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Movements need slogans, and the 1% vs the 99% has caught attention. I want to dig deeper: who are the 1% that are getting richer relative to the rest of us? Do they earn their tremendous wealth? Why are people so angry at today's top 1%?

So who gets rich, and how? I'll start with the part of the 1% that doesn't upset me.

The Creative and Efficient Rich in a Free Market

Steve Jobs earned his pay. I do believe he should be taxed-and-thanked, it's a virtuous circle all around that past generations built schools and roads and an economy so people like Jobs could leverage their creativity to produce tremendous wealth, a substantial chunk of which should go to the next generation of schools and rails.

There are those who do in fact do things of tremendous productivity. Steve Jobs, or Henry Ford, or past generations of men who became immensely rich in the industrial revolution. Adam Smith said the economy would work wonders if everyone received money equal to their contribution. Steve Jobs was amazingly creative, and if he had $10 of my money for a palace or a yacht, in capitalist terms he'd earned it, he's provided me more than $10 worth of benefit. Henry Ford helped organize workers in new ways so that each worker could produce more: under Ford, a person working one hour actually produced more product, leaving more for himself, more for the consumers, and more for Ford. Steve Jobs or Henry Ford getting rich isn't mere "class warfare" being won by the rich.

Modern Elites Round #1: Mergers, Outsourcing and Rent-Takers

Are Occupy folks wealth-envious? We are more upset with American CEOs than European, with CEOs of the 2000's than the 1960's: Why?

For the last couple decades, there is another kind of elite coming to the fore.

Imagine you are a CEO with workers paid $15 an hour earning your company $30 every hour. You can help those workers produce a better product (think Steve Jobs) or be more productive (think Henry Ford's production lines), so they make $33 with the same hour. These seem like real productivity increases: you've earned your profits. A third way to increase profits is to cut worker pay from $15 to $12 (think Walmart). This doesn't seem like the same thing to me. Paying people less looks like the same thing on paper, but it violates the whole point of Adam Smith's capitalism. The CEO who bargains harder or sends the jobs to China is getting rich without contributing anything to society.

One hundred years ago these folks were called the Robber Barons: making their money not so much by being more efficient in a competitive market, but by ending the competitive market. Mergers rather than creativity.

When we think of capitalists earning vast riches by providing even more vast wealth, we're not talking about Walmart.

Modern Elites Round #2: Wall Street

Wall Street has absorbed a tremendous amount of the productivity of the US especially during the last decade. Supposedly they got so super-rich for moving our investments to where those investments were needed most, and for taking on risks. But the crash shows that this was never true: even before the crash, Wall Street was moving our nation's investments to meet their needs, not to create real productivity.

Wall Street, even before the crash, was being paid (don't use the word "earning") a fortune while destroying value. And the risks were always waiting on the shoulders of the school teachers, not bankers or CEOs.

That wealth comes from somewhere: some worker had to create all the goods and services that are not going back to the people creating the wealth, but to parasites. Investors trying to build factories that employ workers instead find their money leaking into a non-productive class, even on the good years when Wall Street isn't crashing the whole economy.

The idea that this portion of the 1% -- a huge and rapidly growing part of the 1% -- deserves what they "earned" is an obvious joke, one worthy of a peaceful revolution.

Next: Just as Wall Street has been paid tremendously without providing real value, the people creating real value are not being paid what we earn =>

Footnote: No Class War

Steve Jobs is part of the 1%. I do believe he earned, in free-market terms, his astounding pay. He did it in part because of all the teachers, scientists and productive people who either came before or who create a healthy economy today. There should be no class war: Steve Jobs kicked ass, did great things, should pay taxes sufficient for teachers, public works, basic research, etc. He should appreciate his teachers, and happily pay for the next generation of teachers; and in turn we could appreciate his productivity. No class war necessary.

Unfortunately, that's not the world we live in today. Why do we not live in a world of abundance?

Footnote: No Free Market

Not only are we not trying to start a Class War, but what we have now is no "Free Market." When Adam Smith talked about capitalism and a free market, fair competition was what the government was supposed to avoid messing with. That, we most surely do not have today:
Oligopolies where too few companies own too much -- and have too much ability to dominate supermarkets in this example. When companies are earning too much because of too little competition, that means someone else is getting much less of what is produced compared to what a healthy-capitalist free, competitive market would say they had earned. Who gets less because of the lack of free-market competition? Probably, you.

