it is probably underfunded and at the mercy of a volatile and corrupt stock market. Most workers have been paying extra Social Security taxes into a trust fund for the last 28 years only to see the government try to squander it on tax cuts for the rich and a $2 trillion to $3 trillion war in Iraq. If they are fortunate enough to have health insurance, they are being overcharged by insurance companies, prohibited from buying cheaper pharmaceuticals from Canada and still unsure if their claims will be paid when they get sick. If they have kids, they are likely trying to afford day care while both parents work, buying a house they can’t afford to get into a decent school district or borrowing to pay skyrocketing college costs so their children can have a shot at making a living wage.
They may very well have lost their home or be underwater on their mortgage, thanks to the housing bust caused by unregulated derivatives and banks. They probably also paid excessive interest rates and hidden fees to these banks for their credit card. Their pension fund may have lost money buying toxic mortgage-backed securities that were deceptively sold by these banks. After all that, they were then taxed to pay for trillions of dollars of bailouts to these same banks — TARP was just the tip of the iceberg.
It is in this environment that they see hedge fund managers, who make over $1 billion a year by gambling on Wall Street, get a special 15 percent tax rate. They watch banks settle repeated claims of fraud with slaps on the wrist and without any admission of wrongdoing. They watch CEOs get multimillion-dollar golden parachutes for shipping jobs overseas, creating shell companies to avoid U.S. taxes and cutting wages. While the poor and middle class fight multiple wars, the defense contractors get rich. While corporate profits are at a record high, the share of income going to labor is at a record low. While corporations and the government invade our privacy every day, multinational corporations remain largely unregulated and unaccountable. While a mother who lies about her residency to get her daughters into a better public school is sent to jail, Wall Street executives that destroyed the global economy not only remain free, they keep getting fat bonuses.
People like to claim that the Occupy protests are just complaints about inequality by people who didn’t work hard enough to get rich. This is completely wrong. Americans have always believed that people that work hard, innovate and contribute to society on a fair and level playing field should be rewarded. But increasingly we are seeing that the playing field is not level, the game is rigged and too many people get tremendously rich not by improving society but through cheating. As a result, the rest of us are working harder than ever with little opportunity to succeed.
The fundamental problem in this country is that our government has been hijacked and corrupted by big money. Multinational corporations and billionaires use their money to buy influence in Washington and rewrite the rules in their favor. This allows them to get even richer and buy even more influence. The predictable result of this downward spiral is that they become too big to fail while the rest of us become too poor to succeed. The record inequality that has resulted from this corruption is just a symptom. We need to get money out of government so we can once again have a real democracy and a strong middle class.
Things have finally gotten bad enough that people are demanding change. It is about time.
Please go read it on their website.
[note: I edited the part about Social Security slightly from original to make clear the Trust Fund isn't gone yet. I wasn't able to get that change in to the paper in time sorry]
Update: Thanks for putting this on the recommended list. I wanted to add that this oped was heavily influenced by the great writings of Matt Taibbi, Barry Ritholtz, and Glenn Greenwald.