The Occupy Wall Street protests are surprisingly still going on, and, in fact, spreading sporadically to other cities. In general, they have been peaceful, although there have been some episodes of police overreaction, with some clubbing and pepper spray incidents that have shown up on YouTube. There were also 700 protesters arrested as they tried to march over the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, and 100 protesters in Boston were arrested for “trespassing” when they didn’t follow police orders to stay out of certain areas.
What are these protests about, and what do the protesters hope it will lead to? Despite the claims of conservatives who believe we have to kowtow to corporations and pacify every Wall Street desire, this is true democracy. It’s the people trying to make their voice heard above the din of cash registers that has become the only way to get a say in anything that happens between our government and Wall Street.
We have reached a time in our history where we are taking great strides backwards. The income disparity between the haves and the have-nots is reaching the point where it’s going to doom our country. For example, right now the top one percent of the population owns 42 percent of the country’s financial wealth. Even worse, the bottom 80 percent owns only 7 percent of the wealth. This is a drastic change from where things have stood since the Great Depression ended.
In fact, the top one percent are now taking home a greater share of the national income than at any time since the Depression, and it’s getting worse. Currently they are taking in 24 percent; almost one-fourth of all income goes to one percent of the people. In 1976, the top one percent took in just nine percent of the income.
To show how out of whack things have gotten, let’s look at the disparity of income between the corporation CEO’s and the average worker. In Japan, it’s 11 to 1. Germany is 12 to 1. In Italy and Canada it’s 20 to 1. Britain is 22 to 1. And in the good old USA? 475 to 1. That’s right, the typical CEO makes 475 times what an average worker makes. In the ‘50s, it was about 20 to 1, and in the ‘80s, it was about 40 to 1, so this is a fairly new development.
In Japan a corporate CEO would most likely resign in shame over bringing a company to such financial ruin that the government had to bail them out. Here, the CEO’s of those companies took million dollar bonuses for themselves. Just why did the companies allow that? Because today most of the stock in these companies are held by the very wealthy. The bottom 50 percent of the population only hold 0.5 percent of stock. It used to be that the average person could proudly say they were a part owner of IBM or Disney. That’s no longer the case.
What’s wrong with this? Let me illustrate by using the example of Henry Ford. Initially, he paid low wages, like every other company head in the days before unions became widespread. But at one point he started paying his workers very well, even doubling their salaries, much to the chagrin of other business leaders. Why did he do this? He realized that for Ford to really grow as a company, he had to have a public that could afford to buy the cars he was building. So he decided to pay his workers enough that they could afford to buy cars. Pretty soon he was making greater profits than ever, and he did it spurring the economy and getting things to the point where the average workers all were able to have cars, which previously were only affordable by the wealthy.
What is driving today’s corporations is exactly what they are accused of. Greed. They don’t look at the long-term picture. They aren’t thinking about the fact that they need a healthy economy to prosper. Consumer spending drives about two-thirds of our economy, and without it these companies are going to face long-term problems. But all they are concerned with is this quarter’s profits, which will raise the stock price and trigger big bonuses for the executives. We’ve become a “win now” culture, without any concern for how things will be five or 10 years in the future. That’s how we got into the financial mess that brought on the crash. Companies didn’t care about the long-term issue of mortgages that weren’t based on solid ground; if it increased this month’s profit, they gave them out.
By doubling and tripling their take, the top one percent of earners are essentially killing jobs. The money they take in excessive compensation could go out to workers and in-turn be circulating throughout the economy. But their greed doesn’t allow for caring about the future of their company, or even the country. It’s all about grabbing everything they can now.
And they continue to be allowed to do what they’ve been doing because their wealth allows them to make massive political contributions. That’s why our government hasn’t passed any meaningful legislation since the 2008 crash to regulate the financial industry. The political clout these corporations have is overriding any needed change. The retort that we could vote out our congressmen is a hollow dream since they are financed so well by these corporations. No one stands a chance against the almighty dollar that runs Washington and Wall Street.
The protesters are the real Americans trying to rise up and have their voice heard. Corporate greed is ruining our country. Surely there must be some executives who realize that they need the public for their long-term success. I certainly agree with those who say we need to change the way Washington works, so it will be more beholden to the people than the corporations. The Occupy movement is a good start.