Thursday, November 3, 2011

In Indifference (Almost) to Occupy Wall Street and in Praise of Alec Baldwin

Not my favorite Occupy Wall Street tactic
    Here are a few reasons why I won't share many words about Occupy Wall Street. First, I'm a big fan of coherent arguments. I can sympathize with them, learn from them, or be enraged by them (perhaps enjoying that last option too much). But I, along with everyone else, can glean no clear set of positions or demands from these protesters. Perhaps this will come with time.
    Second, I'm actually quite a fan of capitalism. While I am dumbfounded by the intensity of the faith many have in the free market, in the absence of any semblance of a credible alternative, I'm willing to give capitalism its due.
     My next point works in tandem with the last: I advocate arguments and movements that--resting on the premise that most people we disagree with are fundamentally decent--avoid needlessly demonizing groups or individuals. Offering up the richest 1% as scapegoats for all that ails us is a tantalizing proposition. But I won't assent to it.
     And last, as a person of deep faith, whenever I come across a complex issue or situation, one question guides my response: "What would Alec Baldwin do?" Okay, I'm mostly joking about this one, though after his polished performance in the midst of a thicket of Zuccotti Park squatters, I may be ready to endorse him for president in 2020 (giving him ample time to first make the requisite run for U.S. Senate).

    One minute and twenty-four seconds in, Baldwin hits the nail on the head: "Capitalism is worthwhile." It's not perfect. It's not a panacea. It's not precious or holy. It's worthwhile. And sometimes worthwhile endeavors need course corrections--or someone to "throw the flag," as Baldwin puts it.
     While the Occupiers so far lack lucidity and reasonableness, they have accomplished something really important. They have finally highlighted a long known, but little reported fact: income disparity in the United States is far greater than the average citizen would guess--and it has only been growing. It's not demonization therefore, to suggest that the 1%, whose combined wealth is substantially greater than the entire bottom 90%, should pay marginally higher tax rates as one element of a deficit reduction program. This new appreciation of the wealth gap has likely contributed to the possible softening of congressional Republicans' absolutism regarding new revenues.
     Not all have been made aware of this reality, though. I'll end by linking to yesterday's post by the Atlantic's James Fallows, who highlights what a sweet deal Rick Perry and Herman Cain offer the ultra-wealthy with their flat(ish) tax plans. It's not so sweet for the rest of us, as you'll see. Fallows also provides the following chart from the Congressional Budget Office, which demonstrates the inequality of income growth over the past three decades:

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