September 30, 2011 12:30 am
8 hours ago, we occupied the financial district of San Francisco, and marched past Wells Fargo, Charles Schwab, Bank of America, Chase, and the Fed’s West Coast outpost. All the marching left me with some time to think, and the topic for this article is why we protest.
My reason was written on my sign, but it was severely abbreviated…
Of the four points I’m going to touch on here, the first is sadness. We protest because we are sad.
We are sad because schools are being cut down at the knees when we need total education reform from kindergarden through graduate school.
We are sad because we see a justice system that is just as much an instrument of institutionalized racism as it is a tool to bring peace to our society. Google Troy Davis if you disagree. From arrest to injection, our justice system is broken and in need of urgent repair.
We are sad because we see those without health insurance being forced into bankruptcy for routine medical procedures.
Today’s consumer-citizen pays more in taxes (both public and private) than ever before in American history. We also save less money than ever before. Living paycheck to paycheck makes us sad.
Our country’s GDP to debt ratio is redlining, and our local governments are already going bankrupt. 85% of Americans are either “just getting by” or are “falling behind.” 1 in 6 Americans are hungry. Record numbers of homes are being foreclosed upon, often illegally by over-zealous banks.
We’re sad because for the first time, we’re going to have to start saving for our kids’ education before we’re done paying off our own, and because student loans are non-dischargeable through bankruptcy.
All while the winners in our grand meritocracy throw multimillion dollar parties and hoard wealth.
The second reason we protest has to do with focused sadness, sadness pointed in a particular direction, which I call anger. We are angry at a certain group of people – bank executives. What an innocent bunch.
When I was young, they taught us about terrible dictators that funneled wealth away from the people of their land and into their own accounts. They became rich by robbing the poor. Fortunately, these were brutal warlords in the global south – no threat to us.
But now we have CEOs who pay each other and therefore themselves, but pretend that their wages are set by the market. We have executives who funnel corporate profit (aka economic waste) into their own private accounts. What risk has a CEO taken in assuming that role? What labor has the CEO completed?
Yet somehow, those CEOs make hundreds of times more than they did when I was born in the mid 80s, and their wages have grown astronomically faster than inflation.
We’re angry because we see our government giving money to these tribal chieftain / CEO figures, really with no strings attached, no questions asked. And because this is a democracy after all, this money given by the government is really our money. Like a $16 trillion overdraft fee, and we can’t even dispute the transaction.
But when we walk up to Chase and chant about how they’ve been greedy, what do the workers in that particular Chase on that particular day have to do with what’s gone on? Why is our protest relevant to these poor folks who are basically just bystanders?
We’re not protesting Chase employees. 99% of America is on our side here, likely as are most Chase employees. We’re directing our anger on those who are responsible – executives.
The corporate executive should be criminally responsible for the actions of the corporation. It has to do with the confluence of responsibility and control - when the two are not in harmony, chaos follows. CEOs have total control, yet none of the responsibility. Losing doesn’t really hurt so much when you lose someone else’s money.
So while anger is an emotional response, it inspires the actual assignment of formal responsibility which we have here in point 3. When the executives accept their inflated paychecks, they accept the added responsibility.
Which brings us back to the question, why are we protesting?
My reasoning is that because my vote doesn’t count, I might as well protest. I’m disgusted at the idea that my economic vote, the one I exercise when I buy things, has more influence over our world than my democratic vote. I protest because my vote doesn’t matter. Maybe protesting doesn’t matter either, but it felt better to me than doing nothing.
And in the spirit of positive criticism, I offer up my solutions. In cost/benefit terms, these 3 are the best. Cheap changes, huge societal benefit.
3 Easy Fixes to the Economy
- Make student debt dischargeable by bankruptcy
- Start taxing the richest among us, including corporate executives. Hold corporate executives criminally responsible for the illegal action of their corporation.
- Fully integrate all levels and branches of government with the internet, shipping packages only when necessary. 99% of government activity could be performed on the internet. The government should be as efficient as Netflix.
I say these are easy fixes because they require no movement of atoms on Earth. Making these changes is easier than moving to a different part of town. We just have to change our habits.
I will soon be coming out with a new, better, different and totally awesome theory of economics. Look for that, and be excited with me. The intent is to maximize utility, viewing the world through the perspective of a person. Readers will be kept updated.