How do liberals and conservatives see fairness?

The conservative definition of fairness is that you have wealth equal to the wealth you contribute to society: you get what you give. In the Free Market that Adam Smith defined, families are paid proportional to what they contribute, and what their parents passed on from their work. A fair day's pay for a fair day's work.
The liberal definition of fairness modifies that view: we are all part of one society. Does someone whose father gave their life to stop Hitler deserve an inferior education to Bill Gates Sr's kid? Did Bill Gates entirely earn his fortune solo, or should the scientists and teachers who didn't earn a fortune creating the technology and educating the workers that made him rich be part of the equation?

Never mind Socialism, never mind even the liberal definition of fairness. The point of a functioning free market economy, it's only possible justification, is a fair day's pay for a fair day's work. And we no longer have even that. Just like the Tea Party fury at the Bank Bailout should make sense to all Americans, the fury of Occupy is that ordinary people are not being given even the conservative definition of fairness.

What we have

What we have today is an economy where as workers become more productive, they are not paid more. The increased wealth they generate is absorbed completely by the stock market and managers. And the 1% (really just the top tenth of the 1%) spends its energy and makes its fortune off the increased productivity of working people, or by moving jobs overseas and leaving people unable to work.

When Walmart gets rich by moving jobs to China, or executives Goldman Sachs gets rich in so many ways by playing with mortgages or toying with millions of workers' retirement funds, real wealth moves from people willing to sweat or create into the hands of people who aren't doing either.

Even under capitalism -- especially under functioning capitalism -- this doesn't need to be so. Germany's economy is functioning well enough to rescue corrupt nations like Greece while providing a good living and vacation time to their workers.

American workers don't work less hard than German -- we're getting screwed. We should be in the streets. If a foreign nation did what Wall Street did, we would fight. Even if you don't believe in Socialism, or Liberalism, even if you just believe in Adam Smith's world where someone who's not that productive shouldn't get a helping hand, they should merely have the opportunity to have a job and be paid for what little productivity they have, even then, we're getting screwed, we should be in the streets.

Even many of the most successful, like the Gates, are left scratching their heads at how much the game is rigged in their direction.


Individuals can certainly move up and down the income levels. But overall, the US has gone through a giant shift in the last generation, as shown clearly by the chart on this article about the Great Compression in income, after breaking up the trusts at the turn of the last century. Of course while the crowds at Occupy include many people dreaming of something much farther left, the mass enthusiasm behind Occupy is not a desire for Socialism, but just restoring American economics to what many people call "the Greatest Generation." The US economy of World War II and the 50's and 60's was not wrecked by Socialism. It's the opposite: the parasitic economy where wealth is extracted in other ways than producing things of value is wrecking both equality and the overall economy.

Lots of economic articles trending towards graphs and footnotes.

Long ago in economics class, I learned that we produced the goods we needed with natural resources, labor and capital. Today we burn through more resources, have more capital, and have the best educated workforce in history. So why are we desperate? Why can't we pay for sufficient teachers for our kids?

I'd like to hear your answers: why don't ordinary people working hard live lives that feel abundant? Why isn't providing adequate schools easy? What's changed?

Challenge Desperation

  • Why isn't there abundance?
  • Why aren't there jobs?

It's often hard to focus on what Occupy is or wants, but I think one of the key starting points is that there is enough of two things currently in short supply:

  • there is enough work to be done
  • and there are for now enough resources

for everyone to have a job.

We've seen our economy move rapidly in the other direction in recent years -- despite an overall tendency towards deregulation and less progressive taxation! You can think that gov't tends to mess things up: but for 30 years we've been lowering or holding steady taxes on the richest and working for deregulation, so that can't explain the collapse of the middle class and the move away from shared abundance. Exercise: what has changed in the last generation reducing the sense of abundance in the US? (Use the comments.)

We have abundance available today. We may leave our kids debt and wrecked planet, but at least today, America has the resources for us all to live quite fine lives, certainly to pay for buses and teachers and after-school programs for kids. Open your eyes and you see people screaming and crying for the chance to work.

