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Posts Tagged ‘OccupyWallStreet’

Growing Greed, Income Gap Threaten America

A hardening caste system driven by the insatiable greed of its wealthiest citizens.

America is devolving into a desperate almost Third World society defined by a hardening caste system driven by the insatiable greed of its wealthiest citizens. Nobel-Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz argues in his new book The Price Of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future.

This is excerpted from a book review published in the Chicago Tribune July 12, 2012 by Bernard Vaughan. “We are now approaching the level of inequality that marks dysfunctional societies,”  Stiglitz writes. “It is a club that we would distinctly not want to join, including Iran, Jamaica, Uganda and the Philippines.”

Statistics on widening U.S. income inequality are well known, but Stiglitz details them to show the trend has passed into a danger zone.

About 30 years ago, the top 1 percent of income earners received 12 percent of the nation’s income, which could have been unacceptable enough, Stiglitz writes. But by 2007, the average after-tax income of the top 1 percent had reached $1,300,000 while the bottom 20 percent averaged only $17,800.

With the end of the Great Recession, the gap has only widened: The ratio of CEO annual compensation to that of the typical worker in 2010 was 243 to 1, the level it had been before the financial crisis, the author says.

These economic realities imperil America’s future, corrupting basic notions of fairness and justice critical in a thriving democracy.

Such dramatic inequality, according to Stiglitz is the byproduct of a bubble-strewn economy beholden to a deregulated and all-powerful financial industry all too often dictating government policies through its lobbying and money politics.  The author argues that these economic realities imperil America’s future, corrupting basic notions of fairness and justice critical in a thriving democracy. As inequality increases,opportunity decreases and cynicism is ascendant, Stiglitz says.

Alienation has begun to replace motivation,” Stiglitz writes. “Instead of social cohesion we have a new divisiveness.” Stiglitz’s book echoes others released recently by liberal-leaning voices examining America’s struggle to rebound from the financial calamity of 2008, including studies by economists Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs, former President Bill Clinton and filmmaker Charles Ferguson.

Stiglitz, a former Clinton administration and World Bank economist, received the Nobel Prize for economics in 2001 and published a series of popular studies in the last decade starting with Globalization and its Discontents (2002), an attack on the International Monetary Fund’s austerity policies.

While Stiglitz’s book zeros in on the idea of inequality, it follows a similar script. Most of its pages are devoted to how America got where it is as opposed to what it can do to reverse course. Ample blame is assigned to the Reagan administration for ushering in an anti-government zeitgeist that Stiglitz argues has engorged the financial industry at the expense of the middle class. Clinton exacerbated financial deregulation, and President Barack Obama has missed a critical opportunity to rein in Wall Street, the book maintains.

Though Stiglitz teases the reader with solutions, it’s not until late in the book that he outlines his economic reform agenda. With some exceptions, many of his suggestions are similar to those offered by Sachs, Krugman and liberal activists. They face the same steep odds in the current political environment, with Obama and Democrats facing a staunchly conservative Republican Party in Congress, in most states—and even on the Supreme Court, some critics say, after decisions such as Bush versus Gore and Citizens United.

Stiglitz’s ideas often echo the Democrats agenda: tax reform so the wealthy pay more; reining in Wall Street; investing in education, technology and infrastructure; and campaign finance reform. He also argues for tempering globalization, where capital is allowed to migrate to the cheapest labor force and free flow of goods is unimpeded by anything but dollar considerations.

It could be the 1 percent who try to do something about inequality as they realize that their fates are bound to how the other 99 prcent live.

Ultimately, and ironically, Stiglitz says, it could be the 1 percenters who try to do something about inequality as they realize that their fates are bound to how the other 99 prcent live.

Throughout  history, this has been something  that the top 1 percent eventually do learn,” he writes. “Often, however, they learn it too late.”

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How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests

That’s the headline to Matt Taibbi’s article in the current issue of ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE. Last week’s post was from a conservative columnist who writes for FORTUNE MAGAZINE. It’s only fair for a progressive view–and there’s few as good as Matt Taibbi. He alone is well worth subscribing to one of my favorite magazines ROLLING STONE. Herein are excerpts:

“I have a confession to make. At first I misunderstood Occupy Wall Street. The first few time I went down to Zuccotti Park, I came away with mixed feelings. I loved the energy and was amazed by the obvious organic appeal of the movement, the way it was growing on its own. But my initial impression was that it would not be taken very seriously by the Citibanks and Goldman Sachs of the world. You could put 50,000 angry protestors on Wall Street, 100,000 even, and Lloyd Blankfein is probably not going to break a sweat. He knows he’s not going to wake up tomorrow and see Cornel West or Richard Trumka running the Federal Reserve. He knows modern finance is a giant mechanical parasite that only an expert surgeon can remove. Yell and scream all you want but he and his fellow Franksteins are the only ones who know how to turn the machine off.

That’s what I was thinking during the first few weeks of the protests. But I’m beginning to see another angle. Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It’s about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street but EVERYTHING. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it‘s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.

The right-wing media wasted no time in cannon-blasting the movement with its usual idiotic clichés, casting Occupy Wall Street as a bunch of dirty hippies who should get a job and stop chewing up Mike Bloomberg’s police overtime budget with their urban sleepovers. Just like they did a half-century ago, when the debate over the Vietnam War somehow stopped being about why we were brutally murdering millions of innocent Indochinese civilians and instead became a referendum on bralessness and long hair and flower-child rhetoric, the depraved flacks of the right-wing media have breezily blown off a generation of fraud and corruption and market-perverting bailouts, making the whole debate about the protestors themselves—their hygiene, their ‘envy’ of the rich, their ‘hypocrisy’.

