Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why I'm giving thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement

- by New Deal democrat

This Thanksgiving something like 99% of Americans owe a special thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement. It is not a question of what the movement does next, or what agenda or specifics it needs to succeed. It already has succeeded, and the only question is whether its success will continue.

Let's flash back nearly 5 months. The House Republican caucus refused to pass what until then had been a pro forma raising of the US's debt ceiling, taking the payment of our country's debts hostage to partisan demands about cuts in social spending. Over the Fourth of July weekend, President Barack Obama proposed a "grand bargain", for the first time explicitly proposing cuts to Medicare and Social Security as an enticement to obtain tax increase concessions from the GOP. The GOP still refused, even though the proposed "bargain" was weighted something like 10 to 1 in favor of spending cuts over tax increases. At the end of the day, only 174 House Republicans mustered the political courage to vote in favor of paying this country's bills. Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats had to come to their rescue on August 2. In direct reaction to that debacle, Standard and Poor's downgraded the US's credit rating from AAA two days later.

During that 5 week period, according to the daily Gallup poll, the economic confidence of Americans plummeted - to ratings not seen since the worst of the "great recession."

Economic indicators began to show outright contraction by mid-August. More and more it looked like a recession might be about to start.

In direct response to the debt ceiling debacle, in which the wishes of the majority of Americans -- for the budget to be balanced primarily via tax increases on the rich, and secondarily by cuts in military and general domestic spending, with Social Security and Medicare left intact -- were ignored and spurned by Washington, on July 13 a Canadian magazine called for an occupation of Wall Street to start on September 17. As the US News and World Report put it, on July 26:
A group calling itself "New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts" announce[d] a meeting on Wall Street on August 2 to protest potential austerity measures as a result of the debt-ceiling crisis. That day, another set of protesters planning for an upcoming "occupation" protest joins them, and, according to, after the assembly the two groups "gather into working groups to plan for the September 17 occupation of Wall Street."
As Dean Baker described so well yesterday, the OWS movement has successfully forced the mainstream media and Washington to acknowledge that by far the biggest problem facing this country is not deficit reduction at all, but rather the now-chronic lack of jobs in the economy, and the longstanding and ongoing and increasingly disparate distribution of income in the US, due to economic and tax policies that favor an upward redistribution of wealth to a very few at the top, who are "too big to fail", vs. "the 99%" for whom there are no bailouts but only calls for austerity and sacrifice.

That relentless focus by the OWS movement has shone the bright light of day on the efforts of the elite in Washington to enshrine the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy while spending cuts are proposed for everybody else.

As a result, OSW is directly responsible for two outcomes in Washington in the last two weeks. One is the failure of the 'Supercommittee' in which Democrats refused to capitulate to GOP demands of no meaningful tax increases, and unlike July refused to dangle ever larger Social Security and Medicare cuts as an enticement. As a result, on January 1, 2013 the Bush income and estate tax cuts are set to expire, and cuts in military and general domestic spending will make up the difference.

Secondly, GOP hostage-taking came to an abrupt and very quiet halt. The latest stopgap budget resolution was set to expire on Saturday November 19. In stark difference to their behavior earlier this year, the House Republican caucus quietly passed another stopgap resolution to avoid a government shutdown through December 16.

Meanwhile economic confidence has regained at least part of its lost ground, and recent data shows that Americans are increasing their spending on purchases like cars. The threat of at least an imminent domestic recession appears to be receding.

Without the Occupy Wall Street movement, I doubt very much Washington would have been derailed from its toxic austerian plans. So this Thanksgiving Day I say "Thank you, OWS."