Occupy Wall Street, good intentions, but goes against the American Dream

For a long time I’ve wanted to put my two cents in about the Occupy Wall Street movement. I have not done so yet because I see how emotional some people are about it. The majority of my facebook friends are liberal. I see so many pro occupy stuff on facebook regularly. Even though I don’t consider myself political I’m more liberal than conservative. I’ve voted for the democratic candidate in the past four presidential elections.  I do not follow the news that much, but I’m pro education, pro-choice, and I think big government spending could be a good thing if quality services are provided. But I have some problems with the theology of Occupy Wall Street.

First I’ll start that the concerns the movements bring up are legitimate. Hopefully the economy is getting better but every young person deserves the chance to work. The only way to learn work ethic, customer service, teamwork, skills, and so much more is to get an entry-level job. It use to be that once someone turns 16 they could apply to fast food, retail, or other work and get experience over the summer. Now a lot of those jobs are taken by over qualified older people out of work. Teens and college kids need those summer and part time jobs.  Volunteering is not the same thing, people should be paid even if it’s minimum wage. Later in life people need career entry-level jobs. How can recent college grads compete with hundreds of experienced workers in their same fields?

There is corporate greed, and it appears that the bulk of money in our country is controlled and contained by what occupy calls the one percent. This past week Mayor Bloomberg announced his preliminary budget.  I’m a librarian, and the city libraries collectively are facing about a 100 million cut, more than was proposed last year. Libraries are something that can potentially serve everyone in the various NYC communities. I’ll save my library pitch for future blog entries. I just wanted to say I was fuming when Bloomberg announced this horrible doomsday budget and at the end said the saving grace was that taxes would not be raised. What I know of the tax structure is that rich and upper middle class pay the majority of taxes while the poor do not. I’m in the middle class technically and I always get a refund of some kind. So the burden of increased taxes is by far of more concern to people that are well off.   Should not having a tax burden for people that can afford it more important than city services that help educate and enlighten everyone? I think it is necessary to raise taxes to continue services. I think the Occupy people would agree that education for everyone is worth the expense.

The last point I’ll mention that I agree with Occupy is that America spends too much money on wars. I heard that about a third of the federal budget is allocated to the military. A strong military is important because we have turned into the nation that protects democracy and so forth. But a third of the budget, if that’s true, is too much. Why not allocate one-fifth or one-six of the budget to defense, and then add more money to things like education, roads, and all the other things that need to be improved.

Now I’ll state my problems with Occupy Wall Street. There hasn’t been much information since the park was shut down in fall, but I’m sure in spring it will be revamped.  Basically they camped out for months, toward the end the news stated there were rapes down there, and to some degree it turned into a bad scene. I did not go down there, even though I was interested in the library they created from scratch for the protesters. A friend of mine that went down there told me the smell of weed was heavy in the air. I’m not judging these kids, but if Occupy Wall Street is a ‘scene’ or like a parking lot of a concert it does not have substance.  And to camp out for a few months there, I read some people stopped their studies for this, is not the best use of time for people. I’m guessing some people had breakdowns. I think it’s harmful for some of the participants to every day encounter stressful situations and confrontations.

My main beef with Occupy Wall Street is philosophical. The whole campaign is the 99 percent against the 1 percent. While I agree that there is a vast disparity between the wealthy and poor I have a different take on it.  Before I state it, one of my friends argued to me that a lot of first world countries in Europe have less poverty than we do here. So I agree that there should be more of a middle class and less poverty. But the problem with focusing a whole movement against the 1 percent is that everyone wants to be in that 1 percent.  All Americans growing up through different levels of school want to attain and dream about success. For the kids that play a musical instrument look up to successful musicians.  For someone that looks up to Jay Z is not looking for someone in the 1 percent, but a self-made rapper in the 0.000092 percentile. For sports the real stars make a ton of money.  For kids into science can look up to Nobel Prize winners. The good thing about our country is that we award the people that are very talented and succeed. Even though people always complain about our education system compared to other countries Americans produce a large portion of game changers in the world, with technology fields and creativity fields. To tell kids that they can only make as much as their parents did or a certain amount of money would ruin their dreams.  The idea that people decide what they want to do, work for it, and be rewarded for success drives people.  In other countries people do what their parents do, or have to test into fields at an early age.  Here people can strive for what they want, and without the benefit of potential success and financial security it would be different.

Lastly, some of the super wealthy people are innovators and game changers, and can improve the world. Andrew Carnegie financed the future of libraries at the turn of the twentieth century. Today Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are philanthropists and are doing some good things. My library has scanners from a Gates grant.

Occupy Wall Street has some good points, but I think could be handled in another way, like putting pressure on the government through letters, or media campaigns. I think they are right that there are some problems and inequalities in this country. However I think we need some tweaking to our system, and not a whole overhaul. And the basic democracy and principals of this country have worked better than anywhere else.

13 thoughts on “Occupy Wall Street, good intentions, but goes against the American Dream

  1. Matt,
    I’m so impressed with your knowledge of this subject — it’s obvious you’ve studied this and are quite passionate about it! I think you’ve brought up some very valid points and expressed them in a subjective and excellent way. You’ve hit the nail on the head with most of the issues and I commend you for starting dialogue about this. Great writing!

