There is a good bit of head scratching over the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Who are they, and what are trying to accomplish?
Rush Limbaugh says they're "trust fund babies." Mike Masterton, a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, has dubbed the movement "The Flea Party," his personal judgment about the hygiene of the demonstrators. On the other hand, Sally Kohn from conservative Fox News writes
"Most of the Occupy Wall Street protesters aren't opposed to free market capitalism. In fact, what they want is an end to the crony capitalist system now in place that makes it easier for the rich and powerful to get even more rich and powerful while making it increasingly hard for the rest of us to get by. The protesters are not anti-American radicals. They are the defenders of the American Dream, the decision from the birth of our nation that success should be determined by hard work and not royal bloodlines."
Whether we agree with Limbaugh and Masterton, or Kohn's more nuanced assessment, depends a lot on our underlying beliefs about the root causes of our economic discontent. Is the cause a too powerful government? Is the cause corporations that are too powerful? Or, is there a third possibility where right and left might agree: that corporations buy government--Congressmen and Senators--and in return "government" passes laws and regulations that favor corporations?
It looks like the Occupy protesters have coalesced around this third possibility, that government and corporations working together is the greatest threat to our economy. As evidence, they cite the following:
Banks "to big to fail" are borrowing money from the FED at almost 0% interest rate and, rather than re-lending the money to businesses, they're buying US Treasury Bonds with a return of between 1.14 and 2.22%. So far, government has paid banks $22.1 billion dollars for borrowing government money.
The Defense Department has given US contractors $220 billion dollars to rebuild roads, bridges, and other physical infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Halliburton's--the world's second largest defense contractor--profits are up 29% this quarter, US infrastructure crumbles and fragments.
Since 1995, 74% of USDA agricultural subsidies have gone to 10% of the "farmers." Among these farmers are Monsanto, Cargill, and Richland; 64% of American farmers receive no subsidy at all. The real mystery is why there are subsidies at all since prices for corn, soybean, and other commodities are at all time highs.
Between 2005 and 2011 the cost of attending a public University or college has gone up 24%, far in excess of inflation. The cost of attending a private institution has gone up 11%. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration pushes education as a panacea for the bleak job market faced by the young, including recent college graduates, seemingly oblivious to the huge burden that student loan debt places on them.
The average CEO in the United States--a manager, not the owner or founder of the company--earns 262 times the pay of the average worker, the second-highest level of this ratio in the 40 years for which there are data. These CEOs earn more in one workday (there are 260 in a year) than an average worker earns in 52 weeks.
Bankruptcies due to medical bills increased by nearly 50 percent in a six-year period, from 46 percent in 2001 to 62 percent in 2007, and most of those who filed for bankruptcy were middle-class, well-educated homeowners. This alarming trend began long before ObamaCare came into being, and is only getting worse.
These verifiable facts are among the concerns raised by Occupy Wall Street protesters, and their anger is not directed specifically at the Republican Party, but at the Democratic Party as well. If they lagged behind the Tea Party in organizing against the status quo it is only because they kept waiting for the Obama Administration to effect the "change we can believe in." Now, the Democratic Party's 2008 campaign chickens are coming home to roost.
What remains to be seen is if there is enough common ground among an increasingly disenfranchised citizenry for them to hold both parties accountable for the mess we're in. If the Tea Party remains satisfied with arguments about the Christian legitimacy of Mormonism then our civic possibilities are lost. If the Occupy Wall Streeters refuse to recognize the ruinous legacy of Big Government spending then any sense of moral hazard is lost. A failure to find that common ground will be tragic.