I spent last week at Occupy Miami and Occupy Fort Lauderdale, Fla. One question came up several times: What if the system responds--or pretends to respond--to our demands? What if the political class agrees to create more jobs, help the unemployed, let distressed homeowners keep their houses?
Then the Occupy movement (and American progressivism) will be out of business.
"President Obama could finish us off overnight," I said. "A speech would be enough. He wouldn't even have to do anything."
President Barack Obama could announce a big jobs bill, knowing full well that Congressional Republicans would kill it. It would probably increase his re-election prospects.
But don't worry, he won't. America's corporate rulers and their pet politicians know people are furious. They know history. Sooner or later, the downtrodden rise up.
There's no doubt about the nature or scale of the problem. Economists from left to right agree that the United States suffers from high structural inequality.
"At least five large studies in recent years have found the United States to be less mobile than comparable nations," reported The New York Times on Jan. 5. According to a Swedish study, 42 percent of American boys raised by parents whose incomes fall in the bottom 40 percent of wage earners remain in the bottom 40 percent as adults--a much higher rate than such nations as Denmark (25 percent) and England (30 percent).
Half of Americans live under two times the poverty line. But the persistence of poverty in America is unique among developed industrialized nations.
"Miles Corak, an economist at the University of Ottawa, found that just 16 percent of Canadian men raised in the bottom 10th of incomes stayed there as adults, compared with 22 percent of Americans. Similarly, 26 percent of American men raised at the top 10th stayed there, but just 18 percent of Canadians," writes the New York Times.
When family background determines your fate, you look for other options. Like getting rid of the system that makes things that way.
There is no better predictor of revolution than an absence of economic mobility. During the 1930s and 1960s, liberal leaders ended street protests by promising change. Why not now? Why isn't anyone promising to address income inequality?
First, the rich are feeling squeezed. The global capitalist system no longer has much room to expand. Feeling squeezed, our rulers aren't in the mood to be generous.
Second, the ruling classes have fooled themselves into believing they no longer need to exploit workers to extract surplus value.
Third, the rich think they can insulate themselves from the masses of the dispossessed, behind high-tech alarm systems inside their gated communities.
Finally, there has always been a division within the elites between enlightened liberals and hardass thieves. The liberals don't like us; they fear us. So they try to keep us satisfied enough not to revolt. The thieves count on brute force to keep the barbarians at bay. The balance of power has shifted to the thieves, which is why figures like Obama can't even pretend to care about the issues most important to the great majority of people.