Tuesday, October 18, 2011

One Months On: Random Observations On The Occupy Wall Street Protests

My secretly held view (I suppose I was hedging my blogger bets) that the Occupy Wall Street protests wouldn't last a month was a product of the pessimism that has chased my life-long optimism about all things American. I am now happy to admit that I was wrong, perhaps very wrong, and you better believe that I'm paying attention when a friend who is a wise old head of some 70 years and is cynicism squared calls me and ebulliently declares that a bunch of smelly latter-day hippies and a viral Elizabeth Warren YouTube video represent the first serious threat to the Vampire Elite.

The Vampire Elite, if you don't know, are the 1 percenters who control most of the nation's wealth through banks and other financial institutions.

To see the Dom Perignon and Beluga caviar set standing on chair chairs in their penthouse suites hysterically shouting "Eek!" at the Occupy Wall Street mice tells you all you need to know about how jealously they guard their prerogatives, which of course include controlling the lives of the 99 percent. And that they are less concerned about losing those prerogatives than people knowing just how rigged the system is in their favor.

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The protests, which have now gone global, are manna for down-on-their-luck Democrats and trouble for Republicans, on whom it is slowly dawning that the contrasts between the parties on coddling the super rich, finding jobs for the unemployed and succoring the poor, elderly and infirm could not be more striking. You can bet your dangling chad that President Obama and his surrogates will be hitting that hard next year on the campaign trail.

This has prompted Eric Cantor to curb his enthusiasm for the super rich ever so slightly. The House minority whip has canned the "mob rule" and "class warfare" mantras and now speaks of Republicans supporting "income mobility," which is a feeble effort to put lipstick on the Wall Street pig.


"We know in this country right now that there is a complaint about folks at the top end of the income scales, that they make too much and too many don't make enough," Cantor said during an appearance on Fox News Sunday. "We need to encourage folks at the top of the income scale to actually put their money to work to create more jobs so we can see a closing of the gap," he added without noting that the Republicans have asked these "folks" to do no such thing and an acknowledgement that the party's assertion that money from the rich trickles down to the middle class is a fiction.

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A little over half of all Americas support Occupy Wall Street, while support in New York City is positively stratospheric. A new Quinnipiac poll finds that 72 percent of city residents say that as long as the protesters continue to obey the law, they should be allowed to remain in Zuccotti Park indefinitely. That tracks closely with the 73 percent of New Yorkers who support stricter regulations for financial firms, while some 61 percent of New Yorkers -- including a majority of Republicans -- support the extension of the state’s "millionaire tax."
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In 2008, Goldman Sachs employees gave Barack Obama over $1 million, more than donors from any other private employer in the U.S., but have only anted up a measly $45,000 this year for his re-election campaign. No surprise there. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has raised about $350,000 from the firm’s employees. No surprise there either, but this represents a problem for Mittens because anger at the banksters so evident in the Occupy Wall Street protests could boomerang on him. Let's hope so.

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Paul Krugman, the Nobel economics laureate and New York Times op-ed columnist, has enthusiastically supported Occupy Wall Street from the jump. No surprise there either. Riffing on a Times story about what people in the financial industry are saying privately about the protests, he pointed to an unnamed money manager who declared, "Financial services are one of the last things we do in this country and do it well. Let’s embrace it."

Responds Krugman:

"This is deeply unfair to American workers, who are good at lots of things, and could be even better if we made adequate investments in education and infrastructure. But to the extent that America has lagged in everything except financial services, shouldn’t the question be why, and whether it’s a trend we want to continue?"
Bingo.

Krugman notes that what caused the financial industry to grow much faster than the rest of the economy starting around 1980 was a series of deliberate policy choices, many of them involving deregulation, that continued right up to the eve of the 2008 economic crisis. And that the inequality of income and wealth surged during that time period and continues to surge, handing protesters that effective 1 percent against the rest of us line.


That the Democrats had almost as much to do with that as the Republicans matters not. Democrats can be grateful that voters have short memories.

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