#occupywallstreet #occupyboston – Part Four: A Work in Progress or Mission Accomplished?

I don’t know how it began. I’ve seen AdBusters magazine but I admit I’ve never opened one up. I’m really hazy on when it began too. I’m a johnny-come-lately to the #Occupy movement, and if I hadn’t spent the past three to four years playing catch-up in economics and political economy, I’d probably be pissed off when a “Breaking News” segment about events taking place at an #Occupy site (which probably would only have been the result of a police raid) interrupted the ballgame or movie I was watching just like everyone else. As it turned out, targeting Wall Street was perfectly tailored to my concerns because in a quiet way, I’ve been examining some of the basic assumptions underlying our corporate economy for years myself.

So I don’t think buzz over #Occupy Wall Street and wealth inequality goes far enough, but that’s for another post. It is, nonetheless, a good place to start.

I have, on quite a few occasions, told tweeps that the #Occupy movement would trade the tents and sleeping bags in a heartbeat for CNBC, WSJ, Bloomberg’s cable channel and BusinessWeek, CNN Money, Barrons, and all the news slots devoted to the daily market news. A huge media behemoth devoted to, as the ads during the 70’s when individual investing began to take hold used to say, “making your money work for you.”  (As opposed to actually going out and earning a wage and surviving on that alone. In America, more than anything else, it matters where your income comes from.) All of which was concerned with “Your Money,” the insane antics of Washington and the European debt crisis, or whatever market moving news of the day turned out to be, along with business friendly commentary from the likes of Larry (“Lawrence of America”) Kudlow, who had at one point two prime time slots on CNBC. #Occupy has tents, and the intention of staying until . . . something happens.

Because that’s what we’re up against. Maybe not an especially corrupt media, but a profit-driven media whose major outlets are all publicly traded corporations themselves, staffed with people unwilling to question the neoliberal paradigm. Questioning the central tenets of your employer is not a good career move. And for good reason. Just ask Ashleigh Banfield, Phil Donahue, Keith Olbermann and Cenk Ugyur. Before the #Occupy movement, the odd story about some CBO report finding that income inequality has grown in the US would have been lucky to make it to the back pages of any newspaper, and would be bumped from any television news program in favor of any story on Michael Jackson, a Kardashian drama or hero-saves-kitten-stuck-in-a-tree segment.

News for profit hardly ever tells us what we need to know, and that’s a huge problem for a large, diverse and complex democracy. Again, news-for-profit along with granting corporations Fourteenth Amendment rights are topics for other posts.

However, everybody’s talking now, and that at least, is the #Occupy Movement’s great achievement thus far. Whereas prior to #Occupy, business news pretty much confined itself to what concerned the markets (unemployment, Euro debt, the odd piece of tax legislation, etc.) the wires and airwaves now hum with debate over wealth inequality in the US. I had thought to include a quick precis of each article, but as you see, the headlines speak for themselves:

In Support of the #Occupy movement:

Oligarchy, American Style Paul Krugman, New York Times
Bloomberg refuted Paul Krugman, New York Times
Inequality Trends In One Picture Paul Krugman, New York Times
Merchants of Doubt Paul Krugman, New York Times
Fix income inequality, fix the economy Robert Reich
More on the Myth of Income Equality Ryan Chittum, Columbia Journalism Review
America wakes to the din of inequity Financial Times Editorial Board
Occupy this: Six culprits for economic injustice and inequality in America Alec MacGillis Washington Post
Income Gap Becomes Politicians’ Latest Battleground Mara Liasson, NPR
Defending the Indefensible: David Brooks on Income Inequality Richard Brodsky, Huffington Post
America’s Primal Scream Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times
Are They Really That Good? James Kwak, The Baseline Scenario
The Bush Tax Cuts and the 99 Percent James Kwak, The Baseline Scenario
Can Tax Cuts Pay for Themselves? Simon Johnson, New York Times
The Hill Poll: Fears about inequality in income grow Bernie Becker, The Hill
Memo to “one-percenters”: Look out your limos John Cassidy, CNN/Fortune
Bernanke to Occupy Wall Street: ‘I get it’ Money & Company blog, Los Angeles Times
Graph of the day: Not exactly trickling down Michael Diedrich, Twin Cities Daily Planet
Why the U.S. is No Longer the Land of Opportunity Stephen Gandel, Time
What Ever Happened To Upward Mobility? Rana Foroohar, Time
Washington’s rich, but the 1% are elsewhere Democracy In America blog, The Economist
A rising population is not the problem – growing inequality is Andrew Simms, The Guardian
Income gap slips into GOP talk Mark Cogan & Jake Sherman, Politico
The Ideological Fantasies of Inequality Deniers Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine

