These are not rants against the system. They’re not anarchist manifestos. They’re not calls for a revolution. They’re small stories of people who played by the rules, did what they were told, and now have nothing to show for it. Or, worse, they have tens of thousands in debt to show for it…
This is why I’m taking Occupy Wall Street — or, perhaps more specifically, the ‘We Are The 99 Percent’ movement — seriously. There are a lot of people who are getting an unusually raw deal right now. There is a small group of people who are getting an unusually good deal right now. That doesn’t sound to me like a stable equilibrium…
What gives their movement the potential for power and potency is the masses who just want the system to work the way they were promised it would work. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans are really struggling. It’s not that 99 percent of Americans want a revolution. It’s that 99 percent of Americans sense that the fundamental bargain of our economy — work hard, play by the rules, get ahead — has been broken, and they want to see it restored.
Ezra makes the perfectly reasonable point that the stories here aren’t of people in the 85th percentile, say — the point at which you start earning more than $100,000 a year. But even if the 99% are more like the 60%, or the 50%, or even the 40%, their name is apt, if only because the upper-middle classes have little to fear from this movement. The target of Occupy Wall Street is not middle-class journalists on six-figure salaries like Ezra Klein: it’s the plutocrats running institutions like Goldman Sachs or JP Morgan Chase.
“Look around,” says Ezra, “and the reality is not everyone is suffering”:
Wall Street caused this mess, and the government paid off their debts and helped them rake in record profits in recent years. The top 1 percent account for 24 percent of the nation’s income and 40 percent of its wealth. There are a lot of people who don’t seem to be doing everything they’re supposed to do, and it seems to be working out just fine for them.
This does handily explain the anger you see at Occupy Wall Street. And if you look at the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, it’s targeted at “they” — and “they” is very much the 1%, not the larger group of people who aren’t suffering.
Ezra asks whether reducing the political power of the 1% would bring wages up for the rest of us, but this isn’t some kind of organized-labor march, demanding more money or higher salaries. It’s just a large group of concerned and responsible citizens who feel that the social compact has been broken, and who want to see it restored. They can see who has benefitted the most from the breakage, and they’ve gathered at those people’s symbolic home.
It seems to be working, too. The press has started to take them seriously, and at least one bank CEO is “clearly concerned” about the movement. Good. People without money have seen their political influence decline dramatically in recent decades. It’s time that trend is reversed.