10-18-11 - Occupy Personal Responsibility

I am happy to see the "occupy" movements ; it's nice just to see people trying to do something about our fucked up politics.

Using "the top 1%" as your scapegoat is very clever, because it's such a narrowly defined group that it can actually get some majority support behind it. Past democratic/populist movements have tried to blame "the rich" or the top 10% , but that never works since 20-30% of people think they are in the top 10% (or will be soon), and then another 20% will oppose you just because you're a democrat, and another 20% will oppose any kind of redistribution, and the result is that you can't get a majority. The "top 1%" is a mysterious group that nobody personally knows, they live in crystal castles and somehow screw us all over.

But that's where I find the whole movement to be rather depressing. It's not actually a new movement towards more realistic, humble governance. It's yet another call for a free lunch.

The real problem with American politics goes back to the voters. Nobody is ever willing to see the big picture and do what's good for the country. Everyone wants their taxes lower. They want their services increased. It's somebody else who can get higher taxes and get a service cut.

And the whole Occupy/1%er movement is the same thing. It's not our fault that the country is so fucked and we don't have jobs. It couldn't be because we act like a herd of buffalo bidding up houses and jumping on stocks just before they tank. It couldn't be because we ran up massive personal debts to buy imported crap. It couldn't be because we chose to get useless educations. It couldn't be because we refuse to raise taxes. It couldn't be because we slash education and infrastructure spending that would help our country develop. No, it's those top 1% ! They're somehow manipulating markets and controlling government and screwing us all over!

(not related to my main point, but another funny bit is that the *actual* poor are completely missing from this movement; it's always the middle class or maybe lower-middle class who are in a bit of a hard spot; if you watch the news about foreclosures, it's always some white people in a suburban 3000 square foot tract home whining about their foreclosure. We have 15-20% of our population in serious fucking big time poverty (the official poverty line is crazy low; $10k a year for one person, $20k for a family of four, a more reasonable definition would make the number even higher). This is not a small group, but they are completely invisible from modern politics, the news, and all these populist movements. That's very intentional, I believe, because the democrats/populists know that the truly poor are politic poison. When you get a bunch of blacks, homeless, immigrants, etc. in your rallies, that's when the Republican opposition calcifies against you. Plus it's just not news; we know we have massive embarassing ghettos where people are barely scraping by, and we don't care and we don't want to hear about it).


Aaron said...

I see it more as: hey rich fuckers, give some of my lunch back you've been stealing from me my whole life rather than a free lunch. I'd be happy with it purely as a punitive measure (funnel the tax benefit directly over the middle class to measures that benefit the poor).

People got into the house/bidding/stock jumping stuff by copying what the corporate world set as an example of success.

Totally agree the real problem is the voters, although... check out the GOP field. Voters frickin *loooooooooooooove* the shit out of all these wackjob candidates. But, the media does a pretty good job of highlighting their flaws, and all the sudden boom, republicans are all into Mitt Romney. People are sheep, but they've been trained to be sheep for a long time. It's *both* their fault and the fault of those training them.

Most people (even generally good people) really only have time to process a very tiny slice of politics and understand very little of what's going on. It's bad but it'll never go away.

I blame the lack of a modern, effective, charismatic liberal movement in this country more than I blame the sheep. Driven liberals just do not go into politics. They get jobs, relax, take care of themselves, run big companies, whatever, but did you see Steve Jobs going into politics? No. Any of the Pixar boys? No. Any of these supposedly liberal hollywood stars? No. Krugman? No. The sheep will always follow, that's just their nature. But there is really almost no one to lead the way to a better future.

billyzelsnack said...

You'd think it would be an easier number to find, but from what I've found it only takes $350K for a household to be in the 1% for income. The movement should be more precise and not make such a large chunk of the population the enemy. 1 out 100 households, that's a huge number of people. 99.999% would be much more reasonable.

cbloom said...

The good thing is that people are upset and not staying quiet about it. The powers of the world are taking a shit on their faces, have some fucking self-respect and say something on about it.

I do think that blindly directing it at the wealthy is wrong, in a moral sense, also in a practical sense, and finally in a political sense.

1. Morally - there's nothing wrong with being rich or making money, that's not the problem, and not all the rich are to blame.

2. Practically - raising taxes is not the real solution. By misidentifying the problem (the rich have money and we don't) that leads you to the wrong solution (take money from the rich). Sure raising taxes on the rich may be a perfectly reasonable part of a good plan, but the real problem is the *structure* of our politics and economy. It's the twisted playing field which rewards the wrong behavior.

3. Politically - attacking success just never flies politically in America. Even now I suspect that it's a mistake. Even the very poor are under this delusion that they have the chance to get rich quick, or that people who are rich earned it and should be left alone. I think to succeed you need to attack specific abuses, not the rich as a bloc.

Aaron said...

The 99% thing is the online meme version of the movement, it's not the sole (or primary) driving force of the Occupy protests.

$350k/year is a huge amount of money. It is rich. If you make 350k and you oppose a reasonable level of taxation, then you're definitely a valid target for the occupy movement. If you're like Warren Buffet and support it, of course you're not a target.

