OWS: Right Movement, Wrong Street

October 12, 2011


It was bound to happen.  It’s been coming for decades.  It began with a trickle – a few jobs here and a few jobs there – sacrificed in the name of free trade.  Employers steadily nibbled away at benefits.  Raises got smaller.  And, though the unemployment data said otherwise, there was a growing suspicion that decent-paying jobs were getting harder to find. 

However, between debt-fueled safety net programs, tax cuts to make us feel richer, irrational exuberance and, finally, the financial deceipt that fueled the housing boom, the government was able to keep a lid on the discontent and forestall the day of reckoning.  Until the whole house of cards collapsed in 2008. 

Now anger is boiling over and its abundantly clear that throwing more debt at the problem is an unsustainable dead end.  We’ve reached the end of the line.  There’s no more hiding the fact that America is in decline; the American dream is over. 

The anger has coalesced into a critical mass.  You can’t expect tens of millions of unemployed and underemployed to sit silent any longer.  Civil unrest was bound to start.  All it needed was some catalyst – some little protest to get it started, and a little media attention to get it rolling.  Under normal circumstances, it might not last.  But these aren’t normal times.  The “Arab spring” protests have demonstrated what’s possible if downtrodden people get angry, get organized and persist.  Thus, the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) movement was born. 

The following quote from the OWS web site (link provided above) does a good job of summarizing what they’re about:

Occupy Wall Street is leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.

This is a movement in its infancy.  It’s naive and confused.  The 99% of the population that they claim to represent has every reason to be angry at the disparity between their plight and that of the top 1% of wage earners.  But their anger is misdirected.  Most of those 99% rely upon their investments in Wall Street as a source of retirement income and a refuge from the other economic forces that are eroding their quality of life.  Our economy is based upon capitalism.  We want it and our corporations to succeed.

But what we don’t want is a system that’s rigged in favor of the handful of people at the top of those corporations.  We don’t want a system that’s rigged in favor of other nations at the expense of our own.  The leaders of our corporations aren’t doing anything illegal.  Everything they’ve done has, if you will, been authorized by our political leaders.  Wall Street will never change its ways until our political leaders redraw the boundaries within which our capitalistic system operates.  They have every right to be angry and demand change, but they’re on the wrong street.  They need to be camped out not on Wall Street but on Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues in Washington, DC.

But maybe there are other streets that need to be targeted as well.  Our political leaders don’t dream up economic policy.  They’re too busy with campaigning and schmoozing.  They take their economic policy advice from economists.  Some lean slightly left; some lean slightly right.  But there’s little difference among them, which is why nothing ever seems to really change regardless of which party is in power.  All favor free trade and all favor growing the population, because they refuse to open their eyes to the consequences. 

So maybe the movement should be renamed “Occupy Garden Street” for the street in Cambridge, Massachusetts where Harvard University is located.  Maybe they should be demanding that Harvard and all of our universities abolish their economics departments, since the economists they’ve produced have proven to be abject failures.  The only way to tilt the economy back in favor of the 99% is to restore some balance to the supply and demand equation for labor.  That’s going to require people who understand how it got out of balance in the first place. 

And when it comes to demands, OWS has better include a demand for a new constitutional convention because, without it, money will continue to corrupt our political system and the influence of the 1% will continue to drown out the voice of the other 99%. 

And while OWS might like to think of themselves as a leaderless, amorphous movement, that’s not going to get them anywhere.  Think that the Libyans and Syrians are having a hard time changing their leadership?  That’s nothing compared to what the OWS is taking on.  They’re going to need leadership and strategy to make any real headway and, ultimately, they need to consider becoming the foundation of a new political party.  Otherwise, they can demonstrate all they want but, in the end, each of us, including each one of them, will have the choice of voting for either a Democrat or a Republican, funded by the same special interests and advised by the same economists, and nothing will ever change.