The enemy of my bank is my friend,” “Redistribute wealth,” “Tax the rich,” “Corporations are evil,” —these are the banners that scream across American cities with mobs occupying public areas, inconveniencing the public from getting to their jobs they still have, shutting down commerce at small businesses and major ports.
While I sympathize with the “Occupy” movement and agree with their disappointment in the economy, the need for tighter financial regulation, and for major banks to do their share to help grow the economy, I cannot, in good conscience, agree with their notion that creating wealth should be condemned or that rewards must be equally distributed in society. Imagine the disdain your child would have if his hard-earned A grade has to be downgraded so as to be more equitable with poorer performers!
Many nations, from the USSR to China, that tried such experiments in socialism and communism, failed and have since embraced free market capitalism to achieve economic progress.
The United States has long remained the beacon of freedom for individual enterprise and upward mobility, the only nation on earth where you could land with a mere hundreds of dollars, as most of us Indian Americans did, and achieve the American dream by working hard and playing by the rules. Just with the power of ideas, determination, and hard work one can become an entrepreneur, whether it is by buying a motel to growing it into a chain, or starting a tech company in Silicon Valley garage and turning it into a Fortune 500 corporation. In his book How they Did It, Robert Jordan interviewed 45 founders and found that, in total, those interviewed created roughly $41 billion from scratch. That is possible only in America and that is a good thing for the 99% of us that this movement claims to represent.
Let us take the tactics we saw in the Occupy movement in Oakland, a city that can least afford the dire economic impact of police overtime costs, loss of revenue for downtown businesses, vandalism of public and private property, and the associated cleanup costs. By shutting down the port for a day, tens of millions of dollars of exports were halted and 11,000 workers lost their wages.
Many low paid workers in shut down restaurants and stores lost their wages—consequences the 99 % could least afford.
The Occupy movement’s ire is misdirected and should instead be focused on the President and Congress to enact legislative solutions to ensure that we never ever face the risk of financial meltdown, while closing tax loopholes with an equitable tax regime.
It is irresponsible and hypocritical for President Obama to stoke the flames of this movement for electoral gains while having $35K per plate fundraising with Wall Street executives.
Punishing private enterprise and demonizing success is neither the answer nor the solution to our country’s economic ills.
Rameysh Ramdas, an SF Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.
Yes, the increase in income inequality and the loss of upward mobility calls for such a response.
What is the Occupy movement all about? As suggested by an informative piece in Mother Jones magazine, “It’s the inequality stupid!” Income inequality in the United States has grown steadily in the last few decades. Since 1979, the after-tax annual income share of the top 1% of households grew by a whopping 130%, while the bottom 80% lost their share of the income pie share by 10-30% during the same time.
Free-marketers argue that the bottom 80% were just poor performers and brought their sorry economic state on themselves. Wrong! Productivity gains during the same period were a whopping 82%.
The fact that we are talking about 80% of Americans should raise people’s hackles. It is this kind of persistent, chronic, and burgeoning inequality that is driving Occupy movement activists. The sobering economic reality is that the net worth of the households of people aged 30 and below is 47 times less than households of those 55 and over! Not only have the past decades been economically brutal to the most of the population, the future does not seem to hold much promise. It’s not surprising that the movement is largely led by our youth.
Americans would gladly applaud success and wealth creation if corporations created jobs or if stock market gains tricked down. In 1914 Henry Ford doubled the wages of his workers so they could afford a good life and, most importantly, afford his cars! That was an unspoken social contract. No such contract exists today. Multinational corporations have figured out an easy way out to leverage productivity by firing an average of 2 million workers/year in the United States over the past decade.
We should be thankful to the Occupy movement for finally bringing to the front and center these gargantuan inequities. Critics of this movement have been trying to build straw men out of communism, liberalism, and President Obama. By trying to connect the President to the movement they are hoping to redirect the public’s attention away from our systemic problems and towards the political cycle.
Clearly the solution to this conundrum cannot not be found at the ballot box. In 2012 the voters will most likely have to choose between a completely bought-out Mitt Romney and a corporate-leaning incumbent. This malaise has occurred over decades through four presidents and 15 election cycles. Frustration with decades of inequality is now simmering in the form of the Occupy protests.
It must be noted that, with the exception of Occupy Oakland, the protests have been largely peaceful. There is every indication that protestors are, by and large, cooperating with law enforcement. Indeed, police overreach has been the meme of the day. But neither police brutality not extreme tactics by a very small minority of protestors should distract us from the core message—that the American dream is no longer an option for most Americans, including immigrants, some of whom are returning to their homeland for better opportunities.
Mani Subramani works in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.