The biggest question in America these days is how to revive the economy.
The biggest question among activists now occupying Wall Street and
dozens of other cities is how to strike back against the nation's almost
unprecedented concentration of income, wealth, and political power in
the top 1 percent.
The two questions are related. With so much income and wealth
concentrated at the top, the vast middle class no longer has the
purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing.
(People could pretend otherwise as long as they could treat their homes
as ATMs, but those days are now gone.) The result is prolonged
stagnation and high unemployment as far as the eye can see.
Until we reverse the trend toward inequality, the economy can't be revived.
But the biggest question in our nation's capital right now has
nothing to do with any of this. It's whether Congress' so-called
"Supercommittee" -- six Democrats and six Republicans charged with coming
up with $1.2 trillion in budget savings -- will reach agreement in time
for the Congressional Budget Office to score its proposal, which must
then be approved by Congress before Christmas recess in order to avoid
an automatic $1.5 trillion in budget savings requiring major
across-the-board cuts starting in 2013.
Have your eyes already glazed over?
Diffident Democrats on the Supercommittee have already signaled a
willingness to cut Medicare, Social Security, and much else that
Americans depend on. The deal is being held up by Regressive Republicans
who won't raise taxes on the rich -- not even a tiny bit.
President Obama, meanwhile, is out on the stump trying to sell his
"jobs bill" -- which would, by the White House's own estimate, create
fewer than 2 million jobs. Yet 14 million people are out of work, and
another 10 million are working part-time who'd rather have full-time
Republicans have already voted down his jobs bill anyway.
The disconnect between Washington and the rest of the nation hasn't been this wide since the late 1960s.
The two worlds are on a collision course: Americans who are losing
their jobs or their pay and can't pay their bills are growing
increasingly desperate. Washington insiders, deficit hawks, regressive
Republicans, diffident Democrats, well-coiffed lobbyists, and the
lobbyists' wealthy patrons on Wall Street and in corporate suites
haven't a clue or couldn't care less.
I can't tell you when the collision will occur but I'd guess 2012.
Look elsewhere around the world and you see a similar collision
unfolding. The details differ but the larger forces are similar. You see
it in Spain, Greece, and Italy, whose citizens are being squeezed by
bankers insisting on austerity. You see it in Chile and Israel, whose
young people are in revolt. In the Middle East, whose "Arab spring" is
becoming a complex Arab fall and winter. Even in China, whose young and
hourly workers are demanding more -- and whose surge toward inequality in
recent years has been as breathtaking as is its surge toward modern
Will 2012 go down in history like other years that shook the foundations of the world's political economy -- 1968 and 1989?
I spent part of yesterday in Oakland, California. The Occupier
movement is still in its infancy in the United States, but it cannot be
stopped. Here, as elsewhere, people are outraged at what feels like a
rigged game -- an economy that won't respond, a democracy that won't
listen, and a financial sector that holds all the cards.