Some Americans met Newt Gingrich’s recommendation that Occupiers “get a job right after they take a shower” with thunderous applause, while others reacted with indignation. Yet, a majority of Americans probably had little reaction to the comment. According to a November Gallup poll, 59% of Americans still do not know enough about OWS to express an opinion about the movement’s goals. This may be an indictment of poor journalism or an apathetic populace, but it is also most certainly a consequence of OWS’s initially ambiguous mission.
The movement was originally just obscure enough to attract a diverse crowd: the ephemeral fight against crony-capitalism had the potential to be any man’s fight. Beginning just months after New York Times columnist Gretchen Morgenson revealed that the government and financial industry’s cozy relationshsip caused the financial crisis, putting an end to corruption had a common appeal. In rewarding personal connections over competitive worth and decreasing incentives for productive behavior, crony-capitalism has been and always will be antithetical to conservative-championed capitalism. That said, the movement’s supporters could have run the gamut from Michele Bachmann to Nancy Pelosi.
Unfortunately, the movement’s coherent struggle against cronyism quickly degenerated into quite literally every man or woman’s fight. It became a fight against student loans for some, against the difficulties of single motherhood for others, and, for hip college students who shop at thrift stores and own iPads, protesting became one more way to stick it to the man. The movement’s scattered objectives became inconsistent when anti-cronyism lingered among support from labor unions. With public sector unions joining the fight against government favoritism, its no wonder a majority of Americans have been too confused to form an opinion on the movement’s goals.
Yet, in part due to unions’ dominating influence, the OWS argument should now be clear enough for the 59% to form their opinion of the 99%. The inconsistencies of the movement have vanished; the argument against cronyism has been buried far beneath embittered and familiar calls for economic equality, redistribution of wealth, and the overhaul of capitalism itself. In short, OWS has evolved into yet another liberal push for large-scale redistribution.
The Occupy Wall Street movement cannot be dismissed because of its recycled ideology. Nor can it be dismissed, as it so often is, on account of its members’ lack of hygiene and PhDs, for even well-educated and well-groomed lawmakers in California and New York are marching to the beat of the Zuccotti Park drummers.
No state’s history disproves the positive link between progressive tax systems and income equality better than California. According to the liberal Economic Policy Institute, California saw the nation’s greatest rise in income inequality between 1980 and 2003. Ironically, California also boasted the nation’s most progressive tax code, holding the top 10 percent accountable for a shocking 73% of all state taxes.
No man could have articulated the havoc redistributive tax policies wreak on a state economy better than New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was quoted in October as saying, “you are kidding yourself if you think you can be one of the highest-taxed states in the nation, have a reputation for being anti-business—and have a rosy economic future.”
Notwithstanding prior experience and knowledge, just last week New York Governor Cuomo approved a tax package that raises billions in revenue from millionaires, and Governor Jerry Brown of California determined raising taxes on wealthy individuals to be the remedy for California’s $3.7 billion budget gap. Richard Brodsky, a senior fellow at the Wagner School of New York University, believes these policies were put into effect because the 99 percent’s redistributive goals dominated the political arena, allowing “Cuomo and Brown to [seize] the moment” after “OWS paved the way.”
It is difficult to take seriously Occupiers who claim their main contribution to the movement is “organizing whimsy,” but OWS’s recent success in shifting political discussion away from austerity and economic growth is serious enough. If Americans continue to view OWS as a matter of indifference, it likely will be that the political focus will not center on the economic development and innovation that generates true, American prosperity.
Alex Rued // Hamilton College // @amrued
Headline Photo courtesy of Blogmocracy.com.