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The Occupiers' Responsive Chord

By       Message Robert B. Reich     Permalink
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A combination of police crackdowns and bad weather are testing the young Occupy movement. But rumors of its demise are premature, to say the least. Although numbers are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence suggests the movement is growing.

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As importantly, the movement has already changed the public debate in America.

Consider, for example, last week's Congressional Budget Office report on widening disparities of income in America. It was hardly news -- it's already well known that the top 1 percent now gets 20 percent of the nation's income, up from 9 percent in the late 1970s.

But it's the first time such news made the front page of the nation's major newspapers.

Why? Because for the first time in more than half a century, a broad cross-section of the American public is talking about the concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the top.

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Score a big one for the Occupiers.

Even more startling is the change in public opinion. Not since the 1930s has a majority of Americans called for redistribution of income or wealth. But according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an astounding 66 percent of Americans said the nation's wealth should be more evenly distributed.

A similar majority believes the rich should pay more in taxes. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, even a majority of people who describe themselves as Republicans believe taxes should be increased on the rich.

I remember the days when even raising the subject of inequality made you a "class warrior." Now, it seems, most Americans have become class warriors.

And they blame Republicans for stacking the deck in favor of the rich. On that New York Times/CBS News poll, 69 percent of respondents said Republican policies favor the rich (28 percent said the same of Obama's policies).

The old view was anyone could make it in America with enough guts and gumption. We believed in the self-made man (or, more recently, woman) who rose from rags to riches -- inventors and entrepreneurs born into poverty, like Benjamin Franklin; generations of young men from humble beginnings who grew up to became president, like Abe Lincoln. We loved the novellas of Horatio Alger, and their more modern equivalents -- stories that proved the American dream was open to anyone who worked hard.

In that old view, being rich was proof of hard work, and lack of money proof of indolence or worse. As Herman Cain still says "if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself."

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But Cain's line isn't hitting a responsive chord. In fact, he's backtracked from it (along with much of the rest of what he's said).

A profound change has come over America. Guts, gumption, and hard work don't seem to pay off as they once did -- or at least as they did in our national morality play. Instead, the game seems rigged in favor of people who are already rich and powerful -- as well as their children.

Instead of lionizing the rich, we're beginning to suspect they gained their wealth by ripping us off.

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http://robertreich.org/

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.


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