On Wall Street and Economic Inequality

Civil Servants Struggling for Bread

Working Americans are Standing up to the Plutocrats!  

The Occupy Wall Street Movement has sprung up in a number of key cities after its genesis on September 17, 2011 in New York City.  The protesters in New York City have taken over John Zucotti Park and have triggered a grassroots movement that is appalled at the high level of social injustice in America.  The Movement is still a trickling tributary and some have argued that the objectives are too amorphous. On my visit to Zucotti Park, I was surprised by the miniscule nature of the Park. 

The people gathered in the Park had their cups runover.  They were mostly college educated middle class young men and women who had played by the rules, taking out loans to snatch an education, and had collided with a political system growing increasingly undemocratic, a system where money-lords controlled lopsided decision-making. One of the slogans repeated by the protesters is that they constitute ninety-nine percent of the population yet the one percent kept downloading the lion share of the nation’s wealth.

Will the Occupy Wall Street Movement capture the imagination of the quizzical American electorate and change the dialectic of electoral politics?  The movement represents the Winter of Working Class discontent.  They along with Americans of all stripes are contributing to sites on Facebook, on Twitter, and on internet sites established to facilitate and make the non-violent uprising into a mass movement.

In Zuccoti Park

All races and ages were representin!

During the Obama Presidential election of 2008, there was much talk about whether we had entered a post-racial America.  There are many aspects to this discourse but one critical aspect was young America getting to a point where race was declining in significance, to use William Julius Wilson’s words, and class was becoming increasingly salient.  The Occupy Wall Street Movement in the making is about class and democracy.  This burgeoning grassroots movement has within it the seeds to challenge the hegemony of Wall Street greed.

When the Tea Party popped out like a Jack-in-the Box after the election of Barack Obama, it began as a grassroots movement financed by big capital. It is is opposed to big  government, big spending, bank bail-outs and federalized health care.  After the 2010 election, the Tea Party elements elected to the United States Congress were instrumental in changing the conversation. They had the nation fixated on deficits and debt.  Joblessness took a back seat.  Legislation passed by the 2010 Congress focused on spending cuts and were oblivious to jobs.  Spending cuts in a time of economic downturn only makes the plight of the jobless more hellish.

There is a confederate syndrome to the Tea Party adherents.  They are for having everything settled at the state level yet they are supportive of corporate capital.  The Tea Party has not been able to put forward a jobs program to put Americans back to work.  These older, very white, fairly well-off supporters, as the Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman remarked, have no sense of science and have no workable ideas about the business of governing other than to reduce the taxes on the wealthy and give them the opportunity to have more than 25 percent of the wealth.

President Obama after the Republicans took over the House of Representatives, calculated that to win a second term he had to run as a centrist with the expectation that he would hold his Democratic Party base and capture a majority of the independent voters. The center in American politics has come apart.  The Tea Party has dragged the Republican Party into looney right wing self-righteousness. The Occupy Wall Street movement, if it catches fire, is going to pull the Democratic Party to embrace critical issues of social justice.

It is not surprising in an age where class is trumping race that Herman Cain has emerged as a possible Presidential candidate for the Republican Party.  Cain, who slept through the civil rights movement of the 1960s, has become an articulate spokesperson for the Tea Party’s simplification of complex  American realities.  His solution to the economic crisis is reduce corporate taxes to 9 percent, income taxes to 9 percent, and a value added tax to 9 percent.

Right wing conservatives have been clamoring for a flat tax but are not in favor of flat bonuses, flat health care and a flat educational system.  Cain’s 999 plan to fix America’s economic woes would push up the Gini Index – a measure of the distribution of wealth in our society, which is one of the worse in the western world – and make the slice of the 99 percent even more miniscule.  It would wreck social security, Medicare and Medicaid.  It would turn America into a place where wealth would be so terribly skewed that Charles Dickens’s London would appear progressive!

Occupy Wall Street must take its time and explore a new paradigm for America.  We live in a time of great confusion.  Even as clear a thinker as Senator Bernie Sanders thinks that the solution to concentrated investment capital is to break up those holdings.  But there has been an inexorable tendency towards greater and greater concentrations of investment capital historically.

Thus the critical question for the Occupy Wall Street Movement is: what democratic interest  should that concentration of wealth should serve?  Underlying the newly surfaced voices is the demand that those entities must be structured in a way that is commensurate with democratic precepts.

“This is what Democracy Looks Like!”

The people chanted as they marched 

Steve Job didn’t settle for shopworn technology.  He invented gadgets that enriched human lives.  What the Occupy Wall Street Movement seeks is an America that enriches the lives of the 99 percent, not just the one percenters and not those who shamelessly cover up the moral bankruptcy of Wall Street.

 

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* By: Dr. Basil Wilson, Political Scientist 

Originally published in Carib News, 10/15/11

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