It is not all Paul Krugman you’ll notice. Some pro-business outlets like The Economist, and CNN/Fortune Magazine have allowed at least some supporting mentions of the #Occupy movement. All but one link is from a major American national or international news outlet.

In Opposition:

Economic inequality is the wrong issue Michael Gerson, Washington Post
The Wrong Inequality David Brooks, New York Times
Real Grievances Fuel Occupy Wall Street Protests: Albert R. Hunt Albert R. Hunt, Bloomberg
Kinsley: Iron-Clad Demands for Occupy Wall Street Michael Kinsley, Bloomberg
Occupy Wall Street Gets a Reaction Dan Beicke, Bloomberg
CBO Report Shows Rich Got Richer, As Did Most Americans: View Editorial Board of Bloomberg BusinessWeek
The Luck of the 1% Alex Planes, the Motley Fool
Attention, Protestors: You’re Probably Part of the 1% Morgan Housel, The Motley Fool
For liberals, income inequality is the new global warming James PethoKoukis, The Enterprise Blog, American Enterprise Institute

Everyone in the #Occupy movement has their individual motives for participating and supporting the occupiers, and it is the same with those who oppose it. Some try and blame Obama, others characterize it as an underhanded attack by the Democratic Party (nothing could be further from the truth), a George Soros conspiracy, ACORN’s last gasp, a Marxist insurgency and some express the quite valid argument that government is not the solution. There is a lot of projecting of individual perceptions and exorcising of personal demons: here, here, here, here, here and here. Just a sample. The most only serious arguments in opposition present other statistical portraits showing that indeed, income grew for all quintiles. A fair argument, though I don’t know how much of the middle class feels that they’re better off than they were a decade or two ago.

So who is left talking about the European debt crisis? CNBC pretty much cornered the market on that. Well, the banks are demanding money, but then, that’s pretty much all they’ve done for thirty years.

A note on the links: This is really just a tiny, tiny fraction of the buzz that the #Occupy movement has generated. I’ve tried to restrict my choices to mainstream national and international media, though the Twin Cities Daily Planet link is included just to illustrate that the #Occupy movement is playing in Heartland America as well. The opposition links were far fewer in number and the better material is mainly restricted to WSJ, Bloomberg BusinessWeek and AEI, all fairly predictable outlets supporting the economic liberties argument (regardless of the social cost, those pesky negative externalities again). In the one and only #occupyboston GA I attended, it was stated that we intended to “start a dialog.”

As far as starting the debate, I’d have to say, “Mission accomplished.” But so much more than employment and wealth inequality needs to be addressed.

Reputation risk has come back to haunt an unregulated Wall Street, and with a history including Bankers Trust, MF Global, Enron, Goldman Sachs, and UBS (twice! A tax evasion scandal as well as a separate trading scandal), one wonders why anyone would consider trusting their hard earned money to anyone on Wall Street.

Oh. Wall Street managed to bribe convince Washington into granting a tax deferral on retirement contributions invested through Wall Street banks and investment houses. Find the charts yourself. By any measure, PE ratio, volume traded, index price, etc, financial markets began to take off only after taxes and regulation were relaxed, as well as a steady stream of America’s wages began flowing directly into Wall Street trading houses. The other side of the coin, and a perfect illustration of inflation, that practically nobody else has noticed.


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