The last big show of Populist sentiment in this country was when the people of Wisconsin stood up against an oppressive Governor and a neo-Fascist Republican legislature who wanted to dismantle the state government, give away tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks to wealthy business owners, and pit one average middle class family against another.
The Koch Brothers and their billionaire associates spent tens of millions of dollars on a campaign to take advantage of the fears of the Wisconsin people and the uncertainty of the depressed economy, caused by the neo-fascist Bush-Cheney-Rumfeld, GOP war party.
In order to replace the money borrowed from the people and the money stolen by Wall Street from the pension funds, Governor Walker of Wisconsin and his advisors on Wall Street decided to dismantle Wisconsin. They decided to reduce the firefighters and the teachers and police and the nurses of Wisconsin to the minimum wage slaves who work in Texas and Mississippi and the other confederate states.
The hicks of the Southern states let the racists among them control their politics. Now they have only low incomes and poor education to show for their support of the Republicans. Oh yes, they got to slap their neighbors on the back after the local NASCAR race and boast of how many Iraqis were killed today, not counting the 5,000 American soldiers who died for nothing. What did the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld era prove? That hicks can be lied to and looted and that all the good-paying defense jobs are in California and Connecticut.
Starting from the top of the list of being hottest states to be poor, it is Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Montana, South Carolina, and New Mexico. (Now, Montana and New Mexico seems like they have only about one cowboy and one cow per county, so their numbers are a little skewed.)
Having raced through the South spreading hysteria about gays, gun control and abortion, the Koch Brothers’ henchmen landed back in Washington with thousands of neo-Fascist GOP and decided that it was time to work on the poor rural members of the upper Midwest states. Wisconsin seemed like a good state to bring down to the level of the Confederate states. The average household income of Wisconsin was up near the top end, at 20th in the nation. So here was a good state to attack.
But it didn’t work. Wisconsinites, gathered up their old Progressive and Populist traditions, polished them off and kicked out two of the Republican state senators who had voted to decertify the state unions. Then they set about to organize a recall of Governor Walker himself, set to kick off in early November.
It is not certain if the actions of the citizens of Wisconsin and their continuing actions were the catalysts for Occupy Wall Street, but it is a fact that Occupy Wall Street followed on the heels of those activities and the ones in Ohio to change some of Governor “Wall Street John” Kasich’s legislation against unions and the middle class, and the retired and the poor.
Occupy Wall Street was like many of those small efforts that somehow catch fire and turn out thousands and then tens and then hundreds of thousands. It is not new of course. In the days before radio, tens of thousands would turn out to hear a speech by William Jennings Bryant or march to the Haymarket in Chicago for a Labor Demonstration.
On or about September 17, 2011, the Occupy Wall Street group began to inhabit Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, New York City. Since that time, the movement has spread to Times Square, Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Rome, London and towns and hamlets not only around the U.S. but around the world.
What does it mean? It means that a very small percentage of America, the very rich, meaning people who make $300,000 or more per year have taken over control of society, and, because of their greed in wishing to hold on to all the wealth, have earned, as a group the enmity of a very large percentage of the population. Around 70% of the American people, when surveyed in the last several weeks, say that they support the “Occupy” movement.
Now, we know a few things about the current make up of society. Small businesses create about 70% of the jobs. Yet small businessmen claim incomes largely of less than $100,000, and even if this is somewhat skewed because of taxes, they are still far and away, not the primary members of the 1% club. This does not mean that there are not small businesses that can grow to more than $25,000,000 at which point owner incomes can reach well into the $300K category. But most…probably 90% of small businesses are in a far lower revenue bracket.
So, here are the people we can exclude from the top 1%: Local bankers, heads of small community banks and credit unions, real estate agents, insurance salesmen, cops, firemen, nurses, teachers, college professors, waiters, chefs, retail clerks, truck drivers, cab drivers, sanitation workers, city and county road workers, arborists and building maintenance workers, postal workers, UPS and FEDEX drivers, bakers, shoemakers, dental hygienists, butchers, pilots, stewardesses, soldiers including most officers, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, x-ray technicians, barbers, hair dressers and lifeguards. And too many others to mention.
