Guest Post: OWS, A Conversation Worth Having

Welcome back, Sara! You may remember her from a guest post a few months ago about Jezebel’s iffy science coverage. We were discussing my Occupy Wall Street post earlier this week, and she raised some very interesting counterpoints to my frustrations with the OWS movement. I asked her to write them down (in non-gchat form) and she did, just for you!

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Much like Emily, as I’ve watched the OWS protests, I’ve alternated between feelings of solidarity — my salary, while keeping me in yoga, isn’t exactly paying for a private jet — and feelings of disconnection – I too am the child of educated parents who grew up in a house full of books and opportunities. But I support those protesters and I identify with their frustration, even if I’m unlikely to brave the cold to join them. And it’s because I really do think they’ve started a national conversation about income inequality in this country.

Because of OWS, I can make intelligent arguments about how there should be higher capital gains taxes – a term I couldn’t even have defined 6 months ago. Now I know that hedge fund billionaires pay a lower marginal tax rate than I do, and that there are no insider trading laws preventing congressmen from using privileged information they might gain from, say, sitting on the committee on financial services, to increase their personal income. All of this knowledge about the way the tax code works is stuff my accountant parents have talked about for years, but it took OWS to make it national news.

I credit the protests with forcing the American media, and therefore Americans, to have an actual philosophical (if also hyperbolic, melodramatic and sometimes alarmist) conversation about the way wealth is distributed in this country, and whether we think a government has a responsibility to diminish inequality. Whether you think the free market should reign unchecked, or that we should all live on a commune and share everything evenly, that’s a pretty powerful conversation, and exactly the one we should be having.

Related Post: A different kind of protest, with less clothing.

Related Post: Harnessing Poehler power for the purposes of Planned Parenthood.

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8 Comments

Filed under Guest Posts, Politics

8 responses to “Guest Post: OWS, A Conversation Worth Having

  1. Rebecca

    while I vehemently agree with the picket sign displayed in the picture, the growing income inequality is a WORLDWIDE phenomenon that has more to to with education and production of skilled labor than it has anything to do with taxes. the real way to improve the grossly polar distribution of wealth is to have a harvard educated international investment banker marry a high school dropout.

  2. Chelsea S-J

    Haha, or at least make them adopt one 😛

    No, seriously though, good point. It took this to teach me more about the capital gains tax too, which only serves to simultaneously draw me toward and repel me from practicing estate planning.

  3. Rebecca 2.0

    I completely confess that I have a hard time not returning to really interesting debates…on that note I want to add three other points because I think it’s important to understand exactly the kinds of figures that are being given to us by a lot of pro-OWSers. When we define inequality solely according to people’s incomes, we elide a lot of other relevant variables that contribute to standards of living. Firstly, no of these measure of income inequality account for the money that government is already spending on programs for low-income groups. It distributes income over the whole population, including illegal immigrants who aren’t officially in the U.S. labor force, inflating the population and making it seem like the poor are a lot poorer than they actually are. It ends up distorting the actual percentage of income share by about 4% points, which is pretty significant. If Obama could get unemployment to drop by 4%, we’d be back at the natural rate of unemployment. Another interesting analysis, if you take the richest half of the U.S. population and compare their income share with the poorest half, it’s true that Richy McRicherson controls 88% of national income (or GDP), but it’s also true that they incur 97% of the tax burden, leaving 3% of the tax share to the bottom half of the U.S. population. Also, why do we measure income instead of consumption? Do rich people consume more and better stuff than poor people? Actually, according to an article in a journal of economic studies that I just read and prompted me to make this point, the answer is that the difference between what rich people consume and what poor people consume “does not show a significant upward trend”. Granted, this is not an ideal indicator since it could be that poor people are consuming things just buy accruing more debt, but it does demonstrate the potential for mobility and that maybe we shouldn’t uncritically accept income as the sole measure of economic well-being. This all leads me back to my initial point: if the U.S. is suffering any kind of dearth, it’s one in the availability of skilled labor, i.e. IF ANYONE FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION HAPPENS UPON THIS COMMENT PLEASE DO SOMETHING TO IMPROVE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEMS IN AMERICA. Sara, I agree with you, there is an unfair distribution in the United States, one grossly perpetuates and maintains all other inequalities, and it’s in access to good education. But I honestly believe that income inequality isn’t a symptom of inequitable tax burden between rich and poor, it’s a symptom of how low income households and governments have, by and large, completely abandoned America’s children because the lobbies like the AARP, and rent-seekers for universal health care (but mostly I’m pointing my fingers at the AARP who keep demanding more social security) divert attention and finding away from these kids who JUST want an incrementally better future. I ranted. I know. But no one is saying anything about it in the protests, and it breaks my heart.

  4. Rebecca 2.0

    oops there are a lot of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors….

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