What’s occupying Occupy?

by Andrew Pegler

The Occupy movement has travelled well since kicking off, or should I say sitting down, in Manhattan a few months ago.

Perhaps it’s a zeitgeist thing, the time is nigh and all that. A lot of angry people reckon “the system” has let them down. On that I offer no opinion; every argument has two sides. But today let’s explore what’s bugging Occupy.

Right now a generation of young people in the U.S. and Europe are staring down the barrel of 40 per cent unemployment, and years of social upheaval and economic austerity. Even here in the luckiest of lucky countries, there’s anger. One Occupy Sydney protestor literally got her teeth stuck into it, biting an arresting officer, while the Melbourne chapter were turfed out of the CBD in a bloody conflict with mounted policemen.

The demands of the loose global coalition that is Occupy are varied but their aspirations are ambitious, including the decorporatisation of politics, more equal distribution of income, bank reform and a review of executive pay. (In the case of Occupy Melbourne, now permanently camped in a city park, may I also suggest 144 rolls of Kleenex 2 ply and 20 cans of Glen 20 air freshener?)

One of the many catalysts of Occupy can be traced to a Vanity Fair article penned earlier this year by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Steiglitz

Smokin’ Joe deftly tears strips off modern capitalism, blaming it for everything from social dislocation to sovereign debt dramas. Steiglitz, not a guy who does facts lightly, calculates that the wealthiest 1 per cent of Americans earn about 25 per cent of that nation’s income. And they control 40 per cent of the country’s wealth. In the mid 1980s, the figures were 12 per cent and 33 per cent respectively.

And while the top 1 per cent have seen their incomes rise 18 per cent over the past decade, US middle class incomes have fallen. That’s essentially what’s occupying the busy heads of those occupying.

I’ll leave you with Steiglitz’s closing remarks: “… there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought [the top 1 per cent]: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 per cent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 per cent eventually do learn. Too late.”