The protestors, chirped Supreme Reichskank Ann Coulter, ‘needed three thing: showers, jobs and a point’. Her colleague Charles Krauthammer went so far as to label the protestors hypocrites for having iPhones. ‘OWS’, he said is Starbucks-sipping, Levi’s- clad, iPhone clutching protestors (denouncing) corporate America even as they weep for Steve Jobs, corporate titan, billionaire eight times over’. Apparently because Goldman and Citibank are corporations, no protestors can ever consume a corporate product—not jeans, not cellphones and definitely not coffee’—if he also wants to complain about tax money going to pay off some billionaire banker’s bets against his own crappy mortgages.

Meanwhile on the other side of the political spectrum, there were scads of progressive pundits like me who wrung our hands with worry that OWS was playing right into the hands of assholes like Krauthammer. DON’T GIVE THEM ANY AMMUNITION! we counseled. STAY ON MESSAGE! BE SPECIFIC!. We were all playing the Rorschach-test game with OWS trying to squint at it and see what we wanted to see in the movement. Viewed through the prism of our desire to make near-term, within the system changes, it was hard to see how skirmishing with cops in New York would help foreclosed-upon middle-class families in Jacksonville and San Diego.

What both sides missed is that OWS is tired of all this. They don’t care what we think they’re about, or should be about. They just want something different.

We’re all born wanting the freedom to imagine a better and more beautiful future. But modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. People want to go someplace for at least five minutes where no one is trying to bleed you or sell you something.

I think I understand now that that’s what the Occupy movement is all about. It’s about dropping out if only for a moment, and trying something new. It doesn’t need to tell the world what it wants. It is successful for now, just by being something different.”

These are only excerpts from Matt’s excellent article in the November 22nd issue of ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE. To read it in its entirety, pickup a copy or better yet become a subscriber. I’ve been hooked on their political reporting for 25 years and with age, year after year, it only gets better.

What Really Has The 99% Up In Peaceful “Constitutionally Protected” Protest

If you are like most of us then you are one of the 99%. If you happen to be one of the 1%, then lucky you. Just skip this week’s blog because you won’t be the least bit interested in what I have to say. This opinion piece ran in the Nov., 7, 2011 issue of FORTUNE MAGAZINE. It was written by Geof Colvin.

“The most important fact to realize about the rash of popular protests around the world— OCCUPY WALL STREET in the U.S., demonstrations in Greece, Spain, London and elsewhere in Europe, really aren’t about money or inequality. If they were, they’d be easier to deal with. They’re about perceived injustice. which reflects a deeper, fiercer problem.

The spark of the U.S. movement may soon be obscured as it’s taken over by career protesters, labor unions, and others who enjoy any chance to torment corporate managers. But the spark is where we find what’s new and meaningful, and it seems to have emanated from a feeling by the protestors that they aren’t getting a fair shot at prosperity. They believe that big companies, specifically major banks, have rigged the system to their own benefit and to ignore the suffering of ordinary people.

That perceived injustice is the real root of today’s rage. Yes, many Wall Street executives make tons of money, but plenty of hedge fund managers, for example, make far, far more, yet no one is camping outside their suburban Connecticut offices. For that matter, America loves Warren Buffett, just as they loved Sam Walton when he was the country’s richest man. Fellow citizens making billions do not by themselves get many people riled.

Even economic inequality isn’t enough to send mobs into the streets. Inequality in the U.S. has been increasing for over 30 years. During most of that period the rich were getting richer, and the poor were getting richer. But the rich were getting richer faster. Though the gap was widening, the lid stayed on discontent as long as everyone was moving ahead.

Inequality actually diminished in the recent recession, as it usually does in tough times. If inequality were the problem, people would be less upset today than they were in 2007. What’s new is that those with medium and lower incomes have not been getting richer for several years, while those with high incomes have been, and the unprecedented slowness of post-recession job growth has left many feeling deprived of their rightful opportunity to improve their lot. More broadly, they feel they’re being punished even though they did nothing wrong, while those whom they blame for the whole mess—the bankers—got bailed out and were raking it in. INFURIATING INJUSTICE.

The elements are the same in protests worldwide, whether the specific grievance is blatant corruption, as in China and the Middle East, or violation of the social compact as in Europe. The innocent are punished while the guilty are rewarded. That combination is intolerable.

In the U.S. this narrative is flawed and in some ways plain wrong. Most of the Occupy Wall Street protestors probably don’t know that they as taxpayers, actually made money from the bank bailout. They may be forgetting that millions of Americans are being foreclosed on because they willingly, even eagerly, took out mortgages they couldn’t afford. Some protestors are simply clueless, like one who responded to a question from the New York Times by saying ‘he never heard of Warren Buffett’, or one who complained to NPR ‘that we’re paying for the bailout’, or one who told the Times that ‘the airline Virgin America is a good company because it’s working on solar planes.’

IT DOESN’T MATTER. WHAT PEOPLE KNOW OR DON’T KNOW ISN’T IMPORTANT. ALL THAT COUNTS IS WHAT THEY FEEL.

At a private meeting of movers and shakers a few years ago, a CEO presented the facts on long-term diverging fortunes of the wealthy and the middle class in the U.S. Henry Kissinger, who was chairing the meeting, observed ‘that the situation held the makings of a social and political cataclysm’. It seemed an overly dramatic pronouncement, but he was right. Only a feeling of powerful injustice was missing, AND NOW IT’S HERE!

Even if Occupy Wall Street should evaporate, the fuel that’s feeding it will not. Think of it as a warning. Cataclysm is a long way off and it certainly isn’t inevitable. But we’re a little bit closer.

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