Monday was a holiday (Columbus Day) so with town hall, the banks and post office closed, I spent some time on the Internet. I viewed a video of what is going on with the Occupy Wall Street crowd in New York. There were drummers on a bench, some hacky sack being played in the background, young people were manning different task stations, conversations about the state of the world were taking place, pizzas were being delivered, tie-dye was abundant. It looked like a busy day at Third and Elk.
No one seems to know exactly what is going on or what will eventually happen with these organic protests. But it appears to have a “We’re mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore” undercurrent. What exactly they’re mad about isn’t pinpointed but there’s no shortage of things they could choose. And collectively, if you move away from watching Dancing with the Stars long enough, it is perfectly logical that things are hitting a boiling point in this country. And it all trickles down to even us here in Paradise…
Take a look:
Most reasonable people would agree that Wall Street suits had a hand in essentially wrecking the economy three years ago. Gambling with FDIC-insured money, counting on “too big to fail” bailouts, taking super-low interest loans as part of the bailout, bundling portions of mortgages and selling them over and over. They worked the system they helped shape through political contributions and lobbying. But they pushed the boundaries even when they knew it couldn’t last. How many people have been held accountable? None. Not one. But the taxpayers bailed “them” out and now a lot of those taxpayers can’t find a job. The bailout was touted in part with the hope and intent of seeing some cash flow back into the general economy to fuel some job growth. Instead, Wall Street types paid themselves rather large bonuses, bought back their own stock and now are holding on to large amounts of cash instead of reinvesting it. Ouch.
The Institute for Policy Studies in Washington recently released its 18th annual survey of executive compensation and it showed that in 2010 the ratio of CEO pay to the average worker pay in the United States grew to 325:1 last year. Companies generally are still doing pretty well in this downturn. The company executives at the top of the totem pole are doing really well.
But the people who have to punch the time clock and whose sweat helps make the products are left behind. You can’t begrudge a guy making a good salary… but if there were a bit more balance, perhaps everyone would benefit, not just the executive washroom. Look, if the working class is doing well, they’ll spend more money and create a demand for more products that will entice companies to hire more people to make more products for people who will make more money and spend more on products and so on in the circle…. That’s a real job creation approach.
But right now, median annual household income has fallen more during the recovery than it did during the recession, according to a new study from former Census Bureau officials Gordon Green and John Code. Between December 2007 and June 2009, when the U.S. economy was in recession, incomes declined 3.2 percent; during the recovery between June 2009 and June 2011 incomes fell 6.7 percent, the study found. Nine out of 10 Americans said they don’t expect to get a raise that will be enough to compensate for the rising costs of essentials like food and fuel, according an American Pulse survey released in June. That becomes frightening.
The wealthiest 1 percent of the country holds as much wealth in the United States as the bottom 90 percent. I guess people with money might need another yacht and it takes people to build those yachts, but doesn’t it make sense to have an economy where millions of middle class families could use and afford a new car instead a few hundred really rich CEOs wanting a new yacht?
President Obama called a meeting this week with national business leaders to talk about job creation. But look at who took part. Many of the chief executives on the panel have made their reputation by cutting American jobs. American Express chairman Kenneth Chenault was appointed by the president and just days before the appointment, the company announced a restructuring that closed a North Carolina facility, eliminating 550 jobs. American Express announced it had made $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2010 (up 48 percent from the same period the year before). Xerox, whose chief executive, Ursula Burns, sits on the board, has cut 4,500 jobs in the first six months of 2011. They may be effective CEO’s taking care of the shareholders but not the middle class. Is that sustainable? Most people think not.
More and more people are worried about how they can pay hundreds of dollars a month for health insurance. Trying to protect themselves, families are raising their deductibles as their premiums skyrocket. It’s like a time bomb for most families.
We are still in two wars without end. Iraq and Afghanistan are sucking the dwindling grains out of the country’s faltering bank account. The war in Afghanistan cost more than $122 billion last year. That could have paid for literally millions of new green energy jobs for middle class workers back in this country. The Afghan and Iraqi people don’t seem to want us there. We really aren’t safer as a result of these wars and in the long run we are breeding contempt for America that will likely put us in more danger. Drones are buzzing all around the Middle East killing people. It is a mess and people feel that.
I think people who voted for Barack Obama truly did have hope that he could change the storyline that was being written. He was a state senator not that long ago and the hope was that he hadn’t been corrupted by the money in politics that is so prevalent.
The hope was that he could shake things up, be less partisan, change direction, bring the two sides closer together using a populist mandate. But instead he fell into the regular corporate template. He appointed Wall Streeters like Timothy Geithner to advise him. The Republicans learned that the president wanted to be seen as a conciliator rather than a doer and they have worked him ever since. It’s as if Obama was brought into a secret basement room in the White House and told by the real people in charge that things weren’t going to change… so get in line, fella and live with it. Take the money and the power and the pension and enjoy the ride, but change ain’t coming because that could hurt the important people who paid for you to be here.
The people “Occupying Wall Street” are perhaps hoping to send the “real people in charge” a message that change must come. If Obama can’t do it alone, they’ll have his back… if he could show some spine. If the president doesn’t want to take on the challenge, they seem to be saying, they’ll force the establishment’s hand. If the taxpayers are footing the bill, they want some say in where it is spent and want to see some results that benefit not just the richest people or most connected campaign donors, but a broad swath of people.
Working people are feeling a bit scared for the future, and that’s not normally in the DNA of most Americans. It could be that the real people are moving from scared to mad as hell. I hope those in charge, whoever they are, are listening.
And it all trickles down to even the relatively hidden mountain villages like Crested Butte. It is harder to start a venture here and more expensive to expand a business. It is harder to pay higher taxes and a mortgage. It is more difficult to pay health insurance premiums with an ever-increasing deductable. If people can’t afford to come here on a vacation, we all get hurt.
Maybe these occupiers of Wall Street are on to something… There is no shortage of examples of why the American people are becoming mad as hell and they don’t want to take it anymore. Good on ‘em.