Reading about the Occupy Wall Street marches in New York (and around the world) has made me cautiously optimistic. These are people marching against things that we are all upset about — the injustices that the political and economic establishment have been perpetrating on the vast majority of the rest of us. Hopefully the protesters will translate their anger and frustration into demand for real changes like:
- Demanding serious lobbying and campaign finance reform so that politicians don’t inevitably and automatically become slaves to a few big and rich interests and then promptly ignore the rest of us in order to get re-elected. The Citizens United case will make things just get worse in the future.
- Demanding stricter regulation of Wall Street, especially complicated instruments like credit default obligations (CDSs) that do not add to the overall economy and helped get us into this mess in the first place.
- Demanding a fanatical focus on jobs by federal and state governments. This means that the government will have to spend money. That’s OK — improving our lives is the point of a government. When the crisis finally ends, we’ll then have to get serious about paying off the debt.
- Demanding that the government invest big in the safety net to take care of those of us who lose our jobs or assets as we head into a possible second-dip of the recession. This includes job training, financial aid, healthcare subsidies, and more money for food stamps and mental and physical health programs, plus many more.
- Demanding better funding for education and research because our education and scientific research competitiveness are slipping. Also, these are absolutely vital for our long-term economic stability and strength.
- Demanding an end to the filibuster to get rid of some of the outrageous logjam in Congress, so that maybe the people we elect can actually get something done instead of being held hostage by Senators defending corporate interests.
Wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands while the rest of us, even the upper middle class, are having a hard time moving forward. The Occupy Wall Street movement might be a response to the Tea Party’s confused, inflexible, and very harmful economic priorities. Americans who are rightly frustrated with our worsening economic situation no longer have faith in the extreme and distractable Tea Party that held the government hostage during the debt negotiations. People want something that actually answers their concerns.
The Tea Party was funded from the start by some of the same extremely wealthy people who have contributed to the injustices of unequal opportunity that we all now face (the Koch brothers are an obvious example). Because it is funded and publicized by an ideologically extreme, super-wealthy elite, the Tea Party quickly took a turn toward ideological rigidity and wedge issues that benefit almost no one in these tough economic times: gun control, religious morality, and stoking racial fears.
But the worst of the Tea Party’s rigid ideology, in terms of its consequences for our economic prosperity, is the inflexible notion that the government should be drastically cut and that eradicating the debt is somehow a bigger priority in a deep recession than generating jobs. When the majority of economists strongly oppose a movement’s main, inflexible economic goal, then you have to question whether to trust it.
Occupy Wall Street seems to be the only genuine movement for change now. I wish them luck.