Occupy Wall Street: Get a New Occupation
I am part of the 99 percent of the population who doesn't understand the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. They appear to be sick of corporate greed, angry at Wall Street bankers and bailouts, and really teed off about income inequality. They wave signs that say "Tax the Rich," "Pay Your Fair Share," "Bail Us Out," and "Pay My Tuition" – messages taken directly from a recent speech by President Obama.
The occupiers want the rich to pay their fair share? The top one percent of earners (those making more than $383,000 per year) already pay 38 percent of all income taxes collected in Washington, and they have the highest tax rate, while the bottom 50 percent of earners – those making less than $33,000 per year – pay only 2.7 percent of federal income tax, the lowest rate. (They also collect a lot of government handouts that will never be paid back.)
Yes, big Wall Street banks were bailed out by taxpayers but, at last check, they paid back 99 percent of the money, plus interest. (Those bailouts were approved under the Bush Presidency with the support of 75 Senators, including then-Senator Barack Obama.) And big banks make big money, which helps them pay an army of tax-paying, goods-buying employees – 280,000 alone at Bank of America.
If the Occupy Wall Street crowd is mad at banks and angry about the lack of good jobs, they should march on Pennsylvania Avenue, not Wall Street.
A point worth noting: One reason the big banks are making big bucks is that Federal Reserve policy under Chairman Ben Bernanke has kept short-term interest rates near zero for several years. That allows large banks to park their deposits at the Fed and earn more interest than they pay out to depositors. While the banks make more for doing nothing, lower interest earnings result. There aren't a lot of Washington politicians criticizing that policy.
The fact is, the current economic mess was caused by busybody government meddlers. In 1994, President Clinton introduced his national Partners in Homeownership plan. He asked Realtors, homebuilders and bankers to help him increase the rate of homeownership from 64 percent to 70 percent. Soon after, the longstanding qualifications for home loans were lowered and then practically erased, and everybody was buying a home. The unintended consequences: New demand artificially increased home values and new builds.
And when the bubble burst? You know the story: Home values plunged, and millions of middle and lower class families were left unable to pay for upside-down mortgages. Banks were left with a lot of IOUs that would never be paid.
In their book Reckless Endangerment, Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner write that the Partnership in Homeownership decimated the middle class: "For millions of families, especially those in the lower economic segments of the population, borrowing to buy a home had put them squarely on the road to personal and financial ruin."
If the federal government would have butted out of the housing market, we would not be in the position we're in now. Sure, greed played a role, but it wasn't just bankers. Executives at the pseudo-governmental Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac hauled in huge salaries while ignoring the warning signs. (Remember: Once the bubble popped, Fannie and Freddie's liabilities became taxpayer liabilities.) Washington politicians boosted their reputations as defenders of the poor and minorities at the expense of, well … the poor and minorities. And, if it's not greedy to finance a home you can't afford, well, I don't know what it is.
Media reports state Occupy Wall Street is a growing movement, but I'm not sure what the attraction is. The protestors are targeting Wall Street bankers but probably don't even know why. They protest the same Wall Street banks and corporations that made all of their i-gadgetry possible. They shout down villainous millionaires (unless they're in showbiz like Michael Moore and Kanye West, who visited Occupy Wall Street to lend their support – Kanye decked out in gold chains and a $350 designer shirt, by the way.) And the protestors are supported by a president who has taken more campaign donations from Wall Street than any other U.S. president in history.
I empathize with those who have lost jobs and struggle to recover, but I don't understand why they vilify corporations and the "rich." Would everything really be better if we limited the earnings of a CEO, or took more from the top 1 percent to pay for free tuition and more government programs. Isn't that a form of greed? Perhaps I would better understand the Occupy Wall Street movement if they carried signs that read: "We're Angry, and We Don't Know Why," or "We're Jealous and Covet What Others Have, but at Least We're Not Greedy."