Wall Street is “occupied.” What do the occupiers want? Where to begin? How about here: The top 1 per cent income-earners in North America have appropriated most of the wealth created in the past thirty years. But what do they want, those protesters and their sympathizers?
Here’s another fact on their minds. Politicians in North America engineered the good fortune of the wealthy through a systematic assault on the family incomes of everyone else. And simultaneously encouraged access to an ocean of cheap and easy credit.
So, while average families haven’t seen a real pay raise in more than a generation, they have drifted into a disastrous dependence on debt (higher in Canada than in the United States). Which helped fuel housing bubbles. Followed by a financial services crisis. Followed by a sovereign debt crisis that now threatens the foundations of the world economy.
But why are they interfering with the lineups in front of the latte counters, those protesters? In Spain, unemployment teeters around 25 per cent. Catastrophically higher for young people. That is depression-level unemployment. The number of people living in poverty in the United States has reached record levels.
But why are those people waving those rude signs at our nice banks and brokerage firms? In Israel, the “occupiers” are talking to the right-wing Netanyahu government about the intolerable cost of housing, of food, of utilities, of health care, of everything else needed to live a normal life. But what do they want, those people? It is blindly obvious what the Wall Street occupiers and ordinary people all around the world want.
They want an end to reckless, heedless bingo parlour economics. In which wealth is concentrated into far too few hands. In which people’s savings and pensions are funnelled into unproductive financial game-playing instead of into the real economy. In which the Masters of the Universe, there on Wall Street, keep all the winnings on a good day and slip their losses into the public debt on a bad day.
We like to tell ourselves that Canada has avoided the worst of it, despite the best efforts of our governments in recent years. But the income gap between rich and poor is every bit as depressing in Canada as it is in our friend to the south (see here and here).
After a long sleep, the public interest is waking up in North America and around the world.
There are false roads open — like the fantasist right-wing populism of the American Tea Partiers. And there are better roads open — like modern, prudent, determined and fearless social democracy, of the kind Jack Layton was talking about.
Perhaps we will go down that first road, brought to us in Canada in our mild Canadian way by Stephen Harper and his team. Hopefully we will go down the other, on offer in Canada through Mr. Layton’s team.
But the Wall Street occupiers are there to let the Wall Street revellers and bonus-hunters know that their own particular party — and the whole approach to government that made it possible in the United States and here in Canada — has just about had its day.
This article was first published in The Globe and Mail.