“The forces in a capitalist society, if left unchecked, tend to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.” - Jawaharlal Nehru
For the past six weeks protesters have camped in Zuccotti Park and surrounds, in the Wall Street financial district of New York and have identified themselves as the “Occupy Wall Street”
movement. The long-running protest was initiated by “Adbusters” a Canadian activist group, which drew its inspiration from the Arab Spring movement, especially Cairo’s Tahrir Square protests. The slogan of the protest is: “We are the 99%” and refers to the difference in wealth between the top 1% and the rest of the citizens of the United States.
In these dire times for the economy which once led the world, in the country that was the world’s richest and with the highest quality of life, “Occupy Wall Street” draws attention to the rapidly declining living standards of the great majority of USA citizens. While the USA led the world and life was good for the “average” American citizen, Wall Street represented opportunity, sharp business acumen, free enterprise and all the benefits of capitalism that everyone could be part of. At this time of financial crisis where the “average” American is suffering, Wall Street has become the symbolic centre of an economy based on limitless greed and speculation, where the select few are exploiting the system in order to grow their wealth at the expense of almost everyone else.
The protesters are objecting to social and economic inequality in present-day USA, they wish to draw attention to corporate greed, and the power and influence of corporations, particularly from the financial service sector, and of lobbyists, over government. By October 9th, similar demonstrations were either ongoing or had been held in 70 major cities and over 600 communities in the USA including the estimated 100,000 people who demonstrated on October 15. Internationally, other “Occupy” protests have modelled themselves after “Occupy Wall Street”, in over 900 cities worldwide.
The “Occupy Wall Street” protesters include persons of a variety of political orientations, including liberals, political independents, anarchists, socialists, libertarians, and environmentalists. When the protest started the majority of the demonstrators were young. As the protest gathered momentum, however, the age of the protesters became more diverse, mostly related to the use of social networks. Religious beliefs are diverse as well. Some news organisations have compared the protest to a left-leaning version of the Tea Party protests. Some leftist academics and activists expressed concern that it may become co-opted by the Democratic Party. An October 12–16 poll found that 67% of New York City voters agreed with the protesters and 87% agreed with their right to protest.
The indignation of the American in the street has at last found an outlet. The situation in the USA was a boil that has been growing and becoming more and more inflamed as it collected pus. At some stage the boil had to point and discharge the pus. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement is protesting against the obscene criminal scandals that virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street was embroiled in, and which impoverished millions and collectively destroyed trillions of dollars of the world’s wealth. And nobody went to gaol…
Nobody went to gaol, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people. Not a single executive who ran the companies that were responsible for, and cashed in on, the phony financial boom was punished. This was an industry-wide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities. Companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling. Furthermore, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions and not one of them has faced time behind bars…
The economic situation in the USA has been festering for decades. It has now reached a crisis point. Increasing joblessness, declining living standards, escalating numbers of foreclosures, mounting student loan debts, huge income inequality, exploitation, fraud, theft, increased incidence of flagrant white-collar crime, scams, have all contributed to the ordinary people of the USA deciding to do something to actively reclaim their lives and dignity. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has gathered immense support worldwide. Many world leaders have openly voiced their support and have sent a strong message to the USA to “get its own house in order” before it interferes in the internal politics and economies of other countries. Numerous protests in major cities around the world have been organised as a show of solidarity with the 99% of the American populace that is protesting.
The quote with which I started this blog post is significant as it states that the source of woes is “capitalism left unchecked”. This is very much the case in the USA where in the name of democracy, liberty and free enterprise, capitalism was left unchecked. Bertrand Russell says: “Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.” The rich justify their greed and riches by saying that everyone else in the population has the same opportunities as they have in order to become wealthy. That is the system for which the USA has been seen as the land of golden opportunity. Yet, is this strictly true? The present situation and the financial crisis seem to suggest otherwise.
Capitalists are guilty of unequal sharing of riches and opportunity. Socialists wish to equally apportion misfortunes to everyone. That is the other extreme, of course, as Churchill pointed out. Hard work requires good reward. Some people should earn more than others because they work harder or they have invested in education and/or training for many years that makes them experts in carrying out their work. Excessive rewards for minimal work or no work is objectionable. Economic fraud, theft and scams are criminal. Criminals, even white-collar ones, deserve to be punished with the full force of the law and deserve the public’s scorn and derision for their contemptible acts. The protesters of “Occupy Wall Street” are after justice and the return of true democracy to the USA.