Occupy Wall Street – Yes It’s About Handouts

I don’t pretend to speak for the Occupy Wall Street protesters, but I think I can respond to some of the critics of this movement.

Conservative commentators and Republican presidential candidates tell us that Occupy Wall Street is all about class warfare. They say the protesters hate businesses and want to punish rich people. They characterize the movement as a bunch of unemployed deadbeats asking for handouts. Handouts to the poor, handouts to the unemployed, handouts to people on the verge of losing their homes.

It’s true that this movement is, in part, about handouts, but it’s not the Occupy Wall Street protesters who are seeking handouts.

One of the problems with our country today is that politicians are getting too many handouts from big corporations in the form of PAC money and gifts from lobbyists. In return for these handouts, the same politicians turn around and give generous handouts to those corporations in the form of special tax cuts, subsidies, reduced regulations and corporate bailouts.

Politicians then use their massive campaign chests to flood the airwaves and convince voters that they’re working to benefit all of us.

According to a report released by the Government Accountability Office, two out of every three United States corporations paid no federal income taxes from 1998 through 2005. [i]

As it sits now, corporations have far more influence in our government than the vast majority of people do. As a result, for the past 30 years our government has been working to benefit the very rich at the expense of everyone else. Coincidentally, Congress is largely comprised of people in the top 1%.  Seventy percent of the U.S. Senate and nearly half of the House of Representatives, are millionaires.

According to a 2009 article in Forbes magazine, the wealthiest 400 Americans, who collectively made over $105 billion, saw their average tax rates drop from 30% in 1995, to just 17% by 2008. But some politicians still think that’s too much and want to eliminate the Capital Gains Tax, which will result in many millionaires paying zero percent income taxes.

A July, 28, 2008 Wall Street Journal article stated that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans have seen their income rise faster than any other group in the country, yet their tax rate has fallen faster than anyone else’s.

I think the Occupy Wall Street protesters want corporations to be profitable, but the drive to maximize profits has lead to such excessive greed that many corporate CEOs and top executives are not satisfied with salaries of just a few million dollars.  High ranking executives often make tens of millions (and sometimes hundreds of millions) of dollars which siphons away revenue so the corporation appears to make only modest profits. These modest profits are used as a reason for limiting the pay of most other workers in the company.

From 1992 to 2005, the average CEO saw his or her pay rise by 186.2%, while the median worker saw wages rise by 7.2%. [ii]

In 1980, average CEO pay was 42 times that of the average blue collar worker’s pay. By 2010, CEO pay was 343 times the pay of average workers. The United States is the only country in the world that allows such a huge wage disparity. [iii]

I believe the Occupy Wall Street movement is not about redistributing wealth. It’s about stopping the redistribution of wealth that has been going on for the past 30 years.

We all tend to accept that some people will be richer than others.  The old saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats” suggests that when the economy improves, it should benefit everyone, not just the very rich.  But what we’ve seen in the past 30 years is that the bottom 99 percent seldom benefit when the economy does well. Nearly all of the increase in our country’s wealth has gone to those who are already very wealthy. This has ceased to be the land of opportunity for most Americans.

But whenever we point out these facts, we’re accused of “Class Warfare”.  Apparently its only class warfare when you want to benefit the bottom 99% of the population, but not when you give a special tax breaks or subsidies that only go to the wealthiest 1% of Americans.

This is not about communism, socialism, or class warfare. It’s not about soaking the rich or redistributing wealth to the poor. The Occupy Wall Street movement is about returning America to a system where hard working people in the bottom 99% have a chance to benefit in equal proportion to the top one percent.

This is about making America the land of opportunity again.