The wealthy pretty exclusively drive the political process, and the captain goes down with the ship. Sure, everyone shares blame in the sense that we that we let them do it. Not tackling an armed bank robber on his way to the getaway car is different than robbing a bank. Occupy is a tiny little quarter-baby-step in the direction of hinting that maybe we'd like things done differently. Raising taxes (at the very least reversing the bush tax cuts) is a massive step (probably the biggest single step that government could take) on the road to economic recovery. Now, what *really* needs to happen, is that every american, from poor to rich, needs to pay a more reasonable level of taxes. If you want to blame Americans for stupidity, not agreeing to tax themselves more is one of our fatal flaws.

Fortunately, we have plenty of failure to attack this time. No one attacked the wealth disparity while things were good. But the people who run the economy have run it into the ground, so it can be cast as attacking the failure of the successful.

Of course, no one is actually attacking the rich like it has been done throughout history. It's just toothless street protests. There's no real threat. The 1% will just hang out until the crowds dissipate, and things we go back to normal. If I were rich I certainly wouldn't be swayed by something as non-threatening as Occupy.

Aaron said...

A successful occupy movement would look something like this:

1,000,000 people show up and sit down in downtown NY, grinding it to a complete halt (no business able to be done), for a month. Enough people that no police force could clear it before more people join it. A simple set of demands: revocation of the concept of corporate personhood (replace it with a more restricted set of rights). Cap (at a low level) and match campaign funds for all offices. Raise taxes on the rich back to reasonable levels.

cbloom said...

"Raising taxes (at the very least reversing the bush tax cuts) is a massive step (probably the biggest single step that government could take) on the road to economic recovery."

No way, strongly disagree. I don't think that raising taxes does anything in the short term.

The idea that government debt is a problem is just not true. It's a very long term problem that only becomes an issue if you have trouble raising cheap debt capital, which we don't.

We could pay for national health care right now. No problem, we get cash for 1%. We don't need higher taxes (yet).

Structural things are the problem.

For example, reversing the ruling that corporations have the rights of human beings would be massive. Then you could make lobbying illegal and limit corporate political ads.

We need to fix the 60% senate bullshit. We need to restore executive transparency and accountability to congress.

IMO more important than higher income tax is higher dividend and capital gain taxes. It should be more attractive for corporations to have more employees and pay more salaries, right now the system encourages them to take profits instead.

etc etc

cbloom said...

And anyway, the really bankrupt part of American government right now is state & local, not federal. That's where services are being absolutely decimated.

cbloom said...

BTW the whole shite about social security and medicare bankrupting us in N years has a tiny bit of truth to it, but is still very far away and deserves no thought in the short term since many things could change before it becomes an issue. The only reason it ever gets any attention is because it is used as a way to cut government services by the anti-government right wing, or to do something really horrible like privatize them.

(and the problem with medicare costs is really just a problem with the corrupt medical industry, the AMA, and the politicians who take their money, there's very little necessary rise in the number of people or cost of health care)

cbloom said...

It is all depressingly toothless.

Where are the poor throwing bricks through Goldman's windows? That's what we did in the 30's and it's what got this country to change.

Unfortunately people don't get motivated until things really go to hell. And we're still a long way away from that. So our great society will have to get really seriously fucked before people stand up.

ryg said...

That's just how it works: things have to get a whole lot worse before they can get better.

billyzelsnack said...

Could of fooled me about the 99% thing being just an internet meme. The local group even had a special guest lecturer on the subject where the guy literally said the 1% were the enemy. After his lecture I called him out on a bunch of his liberal porno and he, along with the 30 people there, agreed with all my counter points. WUT?

Leading by example is how to change the system. KahnAcademy, Bill&MelindaGates, Factor E Farm, SeaSteading, Bitcoin, whatever. The only example the occupy movement makes is the same example my 4 year old makes when he is mad and lays on the floor at the grocery store. That example is that sometimes, given the right situation, passive resistance will get you short term gains.

cbloom said...

"Leading by example is how to change the system. KahnAcademy, Bill&MelindaGates, Factor E Farm, SeaSteading, Bitcoin, whatever."

I'm not convinced that these people are actually doing much good. For example I suspect that all the .com types who like to give their money to direct action causes would actually provide a better net good by paying for political ads.

The metric-based and online education espoused by Gates etc. is arguably actually harmful.

" The only example the occupy movement makes is the same example my 4 year old makes when he is mad and lays on the floor at the grocery store. That example is that sometimes, given the right situation, passive resistance will get you short term gains. "

That analogy only works if you are doing horrible things to your 4 year old, and he feels like that's the only way to get it noticed. In that case it's good behavior and hopefully the lying on the floor movement snowballs to stop your mistreatment.

(if you didn't get it : passive resistance and making a spectacle of yourself is in fact a great response to an unjust oppressor which you have no chance to defeat within the power structure that the oppressor has themselves set up)

jfb said...

"Raise taxes, that'll solve our problems" is a bad way to go. What it ignores is that that money gets spent, and it is politically connected businesses which receive it.

It is a redistribution from everyone to those who have political connections. It makes more exclusive the club who *keep* their wealth, and makes it harder to rise and easier to stay regardless of merit.

A good example would be Microsoft. Pre-antitrust suit, before they realized Washington might try to destroy them, they didn't even bother with politics. I think I read maybe a year ago that they'd closed their "deficit" relative to the government. Think about that.

People might complain "oh, they're not paying enough taxes", but that's exactly the point. Raise taxes more? From you to them.

And yeah, they'll throw you a bone here and there to keep you supporting this scheme, but for those outside politics it is, totaled up, a loss.

Thatcher Ulrich said...

Unbalanced taxes is the symptom. The cause is unbalanced political power due to the influence of money.

old rants