As I’m walking in a midtown subway station, a group starts yelling "Occupy Wall Street, all day and all night" over and over again. And this is followed by "We are the 99 percent" also over and over again. The message is clear whether it is delivered in Zuccoti Park, in a subway station or anywhere across the country.
As I reflect on the movement, I am sympathetic to the calls for tax reform. There are, in my opinion, federal tax rates that are too low for the income involved, and there are rates that are too high. And yet many in Washington are opposed to any changes or fine tuning whatsoever. Many of these same individuals also champion a more balanced budget. That leaves spending cuts as our sole present fiscal policy tool. But cutting more in social services or in defense spending in the short term may not be a desirable option. And, besides, too many spending cuts are counterproductive to a struggling economy. Going back to tax rates, what makes our current structure so perfect (loopholes and all ) that there is significant opposition to any changes? Were they set with such precision or were they set through a series of political compromises that yielded the present matrix (which may or may not be the best possible matrix for our economy)? And if we focus exclusively on the top 1% of our population (in economic terms) , which is getting richer and richer over time, are they really paying the taxes they should or does the system provide them with more than their fair share of benefits?
Periodically, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are joined by prominent individuals and celebrities in a strong show of support. The support leads to more airtime for the demonstration and as such serves to highlight both the person and the movement. I sometimes wonder how strongly the celebrities share an on-going commitment to change. How politically active are they and how involved are they in moving forward the agenda of needed change? Are some looking for a photo opportunity or to move forward a cause?
I have two other observations. The demonstrators clearly have Wall Street as their target giving a misleading sense that wealth is concentrated solely in these individuals. Wall Street employs many people who are far from wealthy, and there are many areas outside of Wall Street where the wealth and income of individuals involved is at the top 1% level. Though clearly there needs to be more transparency in the dealings of financial institutions and more reforms are still needed, the target should be the tax rate structure rather than the street address.
I worry about how the demonstrators will make the transition from protest movement to major political force to be reckoned with. If the major presence of the Occupy Wall Street movement is in Zuccoti Park and like places, the movement will have failed. It needs to transition to a strong political movement. The Tea Party is not my drink of choice but I give them great credit for not only standing up for what they believe in, but also in impacting the political landscape and the halls of government. To really be successful, Occupy Wall Street needs to march out of the park and into the 2012 election.