Class Warfare or Class Mobility

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.


Filed under Politics

2 responses to “Class Warfare or Class Mobility

  1. Charlie B

    Dan … points all well made. I’d add some other aspects about “class mobility” in the USA. There are plenty of statistics available to demonstrate significant movement between what some would like to call “classes”. Those in the upper income ranges move on a regular basis from the lower ranges … and vice-versa. This is demonstrated well beyond the truly wealthy and the truly poor (the upper or lower 1%, or 0.1%, or whatever range one likes to bleat into a microphone). Not at all unusual for someone in the bottom quartile to appear in the upper quartile a year or two later … or vice versa. Happens all the time .. especially when we measure “wealth” by the misguided concept of annual income. In my humble opinion, this occurs so often in our country because most citizens have enjoyed a great deal of economic and personal freedom. This freedom is only possible with a minimal amount of governmental interference in the citizens affairs (other than to act as the referee when one citizen seeks to restirct the freedom of another). We have allowed the Big Boys in DC and Wall Street to play by their own set of rules. Time for Main Street values to be reestablished. I suspect those being polled as have some level of agreement or sympathy with both the Tea Pary and Occupy “movements” (i.e. those being polled, not those receiving the media attention) would find a great deal of common ground … centered around the above sentiments.

  2. Mr Denmore

    Great observations, Dan. You my have seen the blog post by liberal-leaning libertarian James Sinclairl, which used a neat Venn diagram to show how the Occupy Wall St people and the Tea Party are really protesting about the same issue but from different angles:

    “The greatest threat to our economy is neither corporations nor the government. The greatest threat to our economy is both of them working together. There are currently two sizable coalitions of angry citizens that are almost on the same page about that, and they’re too busy insulting each other to notice.”

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