Back in the 70’s I had the privilege of working and living in the U.K. As I look back on those years it was quite an adventure as well as a great learning experience. I had the opportunity to look back at the U.S. with a different perspective, and learned to appreciate the great things about my Country. With only 200 years of history the U.S. was (and is) “the new kid on the block.”
During my years as an expatriate I made it a point to avoid other American expats, and their obsession with staying in touch with everything happening back in the U.S. I wanted to meet and learn from my neighbors and non-U.S. colleagues. I frequently found myself in social situations where I was the only “Yank” in the room. What did I learn from those years?
In the U.K. at that time, a person’s future was pretty much determined by the time they reached their 18th birthday. The educational system, and more importantly the culture, supported this “sorting out” of an individual’s role and place in life. “If my dad is a miner, I’m supposed to be a miner.” As long as individuals knew their place, life would be good. Or would it be? A lot of talent and intellectual capital was being wasted. In the 70’s we experienced my generations “great recession.” All around the world, economies were sinking and the U.K.’s was sinking faster than many others. I always believed that a lack of “class mobility” was hurting the U.K.
So how does this relate to what we see happening in the U.S. today? Like many others I am trying to understand what the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is all about. Is it “class warfare” with the poor hoping to take from “the rich?” Maybe for some, but I believe most Americans, including those protesting, are not against the creation of wealth. Class mobility, or stated another way, the opportunity to do well; to become wealthy, is a part of our culture.
Many of the wealthiest individuals in the U.S. are the successful entrepreneurs who created great American companies. Companies like Apple, Google, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Facebook, it’s a long list. Each of these entrpreneurs had a vision of what people wanted or needed. And as they became wealthy they created millions of jobs, and billions in tax revenues for all levels of government. I doubt there are many people who resent the fact that Steve Jobs became a very wealthy man.
So–why all the protest? It is easy for people to understand how Steve Jobs became wealthy. He earned it. What people don’t understand is how individuals can become extremely wealthy while taking the world’s economy to the brink of destruction. They did not “earn it.” And the taxpayers, including all those wealthy entrepreneurs, are left to pay the bills.
The cozy relationship between “Washington” and “Wall Street” created a wonderful world in which “risk” did not exist, and you could become extremely wealthy speculating with other peoples money. Of course, in the real world, risk does exist and speculating with other peoples money is unethical, (even if it is legal). You can make anything legal if you have enough money to buy the votes of those who make the laws.
Here we are three years after the meltdown, and there are those on Wall Street still playing the game. Jon Corzine’s MF Global lost big betting other peoples money on highly leveraged European debt instruments. (I will not repeat all the details that have been widely reported in the press.) Jon Corzine will not be the loser, although he did state that he would not seek a severance package after resigning. Amazing! A former head of Goldman Sachs, and a U.S. Senator, he is also one of the biggest “bundlers” of campaign contributions for President Obama. This guy should be the “poster boy” for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Upward “class mobility” is what makes this country great, the ability to make a better life for yourself and your family. But if money is going to determine the outcome of our elections we don’t have much of a democracy. And if it’s not a fair game the only “class mobility” we will have, is downward.