No taxation without participation

It’s amazing to watch mainstream media and politics struggle as the Occupy Wall Street movement grows from strength to strength to strength across more and more cities around the globe.

Established media and politics want talking heads and rhetoric. The want points they can counterpoint. They want a leader they can hold up to 1) ridicule, then 2) publicly crucify.

They want to play the game by their rules. They seemed utterly surprised (and more than a little annoyed) that the 99 percent that have been playing by their rules to date and losing badly now want to change the game.

Who wouldn’t? The economic crisis is the product of mass irresponsibility on the part of the 1 percent. All the 99 percent are looking for is a little justice without having to wheel out the guillotine

Paul Berman recently joined the movement. The puzzled onlookers who look at these demonstrations and ask “What are the demands?” are being disingenuous. Everyone intuitively knows the demands.

No one in high office has proposed, let alone enacted, institutional reforms on a scale visibly commensurate to the depth of the crisis. An inarticulate society cannot be a democratic society. And so, the crowds in the downtown parks and streets have rightly decided to do the one thing that crowds can, in fact, do — which is to vent their feelings. The chanted slogan, “This is what democracy looks like,” could not be better chosen.

It’s messy, it’s loud, it’s a little all over the place.

The cheerful, anti-authoritarian, spontaneous, impudent and distinctly anarchist-like quality of the movement has turned out to be ideal so far.

What some observers deride as naïve vagueness strikes him as an admirable modesty. The role of crowds in the streets is not to formulate 10-point programs or to issue criminal indictments. The crowd has chosen, instead, merely to remind the rest of society of reality of the inequality.

Neoconservatives have been fond of telling congress and the politicians they underwrite that the largess of the top 1 percent will trickle down on the 99 percent. Which is just a polite way of saying they like pissing on the poor.

They’re also fond of complaining that the top 1% pays more income tax than the bottom 40 percent. It’s like complaining the rich have to pay more for 1956 Pol Roger than a bottle of the cheapest wine on sale. The fact the bottom 40 percent is living below the poverty line and so are not obliged to pay income tax escapes them. Along with the fact the bottom 40 percent pay income tax, sales tax, state tax and any other taxes that come their way.

Why would the rich complain about their tax obligations? (Here’s an interesting tax fact. Of the 100 highest-paid chief executives in the United States in 2010, 25 took home more pay than their company paid in federal corporate income taxes.)

Pretty much all the economic gains from the Bush years went to the richest 1 percent You want numbers? Here’s a few that will knock your lights out.

The top 1percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.

Wow, talk about inequality

In 1981, the average salary in the securities industry in New York City was twice the average in other private sector jobs. In 2010, it was 5.5 times as much and rising. (In case you want to gnash your teeth, the average is now $361,330.)

Even if you are a neoconservative with your love of markets, you should be outraged that banks rig the system so they enjoy profits in good years and bailouts in bad years. The banks have gotten away with privatizing profits and socializing risks, and that’s just another form of bank robbery.

Inequality is rampant. It also damages economies.

In his new book, “The Darwin Economy,” Robert H. Frank of Cornell University cites a study showing that among 65 industrial nations, the more unequal ones experience slower growth on average. Likewise, individual countries grow more rapidly in periods when incomes are more equal, and slow down when incomes are skewed.

What’s good for everyone is good for everyone. What’s good for a handful of manipulators is ultimately bad for everyone. No matter how you spin it.

That’s certainly true of the United States. The nation enjoyed considerable equality from the 1940s through the 1970s, and growth was strong. Since then inequality has surged, and growth has slowed.

Inequality is linked to financial distress and financial crises. Inequality leads to bankruptcies and to financial panics. Inequality also leads to early deaths and more divorces. Inequality is a cancer.

So how do we make society more equal? Socialism and communism aren’t the answer. And despite the rabid barking of the right-wing press, the protestors at Zuccotti Park aren’t a bunch of pinkos. Quite the opposite. They don’t want to bail out banks. They don’t want to socialize corporate losses. They don’t want to underwrite the rich. They don’t want politicians making decisions for them. (Because we’ve all seen where that’s lead us. And it’s not pretty.)

What caused the financial industry to grow much faster than the rest of the economy starting around 1980 was a series of deliberate policy choices, in particular a process of deregulation that continued right up to the eve of the 2008 crisis.

What the 99 percent want is a greater say in decisions made on their behalf. They want more participation in the political process. They want to make the political system (and by default the economic system) more democratic. They want to loosen the stranglehold Wall Street has on every aspect of political life.

Democracy is not corporatocracy. It’s not about the rights of corporations, but the rights of people. True democracy. Direct democracy. Pure democracy. (Look it up. Democracy comes from the Greek word Demokratia. Demos means people, kratos means rule. That’s right, the people rule. Not the pundits, not the lobbyists, not the corporations that write out the checks for the latest candidate.)

The Occupy Wall Street movement continues to grow and build consensus of the people, by the people, for the people. General Assemblies allow decision making via collective agreement. There is no single leader or governing body. Everyone’s voice is equal. Anyone is free to propose an idea or express an opinion. If there is positive consensus for a proposal – meaning no outright opposition – then it is accepted and direct action begins. If there is not consensus, the responsible group or individual is asked to revise the proposal and submit again at the following General Assembly until a majority consensus is achieved. Democracy in action.

“No taxation without representation” was the slogan that gave birth to the American Revolution. The first Americans believed their lack of direct representation in the distant British Parliament was an illegal denial of their rights and therefore laws taxing them were unconstitutional. Excellent idea in 1770 when representation was the only way to get your voice heard.

Now it’s time for participation. It’s time we all played our part in our democracy. The two-party system no longer works. It no longer produces positive outcomes for the 99 percent. (Totally great if you’re the 1 percent. Getting the New York Police Department onside only cost JPMorgan a lazy $4.6 million donation. A few million more and you can get a presidential candidate in your pocket. Talk about excellent return on investment.)

The evolution of the two-party system mirrors capitalism. Most markets have now evolved into a two-horse race. Coca-Cola vs Pepsi, Eveready vs Duracell, Hertz vs Avis, McDonald’s vs Burger King. Economists call it the law of duality. But what happens if you don’t like sugary soda pop, dud hire cars, lead batteries or greasy hamburgers? What happens if you don’t like Democrats or Republicans?

What happens if you want a greater say in the politics of the day? In the decisions being made that you pay for?

If you pay taxes you need to have an ongoing say in how they are spent. Do you want to subsidize a multinational? Or would you prefer to build a school? Do you want to amend legalization so fracking can occur in national parks? Or do you want to hold executives who pollute our environment personally responsible?

Do you want bankers to pocket increasing bonuses at your expenses or do you want them to help you live a better life? Do you want universal healthcare for only politicians or for everyone. Do you want to tear us apart or bring us together?

Do you just want to pay your taxes and shut up or do you want to play a part in our society?

Do you want to be a slave or a citizen.

It’s up to you.

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