The self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi of Tunisia brought an attention and a focus to the rampant economic inequality and unemployment for those in the Arab world; Occupy Wall Street brings awareness to the first world’s failure to combat the same issues. The Arab Spring toppled the regimes of Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Gaddafi. Occupy Wall Street instead endeavours to rid Western civilization of the yoke of the “corporatocracy” – the omnipotence of the banks. In the Middle East, the governments of Morocco, Kuwait, and Oman avoided relinquishing their power by implementing reforms. The banks, and their executives, need to concede similarly. The complete lack of empathy of the American economic elite to the plight of the poor – and their labelling of any attempt to level the playing field as tantamount to “class warfare” – will inevitably lead to much more than ragtag protesters. Because it is the product of decades of inequality, it will result in what should have been done a long time ago: making the rich pay their fair share of what life has offered them. We bailed them out in 2008 so that they could continue making profits. It’s time for them to share the rewards of our investment.
In the United States, unemployment remains at an appalling 9.1 per cent, and the poverty rate is at a staggering 15.1 per cent. In the past 25 years, the inflation-adjusted middle-class income bracket rose a meagre 21 per cent, compared to the top one per cent’s income, which rose 480 per cent, to an average income of $24.3 million. The only real tax increases in recent memory have been on payroll taxes – the ones that the “99 per cent” pay – while taxes on dividends and capital gains – much of the top 1 per cent – have in fact decreased. The super-rich actually pay taxes on their gross income that borders on 20 per cent (in 2008, the top 400 wealthiest people in America paid 21.5 per cent of their income to the federal government). The middle class pays between 30 per cent and 40 per cent. Perhaps the idea of lowering capital gains taxes was to spur growth of American corporations, but, as Warren Buffett said himself, the rich would never “shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain.”
And, yet, the rich say that they have been vilified, that it is necessary to cut entitlement programmes as a means of balancing the budget. The average income of an elderly, social security-collecting senior is just under $30,000, and for two thirds of retired Americans, social security accounted for half or more of their income – at an average of $1,153 per month. Economists predict that the poverty level of American seniors staying at a constant 8.9 per cent during the recession is largely due to the stability of monthly social security cheques; they also say that another 13.8 million seniors would have entered poverty without said program. In this economy, while the lower percentages struggle to scrap together a livelihood, the salary of the top 200 American executives has actually gone up 23 per cent to an average of $10.8 million. If this is class warfare, I say that the lower 99 per cent is losing pretty badly.
I’m not saying that entitlement programs don’t need reforming – they do, they’re unsustainable and they have about 40 years left until they run effectively bankrupt. But to say that cutting social programs for the impoverished is a necessary part of trimming the budget, and that raising taxes on the rich – who are growing richer every year – is class warfare, is absurd. To the bank executives that claim that they are “under siege,” I say this. When you shattered the U.S. economy in 2008 and needed bailing out, it was the taxpayer who bailed you out to the number of $700 billion. The citizens of the United States made an investment in you. Now it’s time to cash in. And as Senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren once said, nobody in this country got rich on their own. Your goods were moved on infrastructure that we all paid for; your companies were protected from crime and fire by professionals we all pay for; you hired workers that we all paid to educate. It’s time you paid your fair share for the preferential treatment that you’ve received in this country. Until then, the 99 per cent will continue to occupy Wall Street. Rappallez-vous que nous sommes dans 99 per cent.
Richard Carozza is a U2 Physiology student. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.