The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has had me feeling more positively about things than I have in a long time. A lot. No, make that a whole heck of a lot. But what exactly does this have to do with a smallish publisher of English language teaching materials. Well, nothing really… except, well, everything.
I mean, what at its heart is OWS about? It may have been fueled by anger at the greed and the arrogance of financial institutions, institutions that took advantage of relaxed regulations to go on an orgy of dodgy financial machinations that were far, far more about moving money into the pockets of financial industry than about increasing efficiency in the general economy (the ostensible reason why we allow financial firms to do what they do). And when the party went bust they went running to the government to ask for billions and billions of taxpayer money with no strings attached. Which by and large they received. Plus no banker has gone to jail. But grateful? Not a chance. They instead turned on the government that bailed them out and made it next to impossible to put into place meaningful regulations to stop them doing this dance all over again. Meanwhile millions and millions of Americans who simply played by the rules have lost their futures. Fury at the bankers is easy to understand and was the spark for OWS but…
The larger issue is that of concentrated power. It's about the kind of world we want to live in. It's about the powerful using their power to accumulate more power and in so doing to limit the options, the paths available to the rest of us. It's about a capitalist system that is less and less about being competitive within a well-regulated business environment and more and more about large corporations using their connections to jig things to cut off competition and so enrich themselves, a game in which a few teams make the rules and control the refs and the rest have to fend for themselves.
Economic power is more concentrated than ever. Opportunities for a middle class existence grow ever less. 1% of Americans now control over 60% of the wealth of the nation. Indeed, economic disparity in the U.S. is now greater than it was in Egypt at the time of the start of the uprising in Tahrir Square. And here's the thing. All tsk-tsking about 'class warfare' aside, extremely unequal systems never stay free. 'Haves' have to press down ever more forcefully on the 'have-nots' and lead lives ever more divorced from those of their less fortunate fellow citizens. 'Have-nots' grow ever more distrustful of a system in which they feel they have nothing invested and in which they cannot get a fair shake. No, the only system which allows for relative freedom of action—economic, intellectual, artistic—and the only sort of society really worth living in, is one with a powerful middle class.
So yes, we'd be down on Wall Street too if we could. Indeed, it's a surprise that every small business is not already down there. We suffer along with everyday citizens from a system in which there is far, far too much concentrated power. Lord Acton's dictum should be the starting point for the consideration of any system. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
UPDATE: Reformed broker says it all much more forcefully.