Occupy Wall Street: Search Party for a New Equality in What We Have, What We Do

The Occupy Wall Street camps in New York City, joined by Boston, San Francisco, and more cities every week, began with no program, but two major themes are apparent: we are 99 percent against one percent along an economic fault line, and corporate tyranny must end.  These are two banners raised by an advance search party in search of a new economic equality.

Drawing the 99-1 line is profoundly human.  We are in this economy and society together, except for the tiny stratum of rich.  They want it all for themselves, and the implication of the response by Occupy Wall Street is that we should create a society of no rich and no poor.

As for corporations, Occupy Wall Street calls them out as a tyranny based on recognition that these vast institutions operate as the wealth faucets of the rich.  Some of the signs say, “End Corporate Personhood.”  Corporations enjoy the constitutional rights and protections of real people, as though they had a heart.  Ralph Nader has said for decades that corporate personhood is a legal reality under capitalism but an obvious fiction to common sense.  The essence of such personhood is that it magnifies the domination and wealth of one percent of the actual persons.

Occupy Wall Street is like an advance search party, scouting the terrain held by an enemy who blocks our march to a new land.  There are various reforms that would, if achievable and achieved, take us a bit forward.  For example, a tax on Wall Street’s trillions of dollars of transactions in financial paper could wipe out the federal deficit at once and guarantee equal health care for all.

To see the fundamental program, just use an insight that social reality has always confirmed sooner or later: things turn into their opposite.  The emergence of Occupy Wall Street against the domination and exploitation of 99 percent of society by the one percent points to a new commonwealth of economic equality.  It is defined by three principles:

  1. No rich, no poor.  All jobs pay enough that no one who works is poor, everyone who works gets a comfortable income, and no one gets rich by ridiculous salary, business manipulation, or milking corporate wealth.
  2. Full employment always and forever.  Everyone who wants a full-time job gets one.  We have known for decades how to run an economy at full employment.  The time has come to make it a bedrock principle.
  3. Corporations are chartered to run at break even for society.  If there are profits, they go to a social investment fund.  Conversely, if a corporation consistently loses money, it is reorganized.  Since everyone is guaranteed a job, this is nothing to fear.  The people in these vast institutions can create, produce, and distribute all that we need, in a socially and ecologically responsible way.  What a wonderful day for the 99 percent when the Kochs and the Waltons as well as Mr. Weill (CitiCorp), Mr. Gates (Microsoft), and the rest of the rich cannot dispose of our lives, our labor, and the machinery that we and our ancestors built.

The principles of a new commonwealth appear to address what we have.  That is one aspect of economic equality, but there is more.  Participants in Occupy Wall Street have the time, the anxiety, and the anger to show us the way forward because they are denied meaningful work.  Capitalism allows precious little of it to be done.  When everyone who wants work is guaranteed a job, and when elimination of rich and poor converges wages to an ever more narrow range, it becomes necessary that everyone has useful work.  This revolution is also about what we do.

In the era of industry staffed by tens of millions of factory workers, the work was alienating, but capitalists needed our parents’ and grandparents’ labor.  Confronted by mass struggles in the 1930s and again in the 1960s, the rich made concessions out of the fruits of this labor to keep their profits flowing.  However, the industrial era has wound down for decades.  Machines need far fewer human servants who repeat a cycle of motions over and over.  In a decent society, this change would free us to take up the huge amount of human work to be done.  Just look around our cities, think about our earth, and look into our schools and colleges.

Consider, too, what needs to be done with the river of things we consume.  As the volume has grown, the quality has declined; we need to reverse that.  In addition, the waste and harm generated as things are made, used, and disposed of have been “external costs” to corporations.  We, the society bearing these costs, can reconstitute the entire process of production to be renewable in the widest conceivable scope.

We can have a good life and be far-sighted stewards of this world at the same time.  It will be the noble work of millions of people.  The only downside will be for the rich.  They will no longer be able to crush us in stultifying, artificially repetitive, prison-like jobs, while excluding huge numbers of us from work and income.  Occupy Wall Street points to a new commonwealth dedicated to equality in what we have and what we do.  The lords of banks and corporations cannot accept that an economy should simply be our relations throughout society to achieve a good life for all of us.

Charles Andrews is the author of No Rich, No Poor: Why a Failed Economy Must Give Way to a Program of Common Prosperity.

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