Archive

Commentary

The Occupy Paradox

The Occupy Wall Street movement is one seeking equality. It is not seeking any absolute equality, but a more equal, a more fair, distribution of the nation’s wealth, and a modification of laws that favor the enormous and growing disparity between the common working people and the wealthy.

There is good reason for this. The difference in the incomes between the top 1% and any other percentile group you may choose is at an historical high. Even more telling, the distribution of wealth is skewed in a fantastical manner. In a trend that began with Reaganomics in the 1980s, the disequilibrium in  each of these measures is growing. In short, there has been, and continues to be, a huge redistribution of wealth from both working people and the poorest in society to the richest people the planet has ever known.

Additionally, with the great recession through which we are now struggling, the life of many has become so much harder that we appear to be slipping into a third world status in terms of both economic distribution and poverty,  as millions slip further and further down the “economic ladder.” All this is counter to the Great American Mythology that states that if we work hard, then our children will be better off then we were. Now, not only is this not so, but even those in their prime working years are finding themselves worse off than their own parents.

And so the Occupy movement is seeking to return to an earlier state in which the distribution of wealth was more fair, and we could reasonably expect a decent standard of living by American standards if we “played by the rules.” And it is quite righteously that people seek such a change.

There is, however, a paradox here; an inconsistency. In fact, there are two. And most of the protestors are aware of them both.

The first is the simple fact that while we are the 99% here, but in reality most of us are in the 1% world wide. Not only are we in the 1% in terms of income, but in the 1% in terms of the resources that we consume. Globally, Americans consume more natural resources per capita than in any other country. So then, the question must be asked:

“Are we willing to share our wealth with the rest of the world in the same way that we demand of our wealthy?”

Oh! Well, there are many arguments against that, many of which may very well be valid, though it is all very convenient. Let’s face it, even an iPod Touch, the entry level device into the new mobile computer model, is, at just $200, out of reach of the majority of the world’s inhabitants, and for some 40% or more, absurdly out of reach. These people are either on the edge of starvation, or merely a step or two away from that edge.

So this is the first inconsistency.

The second is that we –  none of us – can go on consuming natural resources they way we are doing  and most of us know it. The earth cannot go on supporting this current global population as it is, let alone the current population with the rising standards of living that globalization has fostered (e.g. in China), and even less with a growing population that is also demanding higher standards yet.

The truth is, we are on the verge of changing the climate of the planet in such a way that it may become totally uninhabitable, or at very least incapable of supporting the large populations required for our current civilization. The most recent discoveries of glacial melting and of the release of methane by melting permafrost have shown that we most likely have let loose an accelerating series of events that will be nearly impossible to stop.

So again, another contradiction. These both mean that we really need to stop and reevaluate our position here. Perhaps we need to ask a new question.

“What is it we are looking for?”

Do we really need to fight to return to an unfair (globally), and more importantly, an unsustainable model? (By “unsustainable” I no longer mean some theoretical, in-the-distant-future concept, but a reality that is becoming more evident almost daily, and whose effects may severely and unequivocally impact us all in just another decade.)

In light of the above, I ask again:

“What is it we are looking for?”

The problem with the shift of wealth is not so much the shift of wealth itself, it is not only, even primarily, that we must do with fewer things, the truly frightening part is the concomitant lack of security. We can live in smaller houses, use smaller or older cars (or none at all), exist with a less extravagant diet and certainly with fewer “toys,” but what really has us upset is the fear of losing it all: of having NO work at all, NO place to live, NO food to eat, and NO recourse to medical attention when we get sick. In short, what we really require is merely a sense of security.

These are the real and justifiable fears of people today. There is a real and justifiable criticism of a society in which the top 400 individuals all make over 1-Billion dollars, yet it cannot provide shelter, education, and medical care to so many of its citizens.

And so I propose the question:

“Can the Occupy movement create a set of demands, rather a set of principles, that somehow redefines what it is we need to do in order exist with economic security on this modern, limited planet?”

Advertisements
Avg Household Income

Avg Income - Placard

In 1980 the American public elected Ronald Reagan as president as he promised to usher in the era of Trickle-Down Economics. The concept is that if we give lots of money to the top economic layers of society, then some of it would “trickle down” to the rest of us. Presidential administrations have been following this ever since, including Clinton (who reappointed Alan Greenspan as Fed Chairman).

So my question to America is simple:

WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?

You voted multiple times for trickle-down economics why are you surprised you now have it?

When you look at the chart below (and pretty much all related charts), notice where the big rise in the red line begins? About 1982, 2 years into the Reagan Administration! This is an enormous redistribution of wealth! Something the right wing supposedly opposes.

Household income change since 1979

Household income change since 1979

Alan Greenspan was supposed to believe that the government should not intervene in the market economy. Yet he did it anyway. When and why? Whenever unemployment fell, Greenspan raised the interest rates to “cool down the economy. Effectively, he was restricting the ability of workers to improve wages. His reasoning was always “to combat the threat of inflation.” However, rising wages would not necessarily raise prices. In a competitive market, some businesses would choose to take the higher wages out of profits. This would have effectively distributed some of the profits, i.e. some of the new-found wealth to the workers. Of course the workers would have then spent on new products, services, etc. creating a more vibrant economy as well as a more just economy. In the end we all would have been better off, as this wealth made its way back into the system. Perhaps we would have fewer billionaires, and fewer multi-multi-millionaires, but overall we all would be better off.

Is this some kind of “trickle up theory“? I don’t know. But it seems that the those at the top are so greedy that they cannot abide any sharing at all.


Comments and ratings appreciated. —

So, I went down to the Occupy Portland site for the first time on Saturday (8 Oct, 2011) to check it out and take some pics. Pretty amazing scene involving people of all ages with a very wide variety of basic political views, but all united in the belief that this country is going in the wrong direction. I think I would paraphrase for most people there that the feeling is that we have become a

Government of the people but by the corporations and for the corporations

An interesting thing:…

The most common expression I heard when I was down there. What do you think it was? I heard it in conversations that I had, and time and again in conversations that other people were having. It is a very simple expression that started new thoughts expressed by some person: “I Think…”

I think…” Hmm. This is interesting to me, interesting on two levels.

First there is the immediate level: “I think…” indicates that one is thinking, implies that one is weighing a variety of ideas and currently giving preference to the one he or she is about to describe. Wow! Thinking. If this is real and Americans are beginning to think, then perhaps we are in the midst of a real revolution [he said snidely (and tongue firmly in cheek)].

But what I really see is the second, more profound meaning of “I think…” Implied within that introductory phrase is the thought: “I believe what follows, however I recognize that you might not agree with me, AND I respect your contrary opinion and your right to hold it!

I had just finished explaining this to one gentleman there, when up came 12-year-old Gabe, taking video on his smartphone. When asked about the event, he immediately began: “Well. I think…” I stopped him right there and asked, “Just why do you say ‘I think…’?” To which he replied, “Well this is my opinion, but I don’t want to say ‘I know.’ I don’t want to tell you how you have to think…”

To me, the key behind this is respect! A simple little idea, but I really believe it separates us from so many on the right who are so convinced that they have the one and only truth, and all who do not believe in it are un-American and evil. Here we have no lack of conviction – the people at Occupy Portland are acting on firmly held beliefs – but a lot (I am sure not all) are willing to give respect to others on a basic human level even if they hold other views.

 Personally, I think this is impressive.

Thanks for viewing

– I would love your comments (or should I say your thinking on this) –