I am not sure that anyone wants to envy the incomes of doctors, given the level of skill and the years of education and the dedication (even among those who are totally disinterested) and the overwhelming number of totally focused hours per week necessary to simply do the job, let alone excel among other physicians or surgeons. And the same goes for dentists. Some dedication, intelligence and learned skill should be rewarded at the market price, even if that price is far beyond average income rates. So we can exclude this class, even though they do clearly fall into the top 1%.
So who is left to be among the top 1%. Corporate executives. The average income among CEOs of health insurance companies is $14,000,000 per year. Why should that not be? The question becomes, first of all, are they in fact worth 400 times more than the average worker? Does the CEO of a health insurance company contribute 400 times the profitability of the company than the average worker?
If the average worker makes, let’s say $45,000 per year, then a standard amount that he or she should generate for the company would be about $225,000. If the average CEO makes the same percentage contribution, then he or she should personally be generating sales of $5.6 billion. That isn’t happening. Not even remotely close. So the CEO of the health insurance company should be making $1,125,000, not $14 million.
You may say that $1.1 million is a lot of money, but that is what is fair compared to the income of the average worker, assuming they both contribute to profitability. So what would happen to the other $13 million if the CEO were correctly compensated? That money would go to stockholders, would help grow the business, could pay taxes so that local communities and national government would be more solvent, and could go to the pensions or 401Ks of employees to make their retirements less perilous.
Right now it goes into the pockets of the CEOs of health care companies who not only make up one of the largest categories of the “1%” but do absolutely nothing to find ways to insure the 50 million who have no health care. They become richer, give more to the Republican Party legislators who will work to keep them in that top one percent, spend more on personal luxury items and can afford to send their children to the best schools so that it further expands the generational continuance of the country’s income imbalance.
The last time we had such an imbalance in the income of the people was in 1928-1929 just before the Stock Market Crash of October 1929. Very soon after, unemployment rates went to 25% and many of those on Wall Street and most investors who had been speculating, were broke. Hoover tried traditional methods but, after nothing improved in 1930, 1931 and 1932…about the same time as we have been waiting…they elected Franklin Roosevelt who took over in March of 1933.
By 1937 he had dropped the unemployment rolls to 14% from 25% and was on his way to an acceptable, for those days, 8-9%. But in 1937 the conservatives in both political parties encouraged him to make large cuts in government spending, which he did. The result was a dramatic and sudden increase in unemployment from around 14% to 19% and climbing. As a result of that, in 1938 Congress once again expanded the jobs programs and unemployment dropped back to pre-austerity 1937 levels and continued to go down right up until World War II.
After the war, as a result of a world economic condition favorable to the United States and tax and labor policies which encrouaged production, domestic spending and job growth, unemployment fell to less than 5% for long periods of time, only jumping over 5% in the 1960s. In the Eisenhower era, in the era of “what’s good for General Motors is good for America,” the tax rate on incomes over $400,000 was 92%, then 91%.
So in 1954, let’s say, if you made $400,000, anything over that amount would be taxed at 91%. During that time, however, whatever you made in the U.S. was sure to sell to someone, because the unemployment rate was under 5%, so almost everyone had a job and 32% of those jobs were union jobs. That meant that people had inexpensive health care, a retirement program and very often low-cost union loans for their brighter children to go to college. So they could go out and buy things with their after-tax incomes.
It was not until 1964, the first year of the Johnson administration that the income tax rates on these same people dropped to 70%. But it is interesting that, even with a war that was heating up and lower tax rates, unemployment had begun to climb a little…not by today’s standards…to over 5%. It should also be noted that there has been a corresponding increase in unemployment periods as union jobs have gone away.
It is also no coincidence that incomes have stayed flat or gone down, while the incomes of the top 1% have gone through the roof…over 280% since 1980! The top 1%, or roughly 11 million households out of 300 million take home one quarter of the country’s income. This same group owns two-thirds of all corporate equities and that figure is climbing even during this second great Depression.
The President offered a simple plan. His idea was to tax not the top one percent, but those earning over $1,000,000 per year ($83,333 per month) a mere .2% of their incomes. Not 2% but .2%. The idea was to save 400,000 jobs of cops, firemen, nurses, teachers all over the country that will otherwise be laid off. The Republicans refused.
In our country’s greatest time of need since the 1930s, the Republicans, the Neocon-Fascist Republicans, voted down a simple plan to keep 400,000 jobs that will now be lost. That is what Occupy America is all about. It is a group question to the top one percent about their greed. The question is simply: why?