Ordinary Americans have been silenced. Technically we live in a democracy, but both liberals and conservatives have seen the country slip out of our understanding.

There are many voices calling Obama far-left, but even he seems absorbed by the old-boys network. If Wall Street held a gun to our heads and threatened a Great Depression if we didn't bail them out, why aren't more of them in jail, why are politicians of all stripes -- Obama to Tea Party -- friends with these thieves?
The Tea Party is furious, but just seems to want to set us up for a repeat, to give Wall Street even more power to buy Congress. It's not as if the CEOs wouldn't have made millions even if we didn't bail out their banks; unregulated and un-bailed-out Wall Street would do the same things again, make themselves millions, and leave us in a Great Depression after the next crash.

A choice between missing or mis-directed anger.

Occupy burst on the scene giving people a voice.

Not necessarily answers, but at least a voice. Two things that stood out to me in the early days when Occupy changed the nation's conscious:

  1. Listening each to all our stories. On the web, the most powerful website I read wasn't an analysis of the breakdown of the economy or a list of solutions, though there are many of those. To me Occupy was best represented by the site that let you, me and everyone tell our personal stories. Lots of stories, each read by a handful of other people, all of us talking, all of us listening.
  2. Showing up. Meeting your neighbors. People who didn't go to their local occupy event and just start meeting people missed out on a piece of history. None of the blogosphere came close to capturing the experiences: it's not about agreeing or disagreeing, thumbs up or thumbs down on Occupy, it was a brewing of democracy, a place to meet and share ideas. Occupy claims to be leaderless, but it's more than that: it's not about a central platform either, but Occupy is really the step before democracy. It's not a decision making body. We don't have to all agree, we have to all go meet each other, shake hands and make eye contact, tell our stories to each other a few at a time. Decide you think someone is a jerk after you've listened, not before! Meeting neighbors, as well as meeting our country's desperate people who have less than a safe tent to sleep in, isn't about policy or position, it's the step before democracy, it was an experience, and it was beautiful.

    I've also seen the Oakland Occupy stand out as the movement's failure. Here, now, ordinary people don't feel like they have a voice. You have to go to meeting after meeting. People aren't there to listen to you, but to tell you what to do. Consensus has been manipulated, so that things are done under the banner of a movement that have the support of a small minority instead of widespread consensus agreement. I've seen Occupy both give and take away people's sense of having a voice.

    This trail along the map looks at Occupy as a movement

    The same economic issues were a spark that lit anger exploding into the Tea Party a few years ago, and now that spark has flowered into a wonderful feeling of rebellious hope as Occupy. What are we up against, and how do we turn a shout of joy and resistance into a movement that can help people?

On the blog where we could all tell our stories, I was struck by one young, healthy veteran's tale. He risked his life to serve this country,

Max Udargo said it better than I can: Open Letter to that 53% Guy

Branch: Timing. List your goals for this movement.

Goals can range widely in flavor, two goals of mine:
1) Government rules that make the financial market more competitive, handicapping giant "Too Big to Fail" institutions.
1) A tiny financial transactions tax that wouldn't change long term investments but would make marginal derivatives games less profitable.
2) A breaking down of the racial, economic and consumption-habit barriers to loving our neighbors, feeling like the whole world is one community.

For many of my goals, a big reason they aren't happening is that money is lined up against them. So I probably need about a two-thirds majority of Americans to agree with the goal in order to be able to push it through politically. Break up goals into two or three groups, which ones already have a large majority agreement and can be pushed through with a powerful campaign? Which ones are not ready to win democratically, but we want Occupy to begin changing perspectives (either because they are not popular, or because they are too deep and abstract for politics). The third group are big ideas, where we might be able to push one through with a giant campaign, but it's not popular enough to be thrown in a basket: Single Payer Health Care seems an example of this, the American public isn't behind this enough to just pass it, but it's a goal that is thinkable, could have been in range with the right campaign, if we all got behind it. Progressives wouldn't have a chance to convince the American public on two or three such campaigns all at once.

