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.I sure hope this signifies a sea change in American politics. The pendulum has swung too long and too far to the side of the elites and against the "ordinary people". It is time to redress the inequality and injustice.
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.
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. In 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 also that great wealth trickled downward – that the rich made investments in jobs and growth that benefitted all of us. So even if we doubted we’d be wealthy, we still gained from the fortunes made by a few.Hopefully the new view is that "it takes a village to raise a child" so there will be more emphasis on education and job training, on fair wages and a minimum wage, and on social services for those who are falling behind through no fault of their own. The bottom 99% need to be re-booted so they can compete and get their fair share of the wealth of the society. The funny thing is: if you do this everybody prospers! But showering special deals and tax breaks on the rich impoverishes the bottom 99% and destroys the broader society.
But that view, too, has lost its sheen. Nothing has trickled down. The rich have become far richer over the last three decades but the rest of us haven’t. In fact, median incomes are dropping.
Wall Street moguls are doing better than ever – after having been bailed out by the rest of us. But the rest of us are doing worse. CEOs are hauling in more than 300 times the pay of average workers (up from 40 times the pay only three decades ago), as average workers lose jobs, wages, and benefits.
Instead of investing in jobs and growth, the super rich are putting their money into gold or Treasury bills, or investing it in Brazil or South Asia or anywhere else it can reap the highest return.
Meanwhile, it’s dawning on Americans that in the real economy (as opposed to the financial one) our spending is vital. And without enough jobs or wages, that spending is drying up.
The economy is in trouble because so much income and wealth have been going to the top that the rest us no longer have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services we would produce at or near full employment.