Zinan/My Turn: Revolution? Unlikely
July 2014 marks the three-year anniversary of the birth of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. “We are the 99 percent” seared into our memory banks.
Presently, Robert Reich, Paul Krugman and economics professors at University of Massachusetts and elsewhere bombard the media daily with the latest wealth/income inequality headline, their highlighted statements blazoned across the social media sky by power point slides.
Mutual dialogue left burning in its wake.
We’re told economic inequality is at its worst levels since immediately before the Great Depression. Evil, blood-sucking corporate powers are controlling our democracy via oligarchy while crushing the masses at the same time. The second Gilded Age is upon us. Dynastic families are ruling our democracy; can you say Kennedy, Clinton, Cuomo and Bush?
So based on the above information, I think to myself, not “what a wonderful world” but when the hell is the revolution starting? Why doesn’t the 99 percent unite, overthrow the oligarchy, and take back the wealth and democracy?
Robert Reich implies on his blog that violent revolution may be forthcoming if peaceful reform is not achieved. Reich’s summary: “It’s possible, of course, that right-wing Republicans, corporate executives and Wall Street moguls intentionally cut jobs and wages in order to cow average workers, buried students under so much debt they’d never take to the streets, and made most Americans so cynical about government they wouldn’t even try for change. But it’s more likely they merely allowed all this to unfold, like a giant wet blanket over the outrage and indignation most Americans feel but don’t express.”
Not being a conspiracy monger and rather a true believer in the complete randomness of life, with major caveats, I choose Reich scenario number two.
Wealth, income and personal consumption. Economists utilize all three labels to measure inequality. Income is defined as gross wages. Wealth is assets, bonds, stocks, capital gains and real property. And just to complicate things some economists believe that our individual personal consumption expenditures are a better measure over wealth/income data.
Most of the root data comes from the U.S. Bureau of the Census. The bureau acknowledges that census respondents frequently under-estimate the extent of their income. The census data also does not take into account Social Security income, food stamps, health and housing subsidies.
Where am I leading with all this background?
I submit to you that there is an immense positive force, a sometimes unequal dance partner, which makes violent revolution very unlikely. And that is government. No, not government as police state enforcer or safety net provider but government as employer. From the federal all the way down to local, municipal government. Government provides job stability and, yes, good wages. (I can hear the government employees screaming at me now.) For example: The counties surrounding Washington, D.C., have the highest median income level in the country because of federal employment.
With a little research, above and beyond Wikipedia, you can estimate the number of federal, military, postal, state, county and local government (including municpal and public education) employees. Throw in the supplemental workforce (contractor, nonprofit and foundations) receiving government contracts and grants to make up for government staffing shortfalls. You will find that up to 25 percent of employed individuals in the United States are working for or assisting a government entity in some shape or manner. These individuals have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo — not to defend the barricades. (Wiki will give you a lower percentage number because there is no estimate of the shadow workforce that supplements existing government employment.)
Progressives will eternally rail against big business and the conservatives against big government but in my visual world, they are performing a balancing act. The Yin and the Yang. When one balance goes out of whack, i.e., extreme wealth accumulation, the balance will be redressed. Counter forces will bring the minimum wage upward and eventually impose a wealth tax, too.
The corporate, government and academic (read Ivy League) elites who rule us are not going away.
So still why no violent revolution from the 99 percent? You’re not buying this scenario.
Read the census income tables. A significant proportion of the country is still doing relatively well with income. Not wealth. Otherwise known as living from paycheck to paycheck or dual income families. The reality of household ownership (via mortgage debt) remains high, more so for whites and Asian Americans. There are 250 million automobiles in the U.S. God knows how many cell phones, computers, IPADs, etc. Nobody starved to death unless they did it voluntarily.
A more appropriate, revised OWC bumper sticker could read: “We are the 1/10, 1, 5, 30, 15, 15, 20 and 14 percent.” Not likely to catch on.
Mark Zinan is a Sunderland resident.