Some of these ideas may be vastly more or less popular depending on how they are expressed. For example:

"More government regulation to break up big banks." vs "The federal government will stop subsidizing Too Big to Fail banks by not guarantee more than $100B in savings deposits for any one bank." (less gov't subsidies for the big banks, rather than unnamed regulations). Consider the framing, noting ways that people across the spectrum might agree with your idea now.
Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

What I've seen as the Oakland General Assembly, there is often conflict within the movement that is caused by poor communications. I think the following exercise can help:

Think about what you want to accomplish with Occupy. Now create two separate charts, audiences and timeline.


Take each of your goals and divide into a simple chart. What is within reach now? If money is against us, we need perhaps 60% (you pick your own number) of everyone to already agree with us to accomplish something with a political campaign. Otherwise, we need to be doing preparation work. As Occupy begins to promote specific policies, we need a paired promise between the pragmatists and the idealists: to take the first steps on our journey together now pulling political power to win concrete steps, while sharing the dream of more fundamental steps.

Moving Forward

This map of the Occupy idea-space splits after this step. I think of this point as "now," a moment when Occupy is amazing, inspiring, young; fuzzy and being chased out of the early occupations. We face a crisis between people who want to turn Occupy into a short-term political campaign, and those

It's deeply important that we stay merciful to each other: we can't get to the dream with taking a first step, be conscious of both sides even if you prefer to move along one track. The branches from here go into the short-term, realistic political, and the long-term educational. I don't believe either can survive without the other: Gandhi and King changed our deep understanding of the world partly by proving that their idealism could bring people freedom; the brought people short-term freedoms partly by expressing a dream.

* There is a difference simultaneously subtle and enormous between two types of radicals: one type wants to create deep, heartfelt changes across all of society and also have those changes reflected in the political system. Another wants to radicalize the people who already partly agree with them, create a little army of the righteous, and have their vanguard stretch reach fight and overwhelm opposition to place those changes into the political system. The second path is much easier to shout about, to play hero. You see it on both sides of the political spectrum. Phenomenally ineffective.

Environmentalism is deeply, deeply needed. I'm not sure exactly how to make it fit with the theme of Wall Street and the 99%.

Student Debt is akin to Republicans $2.50/gallon gas, though perhaps more achievable. It's an odd fit: high school graduates and non-grads are more screwed by the modern economy than college grads. It follows American politics overt but somewhat quiet love for the middle class, over-advertised pennies for the poor, alongside covert moving of real wealth to the rich. It reminds me of the recent extension of your parents medical benefits to 20-somethings: a strange thing for a country that claims to be equal, that the kids of the upper half should be so sheltered from what kids from the poorer half go through. If you're 25 and the child of ...

No movement can survive without vision: Let's fill the world with love and respect and beauty and solve racism and indigenous rights and homelessness.

No movement can survive without some tangible, pragmatic successes: let's reinstate Glass-Steagall and institute a 0.1% tax on financial transactions.

Can this be one movement, or will it split into two sides arguing about which it will be?

[v1] This map, I hope, indicates one movement despite two arrows. That people whose primary passions are vision or pragmatism stay allied, stay conscious of the need for both approaches, sign each others' petitions even we do have communities organizations that focus where they see fit.

[v2] The impetus for this site was partly a hope that the people who are inspired by successful pragmatic steps, and the people who are inspired by vision, will find ways to stay connected, to realize that both are needed even if few individuals have the time to be engaged on both sides. To get us together creating a deeper democracy -- on the streets, in person, involved -- takes a dream, while also doing more than dreaming.

The best exercise I've thought of so far is to have a group that is struggling break ideas by time: what can we get done in the next two years? Compare that with dreams for the next ten years or seven generations? I hope that that exercise makes obvious that both pieces are two sides of one effort.

How do we move forward? What compromises do we have to make, what compromises would destroy the movement? Democrats have carefully blazed out a trail that we need to avoid: compromising your values for short term gains. But we aren't going to be able to just avoid the questions.

