Challenging Economic Injustice: OWS’s Fight Against the 1%
The “Occupy Wall Street” movement (hereinafter, OWS) is a protest movement in the United States of America that began on 17th September 2011at Zuccoti Park in Lower Manhattan (Lang & Lang/Levitsky, 2012). Canadian activist group initiated the group known as Adbusters under the leadership of Kallen Lasn and Micah White (Weston, 2012). It sparked a global revolt against the social, economic and financial imbalance between the 1% rich and the 99% poor citizens (Weston, 2012).
The “Occupy Wall Street” movement’s slogan “We are the 99%” emphasizes that the protesters are the poor, middle class and unemployed. They seek to fight against greed and corruption done by the 1% rich in the U.S. The protestors claim that the wealthy are not paying their share taxes. In fact, the rich 1% paid federal income tax of 40% in 2010, while 47% of the affluent failed to pay the federal income tax (Stiglitz, Edlin, & De, 2012). This is an immoral practice that promotes injustices and unfairness in American society. The OWS is thus a movement that is out to campaign against such economic injustices by the 1% rich people in America.
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For many decades now, the employees have been working hard to ensure that cooperative enterprises get more revenues. Nevertheless, what they get in return is not proportionate to the amount of work they do. Instead, the managers keep on increasing their own salaries. The OWS argues that some of these managers and politicians cheated and exploited their way to higher positions (Stiglitz et al., 2012).
The second moral implication of the OWS is the care and welfare of the poor. The protesters claim that the wealthy are careless people who do not think of the well-being of the poor (Lang & Lang/Levitsky, 2012). The rich occupy most of the health centers and learning institutions since both medical and school fees are high that the poor and ordinary peasants in the countryside cannot afford (Lang & Lang/Levitsky, 2012). It is quite ironical that even the school bursary and loans do not reach the middle-class students. Instead, the rich squander such money through corruption in the course of their disbursement. Therefore, the OWS’s demonstrations advocate for a welfare-based and caring the U.S. society.
The economic concern of the OWS is youth unemployment. The protesters are mainly youths who are victims of long durations of unemployment (Stiglitz et al., 2012). Others have undergone training but have not found employment opportunities to apply their skills in their areas of professional specialization. Unemployment is responsible for income inequality between the wealthy and the poor. Economically, the protest movement also fought for equal sharing of the tax. According to the 2010 tax reports which the movement is privy to, the American affluent often engages in tax evasion (Weston, 2012).
As much as the OWS was fighting for equity between the rich and the poor, their activities partly led to economic decline in the U.S. The business reports showed that the over $479,000 is embezzled quarterly in Manhattan financial district since many customers can no longer access their businesses. The number of employees has also declined in areas where the protest is strong due to mobilization to halt their services (Alperovitz & Speth, 2011).
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Utilitarianism, Kantian and Virtue Ethics
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that uses the consequences of a particular action/policy to judge whether it was right or wrong. Its focus is on the interest of others instead of the self (Alperovitz & Speth, 2011). It accurately captures the mission of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement since this group advocated for fairness and equality before the law. The movement subscribes to the philosophy that it is possible to achieve equitable access to and distribution of income and other resources between various sections of American society. This makes this movement suitable for classification under the utilitarian movement. The movement’s main concerns such as fairness, care, liberty, and equal taxation and employment opportunities for the youths, all support its advocacy for a utilitarian American society (Alperovitz & Speth, 2011).
Kant in his philosophy asserts that the consequences of an action or policy do not determine its justification or otherwise. On the contrary, what determines actions to be right or wrong is the fact that they have fulfilled one’s own interests (Alperovitz & Speth, 2011). Therefore, the Kantian doctrine of ethics cannot be supported by the OWS since its implications are for citizens and not an individual. The protests movement action is not aimed at causing harm but to change the economic situation in the country. Although the “Occupy Wall Street” movement caused strikes in job places that led to unemployment in Manhattan, this was not the original intention. Therefore, it is not appropriate to categorize the OWS movement under the Kantian doctrine.
Virtue ethics is normative ethics emphasizing moral character based on a person’s inward behavior (Alperovitz & Speth 2011). The person’s choice of a certain action would depend on his/ her moral values. The “Occupy Wall Street” protests intended to emancipate and liberate the poor majority. The liberation targeted the promotion of equality between the rich in terms of taxation, income and wealth distribution (Alperovitz & Speth, 2011). Hence, virtue ethics guided the OWS movement’s activities.
Income Inequality and Wealth Distribution in the U.S.
