After spending some time at Occupy LA last week, and seeing the worldwide protests the occupation inspired this weekend, I have a firm sense that the cold of winter will not freeze the passion at the heart of the movement. This is no flash mob. It’s a movement about occupying space to stand against gross inequality, pitching a tent and asking the like-minded to stand together.
The New York Times’ Nicolas Kristof hits the nail on the head by calling out the inequality at the heart of the protests, and what it shares with protests in the Middle East.
The frustration in America isn’t so much with inequality in the political and legal worlds, as it was in Arab countries, although those are concerns too. Here the critical issue is economic inequity. According to the C.I.A.’s own ranking of countries by income inequality, the United States is more unequal a society than either Tunisia or Egypt.
Three factoids underscore that inequality:
- The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.
- The top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.
- In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent.
As my Times colleague Catherine Rampell noted a few days ago, in 1981, the average salary in the securities industry in New York City was twice the average in other private sector jobs. At last count, in 2010, it was 5.5 times as much. (In case you want to gnash your teeth, the average is now $361,330.)
More broadly, there’s a growing sense that lopsided outcomes are a result of tycoons’ manipulating the system, lobbying for loopholes and getting away with murder. Of the 100 highest-paid chief executives in the United States in 2010, 25 took home more pay than their company paid in federal corporate income taxes, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.
Such inequality cannot withstand the force of public opinion in America, no more than it could in the Middle East. The only questions are ones of timing and tactics.
Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.