[Article by Christopher Bernard]
What Do the Occupiers Want?
The news media seem confused about what the Occupiers of Wall Street, San Francisco and other cities around America, and now the world, have been demanding. The Occupiers are mad – they’re mad at Wall Street, and mad at the rich, and mad at Republicans and Democrats who have coddled the rich for decades. The pundits and reporters say the protests are all wonderful and signs of a vital and energized democracy – but what in the heck do these people really want?
Jeffery Sachs recently published a new book called “The Price of Civilization.”
Well, the answer is simple: They want the top 1% to pay their fair share of the price of civilization.
For the last thirty years the richest Americans, whether individuals or corporations, have taken for themselves everything they can get their hands on. They have not shared the spectacular gains our economy has made either with the people who work for them, or to pay for the collective actions that make up government, the services we all use, including police protection, transportation systems and the military.
This has resulted from the hyper-individualistic Reaganism that has dominated our national life since the 1980s. But Americans are not merely a collection of individuals seeking to maximize their returns. America is a society, not just an economy, and a society functions well only when everyone pitches in to make it work. The middle class has been doing its part from the very beginning, and over the last few decades has borne the brunt of the costs of our deepening economic and political dysfunctions.
We who support the Occupiers are largely middle class, and we admit we bear some responsibility for the predatoriness of the rich. Many of us assumed, falsely, that the benefits of economic growth would eventually “trickle down” to us if we just worked hard and kept our noses clean – and many of us fooled ourselves into thinking we’d be the lucky ones and end up in that upper one percent, even though the iron laws of arithmetic make that impossible for all or even most members of any society.
The Great Recession has been a hard lesson. We’ve woken up. We suddenly realize we’ve been had – and largely as a result of our own fault. So we declare that the holiday for the wealthy to do whatever they want, whenever they want, is now over. Trickle down had its chance to prove itself. Thirty years is plenty of time to test an economic theory. And it has failed in a spectacular way that everyone can see.
It’s time for the richest among us to do what the rest of us have been doing all our lives: pay their fair share, in wages and taxes, so that everyone who works hard and does the right thing has a fighting chance to benefit from the prosperity our extraordinarily productive society continues to make and share with the world.
We do not want to destroy the rich, we do not want to hurt the rich. We want them to thrive – and behave with discipline and decency as the rest of us do. Our models of the wealthy are people like Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. They are heroes for some of us – because they have realized that, with great wealth, as with great power, comes great responsibility to our fellow human beings.
We all learned in kindergarten not to keep everything for ourselves – to share and not be greedy. All we are asking is for the rich to go to kindergarten – and some day maybe they too will grow up, as the rest of us have had to do.
You’ll feel a lot better when you do. You’ll realize you didn’t actually need that extra $10 million after all – but our kids, our schools, our hospitals, our roads and bridges, our elderly, our disabled could be saved from misery on a fraction of that amount – and you’ll be repaid ten times over for your investment in the society that made your success possible.
The Republicans call the wealthy “job creators.” But the truth is we’re all job creators. No one can create jobs without workers, no matter how rich they are. You need a pool of people who are healthy, well-educated, trained, and ready to work, otherwise you haven’t created jobs but only positions. And our social wealth, our wealth as a whole, is needed to create those workers. Nobody succeeds on his or her own. We all had help and owe other people at least partly for our success.
Margaret Thatcher, the doyenne of the world now collapsing around us, was wrong: there’s such a thing as society. We all contribute to society, and all share in its troubles and its joys – and we do it in one way or another, whether we like it or not. It’s what makes us human.
So we say to the wealthy: be a patriot and pitch in. Do your part. Join us. Pay your fair share. Accept your common humanity with the 99% who make less than a zillion dollars a year. You’ll be glad you did, and gain more than you ever dreamed of losing.