Monday, October 3, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Offers Hope For American Autumn

Finally, finally, a few have stepped forward.

From the Lower Manhattan base camp they called Liberty Square, the original name for Zuccotti Park before it was rechristened in 2006 after a corporate CEO, Occupy Wall Street's marchers Saturday fanned out onto the Brooklyn Bridge, tying up traffic for a couple hours and declaring that the three-week old protest against the effects of rampant plutocracy had truly arrived.

Organized through social media as had been the Arab Spring, the originally tiny gathering mustered enough support to get 700 protesters arrested on John and Washington Roebling's noble neo-Gothic edifice.

Occupy Wall Street protests have spread to Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and were shooting for Memphis, TN, Allentown, PA, Hilo, HI, Mason City, IA, Mobile, AL, Little Rock, AR, and Santa Fe, NM.

The group, spawned by Adbusters and US Day of Rage, Thursday issued it's Declaration of Occupancy through it's self-proclaimed General Assembly, including a pretty comprehensive list of grievances. The General Assembly promised a list of demands would be forthcoming, although horizontally-organized organizations tend to be disorganized enough they often didn't follow through in any organized way.

Hopefully, that list of demands would bear in mind the engine of the massive disequilibrium that has destabilized civilization was the massive concentration of wealth into the hands of the very few. As New York University's Nouriel "Dr. Doom" Roubini recently pointed out, "Karl Marx had it right. At some point, capitalism can self-destroy itself. That's because you cannot keep on shifting income from labor to capital without not having an excess capacity and a lack of aggregate demand."

Roubini's frightening the natives and earning himself a right-wing lambasting for mentioning Marx notwithstanding, the economist who predicted the '08 market crash was just stating what most economists not getting a paycheck from Rupert Murdoch knew.

The present social and economic catastrophe reflected in OWS's list of grievances was apparently what capitalism looked like as it self-destructed. Whenever the tipping point occurred, it was apparently around the time 84% of America's wealth ended up in the hands of 20% of its people. More importantly, it was apparently around the time the poorest 40% of Americans ended up having to get by splitting three-tenths of one percent of the nation's wealth.

For thirty years, America slashed income taxes on its wealthy and its big corporations, over-incentivizing bottom line profits, leading to cost-slashing mergers, acquisitions, staff and plant consolidations, union-busting, outsourcing, and offshoring. Corporations became less interested in making and selling things than in trading proprietary investment portfolios.

In the past, businesses needed American workers to operate their plants and offices, and needed American consumers to buy their products. Changing tax structures over-emphasized profits and eliminated the consequences of eroding indigenous skill-sets and buying power. Production and profits were plentiful over the horizon, as companies incrementally combined operations, slashed payrolls, moved operations first from union-friendly states to right-to-work-states, then overseas to a Japan, then a Taiwan, then a Thailand, then an Indonesia, then China.

"As mass production has to be accompanied by mass consumption, mass consumption, in turn, implies a distribution of provide men with buying power equal to the amount of goods and services offered by the nation's economic machinery. Instead of achieving that kind of distribution, a giant suction pump had...drawn into a few hands an increasing portion of currently produced wealth...By taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied to themselves the kind of effective demand...that would justify a reinvestment of their capital accumulations," said Marriner Eccles. Eccles wasn't a Marxist pinko, but the Federal Reserve Board's chair from 1934 to 1948. And, he was referring to the Great Depression. Which explained the sexist reference to men's buying power.

In 1926, the top income tax rate went from 46% to 25%, creating Marriner Eccles' giant suction pump.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration created their giant Suction Pump 2.0 by slashing the top tax rate first from 70% to 50%, then from 50% to 28%.

Between the Roosevelt and Reagan years, America jumped its top income tax rate first to 63%, then 79%, then over 90% for the war, then down to 70%, and saw history's greatest period of growth and prosperity. Certainly, the Right loved to go on about how Roosevelt's alphabet soup of economic stimulus programs, from the CCC to the TVA to the WPA, didn't pull America out of the Great Depression, and how it was World War II that finally hauled the economy out of the doldrums. But, the Right hated mentioning that World War II didn't curtail government stimulus, but put it on steroids.

Roosevelt didn't cut government spending because Dubya Dubya Two interrupted tonight's episode of The Shadow. Instead, the federal government went out and bought 297,000 aircraft, including 12,731 B-17s and 18,482 B-24s. They went out and bought 86,000 tanks, including 49,234 M-4 Shermans. They bought 193,000 artillery pieces. They bought two million trucks.

They bought 23 aircraft carriers, and 200 submarines, and 300 destroyers, and 600 PT boats, and 1,000 Landing Ship Tanks, and 3,200 Liberty and Victory ships.

They bought rifles and mortars and machine guns, light and heavy. They bought ammo clips and ammo belts and ammo cans. They bought bandoliers, panniers, flashlights, combat boots, and cool leather jackets for pilots and bomber crews. They bought uniforms, shoulder patches, helmets, bayonets, parachutes, backpacks, duffle bags, frying pans, lip balm, camoflage paint, c-rations, k-rations, and dog tags. They bought bullets and shells and bombs and mines and rockets and torpedoes, many of which could only be used once.

They bought a whole Manhattan Project to invent and build nuclear weapons.

Then, seeing how World War II had trashed the global neighborhood, the federal government rebuilt Europe and Japan, and sent an entire generation of Americans to college or vocational training on the GI Bill. They built the Interstate Freeway System, plus state highways, county roads, suburban interchanges, city streets, bridges, dams, levees, schools, libraries, city halls, opera houses, museums, and urban redevelopments (some of which ended up pretty nasty). They bought polio shots and lunches and band classes and gym classes and driver's ed for another whole generation of kids.

The federal government ponied up cash to develop the technology that created computers, cell phones, and the Internet. They bought a whole National Aeronautics and Space Administration to put human beings on the moon.

And, the 70% income tax rate didn't keep anyone from looking good on Mad Men.

Instead, the 70% tax rate kept jobs in America, and created value in every Americans' work. Factory workers, warehouse workers, longshoremen, cooks, bartenders, clerks, secretaries (not yet admins) and stewardesses(not yet airline flight attendants) enjoyed middle class lives promising home ownership, two cars, college for the kids, and tickets to lower stand box seats at Yankee Stadium, all without going into hock up to their eyeballs for all eternity.

People didn't even need credit cards until the seventies.

Then, Ronald Reagan earned the adulation of plutocrats eveywhere by destroying everything America had created in exchange for unlimited executive compensations, and the ice sculptures and corporate jets that came with them.

It was slashing the progressive income tax rates that concentrated the all the wealth and destroyed the manufacturing base and busted up the middle class. It was dismantling progressive income tax that enabled the very few to buy up all the lawyers and lobbyists and politicians and crushed all opposition to their omnipotent reign.

It was destroying progressive income tax that destroyed a democratic America built for the many, and replaced it with a plutocratic America coddling the few.

And renamed Liberty Square for a corporate CEO.

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