I’ve been watching the growing Occupy Wall Street movement with a growing feeling of excitement. Finally — FINALLY! — as Paul Krugman put it, a significant number of Americans is expressing anger “at the right people.”
Granted, at the moment, the voice of the Occupiers remains muddled, chaotically varied, and at times even contradictory. Nevertheless, I have my own views that I’d like to put out into the cosmos.
I can’t possibly speak for an entire movement. Certainly not a movement as organic and evolving as Occupy Wall Street. But what I can do is explain why I support it, and why I hope it succeeds.
For me, the source of the anger is very simple to undersatnd: three years ago, we spent seven-hundred billion dollars in the first of many rescue packages that were put forward to save the financial industry and allow them to return to normal function. And those efforts have been wildly successful. Banks report record profits. TARP funds have been repaid, with interest. At the same time, no similar effort has been made on behalf of individual Americans. Nothing done to help them return to normal economic function, save for a half-assed mortgage assistance program that has been, at best, an abysmal failure.
If the Occupiers are after anything — to the extent I can accurately generalize — it’s a similar commitment on the part of our government to help individuals recover from the recession. Saving the financial sector didn’t help. The president’s first stimulus bill — because it was too small, and because it relied more on tax cuts than direct hiring programs — didn’t help. Solutions — the kind of innovative, imaginative, out-of-the-box ideas that would have freed the American public to fuel the economy — have been wholly, conspicuously, and painfully absent.
What might some of these solutions be?
For starters, and most importantly: across-the-board debt relief. We gave the banking industry billions of dollars so that they could wipe bad assets from their balance sheets. Nothing even remotely similar has been offered to the American people. Only the most rigidly right-wing thinkers still deny that the path forward is made the most clear by increasing aggregate demand. But that increase will never come as long as Americans are using this time of economic contraction to spend their diminishing dollars paying down mountains of debt.
For a moment, let’s leave aside arguments regarding the responsibility, or lack thereof, of having taken on the debt in the first place. Because that argument is just disingenuous. Irresponsibility abounded in the decades leading up to the 2007/8 crisis. But the financial industry has been largely absolved of their sins, while average Americans continue to labor under the weight of decisions they — rightly or wrongly — made before the recession.
The question, then, is this: why is right and just to use taxpayer money to relieve the burdens of the industry that contributed so significantly to our current crisis, but not of the individual Americans still suffering from that crisis’s fallout?
That is a question no conservative — certainly no Tea Partier — has, to my knowledge, been able to answer in any sort of acceptable way.
It is my great and sincere hope that this movement manages to grow, and mature, and develop into an effective machinery to effect real political action. In the meantime, it has my sympathy and my support.
We are the 99%.