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Dispatches from Dewey Square: A financial explanation of Occupy

Posted by Alex Pearlman  November 16, 2011 08:43 AM

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occupy wall street wealth distribution.jpgBy Max Chalkin

Early yesterday morning, police cleared Zuccotti Park of its Occupy Wall Street residents. New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman followed the eviction with the ruling that protesters would not be allowed back in the park with their gear, making it clear that the Occupy movement is under attack. Therefore, I urge you: Before it’s too late, go to Occupy Boston.

I’m speaking to you, the person who’s skeptical of the whole thing. Have the words “I don’t get it” escaped from your mouth? Do you understand what this movement is protesting? No? Then go. Read some signs, and speak with the people you see. You will begin to “get it.”

Every day at Occupy Boston, people discuss the problems that brought down our financial system and affected the lives of millions. You don’t need to understand the ins and outs of every issue to join the conversation; you just need to understand pie.

Say you have a nice, big pumpkin pie (we’re near Thanksgiving, after all) and a group of 10 people who want to share it. How you divide the pie determines whether and how much those people get to eat.  Would you give half the pie to two people and leave the other eight to divide the remaining half? Of course not.

But that is how Lady Liberty divides the pie of the U.S. economy: The top 1 percent gets a fat quarter (they earn 24 percent of the country’s total income); the next 19 percent get another quarter, meaning the top 20 percent of Americans account for half the country’s income. By the time the pie gets around to the final one or two people in the group, 96.6 percent of the pie is gone. Fifteen percent of Americans live below the poverty line.

In 1980, the average CEO of a major corporation made 42 times what the average worker made. By 2010, that CEO made 343 times more than the average worker. Put simply: The rich got richer, and they like it that way; they want to stay rich, so they give money to politicians to maintain the status quo.

Then, right on cue, in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court said, “Okay, corporations can give as much money as they want to any political candidate.” And because politicians are beholden to their donors and act in ways that benefit those donors, the rich and the big corporations control the nation’s cockpit.

In January of this year, the U.S. Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission reported its findings on the 2007-2009 financial crisis, concluding that "the crisis was avoidable and was caused by: Widespread failures in financial regulation, including the Federal Reserve’s failure to stem the tide of toxic mortgages; dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance including too many financial firms acting recklessly and taking on too much risk; an explosive mix of excessive borrowing and risk by households and Wall Street that put the financial system on a collision course with crisis; key policy makers ill prepared for the crisis, lacking a full understanding of the financial system they oversaw; and systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels.”

And that, in a nutshell, is why the protesters are down in Dewey Square. There has been a failure of justice somewhere at the intersection of money and politics, and it’s up to the majority -- the 99 percent -- to change it.

Don’t be afraid of talking about big problems. Fairness does not answer to silence.

Max Chalkin is spending time "in the trenches" at Occupy Boston, speaking with occupiers, attending general assemblies and marches, and learning what camp life is like. His thoughts and observations will be published twice each week as TNGG Boston's “Dispatches from Dewey Square” series.

Photo by Mat McDermott (Flickr)

About Max -- Max Chalkin is a recent graduate of Tufts University and is currently working in biotech marketing. His interests include entrepreneurship, technology, politics, food, and nightlife. He is an avid photographer, cook, and scuba diver.

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