The heroes of Occupy Wall Street all around the nation are seeking an end to the gross extremes of wealth, poverty, and political power that have infected our democracy. Their cause deserves more than photos of sleeping bags and the few unfortunate run-ins with police forces. Their movement is well-grounded in the worst economic conditions for the most people since the Great Depression. Its rationale deserves to be articulated.
We knew at the time of the Bush/Obama Wall Street bailout
that the failure of our finance system to self-regulate was an indictment of
free-market capitalism. Alan Greenspan
owned up to as much in the closing months of the Bush presidency. Robert Reich provides an explanation of capitalism's failure in Supercapitalism,
a look at how deregulation and technology have teamed up to force businesses
into such cut-throat competition that they often cannot afford to pay living
wages, provide pensions or health coverage, or even make a durable,
All those benefits
are sacrificed to the demands of stockholders, who are, after all, the ones who
hire and fire CEO's, and who are typically removed from what their choices mean
to people, seeing little more of the company than its quarterly return. This super capitalism may serve us well as
shareholders, but it batters us as consumers, employees, and citizens. Since the post-WWII years when we practiced a
capitalism regulated to promote the general welfare and lacking the technology
that sabotages, even condemns employer benevolence, America has developed a
much sharper economy and with it an archaic, Third World sort of wealth
distribution. The richest 1% now own
35-40% or more of privately held wealth; the poorest 80% own only 15%; and some
studies put the poorest 40%, nearly half our population, at owning only 1% of
our wealth. This is not the American
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis noted, "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." Economic extremes undermine democracy because money buys education, influence, and access to power that poverty -- especially multi-generational poverty -- can rarely approach. Therefore, anyone who honors democracy must practice a politics of reasonable distribution of wealth. But most of our wealthiest citizens -- corporations, under current jurisprudence -- supported by their disinformed minions, clamor for evermore, much like the Roman patricians hoarding up for first the fall of their Republic and then of their Empire.
Money interests, both corporate and individual, write legislation to be passed by people whose elections they fund. If laws do pass to enable the poorest of us -- some 80% of us -- to share more fully in America's promise, ways are found to bypass the law's intent. Note the current surge in other banking fees following regulation of ATM card fees; or the non-medical revision of drug formulas to allow pharmacies to extend patents and disallow generics; or the mystical monopolistic need of oil companies to raise prices when they are making record profits. Government-cowing insurance companies were able to keep the most cost-effective health care reform, single-payer, from even being voted on; they allowed passage only of a bill that requires us to buy their services.
Buying legislation and seats on court benches to protect that legislation is a necessary cost of doing business in our economy. Since moneyed interests, in order to survive, must, do, and will find ways to gather wealth to themselves, the poorest in our nation will continue to be denied the benefits of democracy. It isn't good; it isn't right. But it is the system we have, and it has people out of jobs and on the streets -- on Wall Street in particular.
The reform needed is not a small thing. We do not want to do away with capitalism; it is a great driver of wealth and invention. Nor do we want to create a welfare state; that is good for no one. But since super-capitalism is creating the wealth concentration that results in unemployment, poverty, and the loss of democracy, we must support tax and social policies that reduce extreme inequities in income. We must create the legal conditions that will allow corporations to better benefit not just their shareholders but their employees, customers, and citizens at large. Otherwise corporate power replaces government power, and dollars replace citizens as the voting force.
Occupy Wall Street? Yes, if we value democracy, we must occupy Wall Street with policies that will reduce extremities of wealth and poverty. It is time, past time, for business leaders, politicians, and voters who still have a voice even through the miasma of distractions and lies that money buys, to restore well-being to our people.
What? Limit wealth discrepancies? Tax the wealthy, provide for our poorest? Perhaps cap income, creating conditions that allow corporate decency to employees and customers? Opponents will cry, "Socialism! Fascism! Un-American!" But extreme wealth discrepancies undermine Justice, destabilize domestic Tranquility, sabotage the general Welfare, and minimize the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. America stands for better, and given the force of money, how else are we to maintain, even approach, democracy? The one we had is crippled.