Archive for October, 2011

Occupy Wall Street movement hard to figure

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

I’ve been struggling to get my head around the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In some ways, it reminds me of how I struggled with the Tea Party a couple years ago.

I can relate with the overriding message – our system for earning and sharing wealth is out of whack.

We bailed out the bankers and investors, and a couple years later they’re back to million-dollar salaries while most Americans still are struggling.

There’s no bailout in sight for workers.

I felt the same way about the Tea Party’s central theme – get government off our backs. Smaller government and lower taxes are both concepts I can get behind.

But the devil’s in the details. When it got down to exactly what the Tea Party wanted, I realized it was way more radical than I could support. I’m somewhere in the middle of American thought, and the Tea Party was just too far off-base.

Lots of other people who stayed with the Teapers a lot longer than I did are falling off the bandwagon, too, as they see the direction it’s headed. We need to cut spending. That’s obvious. But not at the expense of everything else.

Now I’m trying to figure out where this Occupy Wall Street tidal wave is rolling, and I’m hard-pressed to find answers.

I start with the basic premise that capitalism works. The next basic premise is that some limits are needed, or capitalists will get out of hand. Given a free rein, the ruthless tycoons of the world will be, well, ruthless tycoons.

Forty years ago, when I started my working career, the average CEO made about 40 times the average American worker.

Now, statistics are hard to confirm, but the average CEO wage is likely between 100 and 500 times the average worker’s wage. One reliable group puts it at about 325-to-one.

And it’s not just the top guy. Banks and big corporations pad the pockets of a herd of vice presidents and department heads. Half-million-dollar-plus salaries go far down the flow chart.

And making it more absurd, they pad those big salaries by using the economy as an excuse for lowering the pay of workers, or laying them off altogether.

Wall Street applauds when a corporation improves its bottom line by cutting the workforce. The guys at the top get raises and ataboys.

That’s a society with a problem. It’s a distorted socio/political/economic system. It’s capitalism run amuk.

The Occupy Wall Street crowd gets that. I think the average American is sympathetic to the complaint.

But the problem is easier to identify than the solution. You can’t legislate corporate pay. You can’t pass a law against greed. You can’t require CEOs to be good citizens.

Sure, there are current political issues involved. The president’s proposed tax on high incomes would level the playing field a little – very little.

What’s needed is a massive cultural shift that would knock the tops off some of those peaks and fill in the valleys, at least a little.

That’s not likely to come from Congress or the White House.

Maybe it can start with the Occupy Wall Street movement? Stranger things have happened.