For the past 30 years, the gap between the rich and the poor has been tremendously growing in the U. S. economy. Since the 1970s, income and wealth inequality has been increasing. The rich continue to get richer while the poor become poorer (Stiglitz et al., 2012). Estimates indicate that the income for the top 20% affluent has increased since the 1970s while those of the poor majority continue to plunge (Stiglitz et al., 2012).
The more elite, rich entrepreneurs and politicians are responsible for income and wealth disparity in the U. S. The economic and political elites occupy the most common professions such as management and administration in almost all statutory institutions. They are the physicians, lawyers and financial specialists, shylocks and renowned entrepreneurs (Stiglitz et al., 2012). These people dictate and control almost all sectors of the American economy. They thus determine who climbs the socioeconomic ladder and those who remain in the lowest middle class. Their influence determines the political landscape of America since they can use their resources to tilt it in favor of the candidate they endorse.
The income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. economy is not something that happened suddenly. Inequality began to gain root in the U.S. in the period after the civil war (Stiglitz et al., 2012). From 1937 to 1947, America was experiencing a dramatic decline in income inequality. The increasing trend in inequality in income and wealth distribution picked up again in the 1970s when the government decided to hike the wages for the working class (Lang & Lang/Levitsky, 2012). The government raised taxes on the working class, although this only affected the laborers in the middle class who suffered from heavy taxation.
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In 2011, the income for the middle class remained stagnant but income tax increased. On the other hand, the income for the professionals increased but their income tax decreased (Lang & Lang/Levitsky, 2012). This created inequalities and a stratified workforce. This condition worsened with a cut in wages in the 2008-2010 global economic crises that affected the American economy. The rich survived the recession and passed down the consequences of inflation on the poor who were already struggling with life. Such frustrations and inequalities were the reason that sparked the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.
Wealth has a direct relationship with a person’s income. The highest income earners are, thus, likely to save their income and use it to accumulate wealth. Such savings become their capital base for investments. The capital gains and profits from the investments of the affluent are subjected to under-taxation. On the other hand, lower-income earners are unable to save hence they cannot accumulate wealth. In return, they stand to earn low in capital gains in comparison with their rich counterparts (Weston, 2012).
OWS’s Approach to Income and Wealth Equity in a Capitalistic Society
The movement is fighting for equity and fairness in the distribution of resources and wealth of society. In a capitalistic state, like the U.S., political and economic power rests squarely in the hands of a few wealthy people. The alternative to this system that creates economic and social inequalities is socialism. Although the OWS movement is not directly pushing for a socialist society, their ideologies seem to favor socialism as a replacement for capitalism (Weston, 2012).
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The main objective of the OWS movement is to build a society where equality, fairness, justice and impartiality guide all state and economic structures. Wages must be commensurate with the amount of work done, the competence of the employees and the conditions of work. It is possible to achieve wealth redistribution and facilitate the reduction of the wide differences in the income of various classes in the American economy. This is achievable through the creation of more employment opportunities, promotion of equal taxation structures commensurate with one’s income. The economy must also be made hybrid or mixed where the government plays a significant role in the economy along with the private sector players.
The Future of the OWS Movement
The OWS movement is more likely to fade away after the government has met some of their demands. In its initial stages, the movement will attract a large following as was the case in some of the protest movements similar to the Arab region uprisings. However, being a revolutionary movement, it is likely to fade off after its effect has given rise to some of its demands (Stiglitz et al., 2012).
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The “Occupy Wall Street” movement continues to attract a lot of criticisms. Most critics argue that its demands are genuine. The only contention of the critics is that the movement’s approach is likely to worsen the state of affairs even more than what it is presently. Gradual stabilization of the economy is likely to see the movement also reduce its fervency. This is because much of the crises that the movement is contesting are the consequences of inflation resulting from the global economic crisis that began in the U.S. in 2008.
The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has begun achieving some of its goals. The government has received the petitions of the movement and promised to act on them. The youth has also been given the challenge and opportunity to participate in private and public sector entrepreneurship so as to reduce competition for the few government and corporate jobs. These developments are likely to calm the movement gradually until it loses its vigor.
The “Occupy Wall Street” movement advocates for economic, political and social liberation of the poor from a system that has contributed towards the rich becoming rich as the poor becoming poorer. Its industrial approach has seen protests in most of the sectors of the American economy by employees who demand the improvement of working conditions and wages along with changes in the taxation policies. The movement advocates for the creation of alternative structures that would promote redistribution of wealth and income, and advocate equity between the rich and the poor.