Occupy Wall Street Occupies the White House
David Azerrad /
The Occupy Wall Street Movement may be dead as a doornail, but its spirit is alive and well in the White House. Only a few minutes into his umpteenth major pivot to the economy, the President went after the target of the occupiers’ once seething animosity: the reviled 1 percent.
“The income of the top 1 percent nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007, while the typical family’s barely budged,” the President (erroneously) claimed in his address on the economy at Knox College.
And so it was throughout this hour-long, interminable address. The President lashed out at the 1 percent, “the very wealthy,” and “those at the top” while worrying about “growing inequality,” “economic polarization,” and what happens “when wealth concentrates at the very top.”
All this, of course, to set the stage for the same, hackneyed policy proposals that we’ve heard before, tried before, and been disappointed with before, since they just don’t work—such as raising the minimum wage, spending more on education, pushing for universal preschool, and spending more on infrastructure to create jobs.
All this while calling on himself and his fellow Democrats “to question some of our old assumptions.” Predictably, the Socratic entreaty to question old assumptions did not extend to the bedrock liberal assumptions that shape his worldview and shaped this speech.
So the President continues to view economics as a zero-sum game, where the gains of some are made at the expense of others. In reality, there isn’t just one dwindling pie to go around; there’s a proven recipe to grow the pie to serve everyone. Businesses and entrepreneurs create wealth—they don’t steal it from someone else.
So the President continues to claim that a rise in income inequality leads to a decline in upward mobility. In reality, there is no connection between the two. Simply put, how much the top 1 percent of the population earns has no bearing on whether the bottom 20 percent can move up.
So the President continues to divide Americans into haves and have-nots and to speak of the wealthy as if they constituted a permanent, entrenched class. In reality, fortunes are made and lost every day in this Land of Opportunity. Only 15 percent of people who file as millionaires do so for two consecutive years, and inherited family money is almost all gone within a couple of generations.
Most telling, though, is what the President didn’t say. Not a word about the erosion of the American Dream through the collapse of the family among vast segments of the population. Not a word about the crushing burden of debt that we are saddling the next generation with.
And nary a peep about what is arguably one of the greatest obstacles to achieving the American Dream today: the growth of a mindset that asks not “What can I do for myself and my fellow citizens?” but “What must my country do for me?” President Obama’s speech, alas, only exacerbates the problem.
Last year, the President famously “evolved” on gay marriage. If only he could have evolved on the economy instead.