Monday, October 3, 2011

Occupy Wall Street expanding to Main Street

The American Spring

What seemed at first like a small and isolated fringe movement in New York City is now popping up across our nation, even in the conservative heartland of Kansas City. Meghan Whalen, a 30-year-old single mother says she got involved with Occupy KC because of inequality. “We’re not going to come out of here tonight and say, ‘OK, guys, we figured it out. This is the one thing why we’re here.’ Because there isn’t one reason. That’s just the truth. People who can’t swallow that and handle that, I’m sorry. There isn’t one reason. There just isn’t,” she said.

She is right. There are many overlapping reasons that at times seem so convoluted and twisted together that making sense almost seems impossible. But as Whalen stated so well it isn’t necessary to figure it all out to realize that something is very wrong, not only in Kansas City but across the globe. What began with the Arab Spring is now metastasizing to everyone’s spring and what is common to all of these is greed, anger and an unwillingness to just grin and bare it any longer.

The “jobs, jobs, jobs” mantra has become a clarion call for survival falling on the deaf ears of politicians and “leaders” of industry who are immune to the suffering of those impacted by their own bad decisions. The wealth of the world is progressively more and more concentrated into the hands of fewer and fewer at the same time that the ranks of the chronically poor are expanding. These two trends are not unrelated. The sucking machine of greed is depleting the lifeblood required for meaningful solutions.

The pathway to economic contraction is creating a worldwide imbalance with fewer and fewer able to meet the financial needs of nations and more and more in need. In the modern era the gap between the haves and the have-nots has never been greater than it is today. The middle class has been the tax revenue backbone of contemporary societies, which has enabled stability and economic expansion. The middle class is rapidly becoming an artifact of the past, the ranks of the chronic poor are expanding and wealth is increasingly concentrated at the top of the socio/economic pyramid. No economic system can continue for very long with such imbalance. This disparity is clearly illustrated by looking at the distribution of assets in the United States. As of four years ago 62% of business equity and 61% of financial securities were held by the top 1% of the population. In the same timeframe 73% of debt was owned by the bottom 90% of the population, leaving just 5% of debt owned by the top 1%.

This imbalance has resulted in close to 85% of total wealth in our country concentrated in the hands of the top 20% and so little owned by the bottom 20% that it is nearly impossible to measure (.1%). When the gap between compensation for heads of industry is compared to pay for the people they employ it is understandable how such concentration is happening. This is not unexpected when you consider the following—In 1950 the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck compared to the average worker’s paycheck stood at 30 to 1. Since 2000 that ratio has exploded to 300-500 to 1. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the Middle Class is gradually sinking into the abyss.

 These conditions of imbalance and injustice are having profound effects across the economic and political landscape. It is blatantly obvious that some groups must meet the financial needs of our country. The tax base is disappearing, needs are expanding rapidly due to continuing war financing, growing costs associated with the justice system, costs of entitlement programs (social security and Medicare) are about to leap into the stratosphere as the baby boomers reach the age of qualification, natural disasters are coming one after another in rapid succession, unemployment compensation, and other contributing factors too many to identify. In the meantime vast amounts of money are needed to finance new technologies which would insure our competitive edge in the world market place, pay for the education and training of our population to compete in that market place and slow down (and hopefully stop) global climate devastation which is making this entire scenario worse.

The climate in Washington has become so divisive that any clear-headed reconciliation seems beyond the pale of possibility. The segment of the population who can meet these burgeoning financial needs refuses to do so and the traditional source (the middle class) can no longer. To counter this rising tide, the wealthy, in ever growing numbers, are moving their assets off-shore and playing other financial shell games to avoid paying more taxes. To avert financial meltdown by defaulting on our federal obligations, our elected leaders have chosen, as they always have, to delay, procrastinate and push the dirty decision making down the road onto someone else's plate. In the meantime the opposing forces have both pledged to not cooperate but instead play Russian Roulette with our heads as the target.

Taken as a whole these intertwined conditions have metastasized to the point that no person, however intelligent or clever, can ever hope to unwind them. This complex perspective is what Meghan Whalen and millions of others sense but can’t define, and unless we find the source that is leading to this entangled Gordian Knot there is little reason for hope. What is that source and how can we find it? Without being evasive of coy, I am now in the final phases of publishing my next book, which lays out the case. It will be available for sale sometimes in the next couple of months. The title is “The Non-identity Crisis: The crisis that endangers our world.”
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