Taking It to Wall Street

For those of us old enough to remember our successful protests for civil rights, women’s right and against the Vietnam War, the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters make us proud of our children. I’m just glad to see them spending time outside, away from their idiotic video games. Much of the mass media and many Republican officeholders have tried to ridicule this seismic event by claiming the protesters are “hippies” and do not have a coherent message. Let me spell it out. The message is there must be a new set of economic rights in this country. As for being “hippies,” that would be groovy. There’s no reason social reform can’t be fun.

If this is the beginning of an echo of the 1960s, I think we should remember our history and learn from that experience. The players have changed, but the play is the same. This is a revolt against the status quo. Those trying to protect their disproportionate economic advantages will use the same playbook Nixon used back in the day. The media and politicians on the plutocrats’ payroll will fear-monger the message that change is dangerous, they will claim the silent majority is against change and the police will be used to intimidate those in the street. We’ve seen this before and know it is futile. When the majority finds its voice and supports those in the street, institutional injustice falls.

So how do we revive the middle class in this country when we live in a competitive global economy? Capital will always seek the lowest cost of production and the highest profits. Right now, those opportunities are located elsewhere in the world. Those advantages will be diminished in China and India as they were in Japan when their workers demanded a better standard of living. Those countries are already investing big in Africa and outsourcing jobs to Vietnam.

Lowering wages for labor and eliminating jobs works in the short term and has corporate America currently swimming in 2 trillion dollars of unproductive cash. It’s a siege mentality that has the lords of capital ordering supplies into their fortresses and leaving the expendable serfs to fend for themselves. Whoever says defense is a good offense has had a losing record. Austerity is a defeatist’s strategy.

On the other side of the political spectrum, simple wealth redistribution is the Donner party stuck in a snowstorm, sharing their supplies until they run out and then eating each other. A bit of higher taxation of the rich will not harm the economy, would reduce the deficit and would create a greater sense of unity and fairness. Many if not most of the wealthiest 1% already agree the Bush tax cuts for them has been a disaster and are asking to be taxed more. Former corporate raider Asher Edelman, the model for Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street,” is among the protesters out in the street. A tax increase on the wealthy has the blessings of Warren Buffet and even bears his name. As is so often the case, a misguided republican ideology is in the way of practicality and logic.

We can all agree we need growth for more Americans to prosper. Growth is the offspring of innovation and we are the best in the world at coming up with new ideas. The problem is, once again, the status quo. Too often, our corporate lions eat their young. Unlike parents who know they are going to die someday, businesses think they are immortal and do not nurture those destined to replace them. They are industrial child abusers and young businesses need to be protected by “social services.” Government can be the good foster parent innovative industries need to grow strong. We did not rely on private enterprise alone to build the trans-continental railroad, the interstate highway system, the thousands of bridges, the dams, the schools, the space program and the Internet. The free market is a wild animal that only does useful work when it is trained and held in check by the reins of government; remember the robber barons?

Government has the tools to get private capital off the sidelines and back into the economy. Here is my slogan for a sign I’d carry into the street. “Wall Street, use it or lose it.” By writing laws to limit stock buy-backs, allowing shareholders to limit executive compensation, limiting speculation by not allowing excessive leverage, cooperating with other governments to eliminate tax havens and by creating incentives for training employees and investing in research and development, corporations can be guided to serve the greater good for more of our people.

So, America’s children, we applaud your protest of Wall Street excesses and your demands for your financial rights; however, just as we changed the course of history by protesting a war and demanding equal rights for all, the key was to change the course of government. Those in Congress who protect the status quo of welfare for the wealthy are holding us all back and must be defeated at the polls. The kids on Wall Street need to move their protest to Washington.