Compromises that movements make:

  • Who is in? Who is in our coalition? Are we the 99%, representing a nice man who provides for his family and gives to charity but is a bit sexist and homophobic? Are we Occupy, a mostly young, radical group that likes to protest, gets a buzz out of it like some soldiers enjoyed their military service despite the work? This to me is the most interesting question.
  • Realists and Idealists. People with similar values some of us want to get a bill passed, others want to stay visionary. How do we keep the movement together? Do we keep it together? The Black Panthers and King, or Gandhi and the violent revolutionaries (well until they ripped the country in two and created generations of war and misery) stayed separate but in some ways the edged-movements reinforced the love-power. Occupy is dispersed and seems to have a lot of examples of both: many beautiful movements ready to grow, and Oakland which had some of the biggest and most committed community support, but has ripped itself largely apart. All the flavors of radical want to be the vanguard. Is broken glass the radical edge of our movement? Or is that reactionary silliness, and heart-work is the true radical? How do we hold together a movement?

Compromise on Issues


  1. An untrustworthy police force doesn't prove to anyone that their opponents (meaning you) are trustworthy. Successful revolutionary movements like those under King or Gandhi's leadership remained deeply brave and beautiful in the face of police brutality.

----- OAKLAND -----

In Oakland, Occupy has failed to stake at the position of realism and heart. Realism and heart is not the muddled-middle position of Obama compromising in a way indistinguishable from appeasement.

Rather, how can you have strong positions while respecting the other side, how can you always speak truth to power while respecting both the possibility that your opponents are decent human beings overall -- Gandhi managed this with the men enslaving his country, both compassionately and effectively --

Occupy Oakland, overall, has been completely non-radical in some ways: we are movement that looks like the old movements, we power ourselves with anger, a quiet person or a busy single mom is not part of our democracy because they don't have time for the meetings. The same personality types that dominate discourse everywhere else dominate here. We don't love our enemies anymore than our enemies love us. It is striking because I would guess 90% of the people who showed up for the biggest action are desperately trying to change these things, but OO has failed to transform the old world here.

We have been radical in our demands. We demand the right to have a protest where the diverse tactics might include breaking windows. We demand ideological purity.

Occupy Oakland has it completely ass-backwards: we're not compromising on the fact that we're right and have no need to respect anyone other than our own vanguard, but

Minor Branches:

My thoughts on where Occupy Oakland should go.

I think there is a general theme to goals that overlap Tea Party and Occupy, straight out of constitution: Separation of Powers, now including mega-corporations as well as government. Put aside the ideology, and both progressives and believers in competitive-capitalism need to break up the big conglomerations of power. Here are some specifics:

End Rigged Politics: Drive money out of politics

End Rigged Economics:

  • Emphasize productive work, not unproductive games. Financial Transactions Tax, aka "Robin Hood Tax"
  • Restore a Fair Day's Wage for a Fair Day's Work: restore progressive taxation to levels from when the US was thriving.


    Money makes money, and economics is rigged in favor of the wealthy. I want a home, good food, education and an occasional vacation. The builders, farmers, teachers and the person who cleans the room at the hotel I stay in are all willing to work, providing necessary work, and should all have good living wages without fear. The Wall Street millionaires aren't builders, teachers or farmers, they aren't providing the goods, why are they rich and the workers poor? We need to go back to the progressive tax rates that helped America thrive, during or before Reagan.

  • Restore competition.
    * The free-market capitalism that won the cold war is about competition. Mergers are anti-competitive.
    * Restore regulation where people are putting their risks on other people, or using control of information to bleed wealth they aren't earning.

Occupy Goals on a Local Level

live-in victories, as Occupy Our Homes, Take Back the Land and other networks are doing
Local::Municipal Banks

Occupy Goals Individual

Reinforce some of the traditional conservative ideals: the balance of abundance and consumption-sanity. McMansions were being bought by people now struggling with homelessness. They're neither completely innocent nor deserving to have their lives wrecked. We want to move the entire debate around economics: you should not live a life of high-risk economics unless you ask for it (right now, the only people who should be at high risk don't seem to be). Teachers and factory workers should not find their regular economic decisions leaving them rich nor destitute. There used to be conservatives who believed in living within your means, but getting paid decently and getting paid more as you produce more (we produce so much so easily in these days of high tech, but don't go home with what we produce.)

Deeper Goals and More Difficult Goals
Are we for real? If so, we need to work on anti-consumption. We need to invite conservative ideals that make sense, not just be a progressive movement, the values that came out of the Great Depression fit our current reality.