Occupying America: The Solution the Movement Needs to Present, Part 1

Jeffrey D. Klein
J.D. Candidate 2013, UCI Law
For Moderate Independent Society

The excitement is palpable. For a generation, there have been those of us who have seen our nation heading toward collapse; handing more and more money to a few up top, while outsourcing/offshoring/downsizing/Wal-Marting the rest of us out of our ability to get by. Yet, until now, no one has found a useful way to stand up against what is happening.

I was down at Occupy Los Angeles last week. The strength of the protest is its weakness. The protest is able to stay together because no one is fighting over what the message or demands are. In fact, because there are not specific policy demands, it is very hard for the Fox Newsers and Limbaughs to really take on the Occupiers. Fox and Limbaugh are drooling at the chance to misrepresent policy. The Occupiers are not giving them that chance.

This lack of agenda is what enables this movement to expand – this weekend, it will become worldwide. And yet, of course, anger without answers cannot yield a solution. So what policies have created the situation that the Occupy Wall Street/LAers are protesting?

Those who have read my previous Voice article, “How the ‘Reagan Rule’ Destroyed the Economy,” are familiar with the issues. The fact that the top 1% has all of the cash is not a coincidence. It was the platform Ronald Reagan brought to America. Reagan sold the nation on the idea that if we just make sure the rich and CEOs make lots of money, the rest of us will benefit. It was a complete inversion of traditional economic thinking, which followed the Henry Ford Rule: you have to pay people well enough to buy your stuff or you will not have any customers.

Since Reagan took office, policy after policy has been implemented that hands all the money to a few and lays off/undercuts the rest. It began in late 1980s, as corporations downsized, laying off a huge segment of the upper middle class. This was good for corporate profits, but the beginning of the disaster we are in now.

The next step was the Wal-Marting of America. One by one, businesses were eliminated by Big Box stores that put all competition out of business. Whether it was Blockbuster putting under all video stores; Home Depot putting out of business every hardware store, lighting store, appliance store, paint store, lumber yard, nursery, etc. for five towns over; or Wal-Mart itself, closing down all of Main Street, the Wal-Marting of America eliminated one core of the American economy. These stores did not just wipe out hordes of mom-and-pop shops; because of their monopolistic control of the marketplace, they squeezed to nothing the profit margins of every supplier, which in turn had to squeeze every manufacturer, every trucker/deliverer, etc. In short, now only a handful of executives from one chain make any money, while everyone else begs for clerical scraps and dirt wages with few or no benefits.

Then came free trade. In fact, even as the Occupiers sit on Wall Street, the government just voted to approve three new free trade agreements. The lie is that free trade creates jobs by opening new markets. The reality is that free trade has been the disaster of the century. Of course, what free trade does is allow corporations to exploit cheap labor without having to pay tariffs. Thus, the steady outflow of American jobs to China, Mexico, etc. since the 1990s when free trade was passed. (Even the Wall Street Journal can’t deny it).1

Free trade, more than anything else, is the reason the economy is in collapse. It used to be that you could make sure to buy American – say, buy a Ford – and that would create a job here. Well, the Ford Fiesta is now, thanks to free trade, 100% foreign made. One I looked at recently was 80% made in Mexico, 20% made in Brazil. Is this really good for the economy? Of course not. If buying a Ford won’t create a job in America, how is the economy ever going to recover?

The answer: it won’t. Not without a reversal of Reaganism-inspired bad policies like the above.

In the next issue of Voice, Part 2 of this article will address the steps that need to be taken to address these issues.

1 See: David Wessel, Big U.S. Firms Shift Hiring Abroad, Wall St. J., April 19, 2011.