“In Florence,” he told me, “we got in the middle of an enormous protest – thousands of young people in red carrying red banners protesting the greed and corruption of Italian institutions. Cababimieri and politzei were out in full force.
“It wasn’t an anomaly,” he said. “Everywhere we went, 20-somethings were just wandering around like stray dogs … something big is about to happen to the world, and I saw and heard no plan for social order when it happens. I cannot describe the discontent other than it reminds me of a sweeping international remake of “Dr. Zhivago.’”
He might be right. At the moment, Italy’s unemployment rate is 7.9 per cent, way too high but considerably lower than our 9.1 per cent. Between 1983 and last year, however, Italy’s unemployment rate averaged 9 per cent. Since the true unemployment rate is really almost twice the official rate, that means that an entire generation of Italians came of age at a time when nearly one in five of them couldn’t find a decent job. They’re seriously annoyed at that.
We Americans now seem to have entered a comparable crisis. That’s what the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements are all about. They’re about the recognition on the part of most people that something has gone horribly wrong with the American Dream. For too many people these days, the path to success is strewn with obstacles. And I say “most people” because that’s what the polls show us.
The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows that nearly half of all Americans think that the Occupy Wall Street movement reflects the views of most Americans. Two-thirds of Americans believe that our rotten economy will get even worse. Two out of three Americans believe that wealth should be distributed more evenly in this country. Seven in 10 Americans believe that the policies of Congressional Republicans favor the rich. Two-thirds object to tax cuts for corporations and want higher income taxes on millionaires
Nine in 10 Americans say they distrust government to do the right thing. Three in four say that the country is on the wrong track. About 85 per cent disapprove of Congress.
Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office just put out a report based on income tax filings and census data that tells us something that we all suspected – that the top 1 percent of earners more than doubled their share of the nation’s income over the last three decades. The study shows that average inflation-adjusted after-tax income grew by 275 percent for the 1 percent of the population with the highest incomes. For others in the top 20 percent of the population, average real after-tax household income grew by 65 percent. For the 60 per cent of U. S. households in the middle of the income scale, household income increased just under 40 percent. For the poorest fifth of the population, it rose 18 percent.
In short, the rich have never been richer, the poor never have been poorer in comparison to everybody else and working people are losing to an extent not seen by anybody in this society except the very, very old. Seven decades of broad-based American prosperity has been wiped out. And nobody can see even a glimmer of light at the end of this long, dark tunnel to nowhere.
The Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street people openly despise one another – interesting when you consider that each group recognizes similar problems. Each decries joblessness. Each places a good deal of blame on Wall Street for the worldwide financial crisis that hit in late 2007. Each denounces politicians who directed obscene sums in tax dollars to Wall Street to bail out the reckless financiers whose hubris contributed so heavily to the current disaster. Each sees the barons of Wall Street financial operations now growing ever richer while the masses strain to pay the electric bill.
Only one example: Jamie Dimon, boss of JP MorganChase. In 2009, after his firm took $25 billion or so from the feds, he was paid $1.3 million in 2009. Last year he got $20.8 million along with $17 million in stock and options. And just how did your income fare between 2009 and 2010?
But the Tea Partiers call the Occupy Wall Streeters communists, and the Occupy Wall Streeters call the Tea Party fascists – precisely the two groups who fought it out during the long, dismal period of German economic crisis between World War I and World War II, with the Nazis eventually winning out. If that parallel doesn’t frighten you, it should. Pick up a history book, do a little reading and you’ll end up even more frightened.
Are there solutions to this? Maybe, if the public can get together to the point where politicians are too terrified not to find solutions. But no solution will mean anything until and unless the politicians are willing to keep this from happening again – until they make certain that no business or financial entity remains too big to fail. And the people who make our laws have refused to do that because both political parties are bought-and-paid-for subsidiaries of the firms controlled by the Wall Street magnates.
I’ll soon offer some thoughts on what those solutions might be, but it won’t be here. I’ve enjoyed my renewed connection to the newspaper where I’d spent most of my career as a reporter, editor and columnist, but I’m now moving this blog to my own Web site, forpeoplewhothink.com. There, you’ll also have access to some of the documentary films and the books that I’ve been involved in creating.
I also plan to write more often for forpeoplewhothink.com than I’ve written here because we’re now living in perilous times that deserve more serious thought from all of us about how to get out of this mess.