Insights & Advice


The American Autumn

Occupy Wall Street, contrary to press reports, did not “come from nowhere.” The American grassroots movement that has spread to over 40 cities is a natural progression of protests that began in the Arab world this spring.

Dont Tread on Me

But don’t try to compare what is happening today on Wall Street or in D.C. to the on-going struggle for basic human rights in the Middle East, nor to the riots in Greece over their debt crisis, or the seemingly senseless rampage of young people through the neighborhoods of London this summer. The one palpable thread that weaves its way throughout the masses in this global awakening of civil disobedience is that these protestors are convinced that their governments are no longer listening to them.

One recurring complaint that I have heard ever since Occupy Wall Street descended upon Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan on September 17th is that the protestors cannot articulate exactly what it is they are protesting against. To me, it is as clear as the sky above. It is the same reason our forefathers held the first Tea Party in Boston. Put in historic terms, these modern day revolutionaries are protesting “taxation without representation.” That no matter how bad the situation becomes for the majority of Americans, the status quo will remain the same 

They argue that there is now an entrenched and extremely dangerous liason between Corporate America, Wall Street and our political system that threatens our economic and political freedom. If you have been reading my columns over the last few years, you may have picked up the same message.

 I have often pointed to the excesses of Wall Street and railed against the practices of the financial sector. Occupy Wall Street and I share the same opinion of government bailouts that have done little but further enrich our nation’s bankers and brokers. Instead of lending out the billions of dollars they received in taxpayer money, the banks pocketed that money, speculated with that money and paid their executives huge bonuses with that money. The country narrowly avoided a second depression because of them and yet, how many of these miscreants have paid for their crimes?

This week we were told that two years after the recession, inflation-adjusted median household income fell 6.7% to $49,909. During the recession itself, household income fell 3.2% and yet American corporations are making record profits with record amounts of cash in their coffers. Yet, they refuse to hire new workers or even raise the salaries of those they employ.

 Whether we like it or not, the rich in this country have gotten richer and the rest of us have gotten poorer and it is a trend that appears to be accelerating.

The Occupy Wall Street movement calls us “the 99 percent”. They claim that the top one percent of Americans owns 40% of the nation’s wealth. They also argue that the gap between the 1% and the 99% is only going to grow wider. They are protesting (revolting may be a better word) in fear that the middle class in this country will be a thing of the past unless something is done.

The greed of Corporate America also figures prominently in their slogans and protest placards. But a corporation cannot feel greed since it is not human. It is an entity that is driven by only one principal–profit. It cannot, nor should it, be worried about things like humanity, kindness, fair play, a livable wage, etc. So, for example, when corporations are making historic record profits by demanding that their existing workers work longer hours for less money, fewer benefits and no raise or bonuses, it is simply following its stated objective, improving profits. Corporate executives will receive large bonuses to keep costs low and they know that with unemployment over 9% they can always replace workers who complain or protest.

There was a time in this country where the very same practices occurred. In an effort to protect themselves, workers organized and government regulated the worst of the excesses of corporation’s unbridled devotion to profit. That was then but now unions are a shadow of their former selves.

As for government, if the regulator is beholden to these same corporations, then the system no longer works. Although we, the great silent middle class, continue to pay taxes, continue to dutifully vote to “throw the bums out” and replace them with new bums, our views as to what is fair is no longer represented by our leaders.

Our system no longer works when politicians, in order to get elected, finance their campaigns by taking huge sums of money from the corporate sector. How can they do what is fair and equitable for us and at the same time regulate the hand that feeds them?

How different is that from those days when American colonists were taxed but ignored by a monarch who administered to the favored few residing in England?

   There is a growing frustration in this country. We work harder than ever, for less and yet we are told that everything that can be done is being done. Most of us are angry; some about the ecosystem, others about the two wars that are a decade old or our inability to get ahead or even find a job. There are plenty of us that are mad about all of the above and then some.

In my opinion, we are seeing the beginning of a revolt by the long suffering, long silent majority. We have a tradition of taking to the streets when our voices are not being heard, beginning with the American Revolution. Veterans of WWI marched for their pensions. The Middle Class marched during the Great Depression; Farmers marched to forestall foreclosure and food prices. Workers marched for the right to unionize, and women to vote. Today brave and motivated Americans are marching again, and I say it’s about time.  As long as their protests remain peaceful, count me among them.

Posted in Macroeconomics, The Retired Advisor