Much of the Occupy Wall Street movement has focused on the disparity of income between the top 1% and the rest of us. 1 But even though they are obscene, income, tax disparities based on income, corporate officers' huge paychecks, and their golden parachutes are not the primary source of the economic disaster we "99 percenters" are facing.
Most rich people's and corporation's holdings are not in the form of taxable income, and so improving the tax laws to force each rich person to pay a higher percentage on their income will not generate the amoung of funds this society needs (however welcome alleviating those disparities may be). In 2008, only 19% of the income reported by the 13,480 individuals or families making over $10 million came from wages and salaries.
Even more extreme -- and far more at the root of the economic crisis -- is the concentration of ownership and control of wealth in the U.S. By "wealth," I include all assets, stocks, bonds, other financial instruments and corporate property. Please remember that one does not need to own 50% (or even 25 percent) of most companies' stock in order to exert controlling interest over that company and what it does.
It is ownership and control of Wealth, more than inncome, that we need to focus on. Corporate and large private holdings are virtually unregulated and untaxed. The U.S. government not only allows that concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands but facilitates it through tax laws and other legislation as well as through military might to protect and extend corporate domination and ownership by the few.
It is revealing, is it not?, that neither Bush nor Obama chose to bail out homeowners, small farmers and renters with those trillions of dollars. They just handed huge sums to the giant banks and brokerage houses which foreclosed on the mortgages of literally millions of homes and farms, throwing people into the streets. Had those same homeowners, farmers and renters been the ones bailed out instead of Wall Street, they would have used those funds to pay back the banks anyway! The banks would have ended up with the same money, but people would have been able to keep their homes.
Alternatively, the government and the Federal Reserve could have said to Wall Street: "We'll bail you out, give you the $13 trillion (which is what was actually provided to Wall Street, according to economist Michael Hudson), but here's a list of requirements. Among them, cancel all mortgages owed on family homes and farms. No foreclosures. Return people to their homes." But neither Bush, Obama, nor the Fed took that obvious route.
The cost to the American people of the Wall Street bailout is taken out from school, library, hospital, fire house, environmental protecton, and mass-transit budgets, and in increasing costs for basic goods and services (like college educations, tolls on bridges, subway fares, etc.). So, I am proposing that in addition to occupying parks and public spaces across the country, let's occupy and directly open up those schools, libraries, hospitals, firehouses, subway stations, etc. that have been shut down.
Imagine occupying and opening up Harlem Hospital or St. Vincent's in NYC, and inviting health care providers from around the world to come and treat people! Or, to start with something smaller, occupying a library whose hours have been curtailed due to "budget cuts" and keeping it open 24/7 -- and move the People's Library into it, as well. [Note to college students: You can do this on every campus: Open up and extend the hours of libraries and other services we need. Don't ask, simply Do It! (to coin a phrase).]
Occupy and Open-Up -- a direct response to the cutbacks forced on us by those owning and administering wealth in this country. It's the kind of action that we "99 percenters", and maybe even some of the 1 percent, could get behind. ----------------------------------------------------
Mitchel Cohen is the author of "What Is Direct Action?" and numerous booklets and pamphlets. He is also the Chair of the WBAI (99.5 FM) Local Station Board, and a member of the Brooklyn Greens/Green Party. You can learn more from his website at http://www.mitchelcohen.com *For ID purposes only.
1 In 2006, the top 1.5% had annual gross income of $250,000 or more; the top 0.12% (146,000 households) had annual gross income of $1,600,000 or more. In 2008, the top 0.01% (11,000 households) had annual incomes of $5.5 million or more. And the top 400 highest tax payers in America had annual incomes of $87 million or more.