  2. Thanks Brigitte!

  3. Hey Matt,

    The American Dream is under serious threat – if it even still exists. Social mobility is vastly superior in many parts of Europe when compared to the US. It’s really the Finnish Dream now.


    The dream doesn’t just happen – it requires civic engagement. Letters and calling your elected officials help – but they’re not enough. How do we become at least as good as Finland and Germany when it comes to social mobility? (Or for that matter on education and health.) It’s going to take a lot more than what we’ve been doing. Without engaging in the decision making of public policy we are simply handing over the keys to someone else to run the show – that someone oftentimes isn’t even a person – most of the time it is a corporation.

    This group of engaged citizens on Wall Street has influenced the dialogue in this nation in a very big way. It’s a good start – and I think they deserve more of our attention.

  4. Thanks for reading Eric. I will counter your response that people still succeed in America, so the American Dream is alive and well. I think a lot of the other concerns are recession based and will ease once the economy recovers.

  5. Hey Eric,
    I just got around to reading your link. It touches on debt for education which is another problem in this country that should be addressed. I think there has to be a better way to raise awareness though than camping out and risking one’s health and well-being.

  6. Hey Matt,

    People do certainly succeed in America – but I don’t think that’s the point. Why are so many others not succeeding is the more important question.

    Even before the recession there has been a trend toward greater inequality in the US. If we equate the American Dream with greatest social mobility – then it’s not really deserving of the exclusive right to call it American anymore. The facts are in on that one. Should we fight to reverse America’s trend toward greater and greater inequality? Other nations are clearly doing a much better job than the US in terms of social mobility. Why then is our trend in the wrong direction? Toward less social mobility? That’s why I wrote that it’s no longer the American Dream – it’s the Finnish Dream.

    These changes take huge efforts. An analogy might be helpful. Child labor didn’t end because the economy improved – it ended because people fought against it – capitalism was very happy with the cheap labor. Capitalism is very happy with many unfair practices – and it’s a powerful force that can only be tamed by an even greater force – and that’s people power.

  7. America leads the world in Entertainment with Hollywood and Music! I’m not trying to be a smart alec, but the world still looks to American for cultural value. We still very much influence the world, and most look up to the United States and not Finland. People need an incentive to succeed, and things to look up to. If I have a full career as a librarian, have a family, and few other things that is a success in a way. But it’s not a story that will drive a younger generation to success. They need to look up to the stars.
    I agree that there are a lot of things wrong with our country, but there are also so many good things about it too.

  8. Matt the reason why American music and movies, ie popular culture, have cultural sway has nothing at all to do with quality. That’s entirely to do with money…production companies, advertising, etc. Many places have movies that are a heck of a lot better than any nonsense that comes out of Hollywood.

    The concept of American Dream not only has little relevance now but it’s become a reactionary idea. It just causes resentment and isolation towards poorer people first, then working class…right up the economic ladder. It blinds people to inequality, inefficency, and perverted incentives under the banner of some people are rich because they just work harder and have more ambition..that’s very destructive

  9. Joe,
    As far as your point about movies, I was trying to say that America influences the world. That’s all, and that is not a far stretched statement by any means.
    I think the idea of an American Dream is vital to us. People need to be able to have dreams and aspirations with hopes to succeed in whatever they decide to do. To be pessimistic and say no one succeeds anymore, and it’s not worth trying to reach your goals is the dangerous idea in my opinion.

  10. You’re right Matt, people should have the right to dream. But this debate isn’t about being pessimistic. It’s about being practical. America does lead in many areas – but we’re also falling behind in many places. By raising concerns – like inequality, declining rates of college graduation etc. we hope to fix these problems so that kids – all kids – can dream again. But something has changed – the trends in this nation on these issues and in many other areas have been heading in a negative direction for a long time. I want these trends to reverse direction – that’s practical – not pessimistic.

    But as long as the response to the trend of growing inequality is to maintain the status quo – then America’s strengths will diminish. Why have these negative trends developed – and why do some nations perform better at getting kids out of poverty than America does? It takes courage to question the status quo. The Occupy Wall Street crowd is showing courage by asking some of these questions – and in fact – they’re demonstrating the courage to dream of a America that will one day have a trend toward greater social mobility. That’s a pretty cool dream.

  11. Eric and Joe,
    You both follow politics more than I do. I have a hypothetical questions about the Occupy Wall Street movement that maybe you two could weigh in on. Let’s say the movement’s ideals are realized and they are the government. If that were to happen would there be no one percent of wealthy Americans? Would the income inequalities disappear and everyone make roughly the same despite his or her profession? I’m focusing on this because I believe people that are phenomenal or the best in their profession/discipline should be compensated well because they make a difference. And people should be motivated to be the best in their field and have the goal to be successful. That is my only real problem with the movement. I do not think they answer that question at all because they only concentrate on the unfairness of the one percent and not the societal impact from ideas and innovation created by people wanting success.
    The rising cost of education and less people getting degrees because of that is a problem. I think they could find a way that everyone has some type of healthcare. I’d like to see a near future where our country is not at war. I’m sure that 30 percent of Americans struggle to pay bills. I agree that things can be done better, but I don’t think a revolution is needed.
    One last thing countries like Finland and a lot of European countries that have these great systems for their people are much smaller population wise then America. They probably have more capital per person than we do.
    Thanks for commenting on my blog. It’s been a good experience on what to write in a future, and it has made me think more about the topic I wrote about. Tim and I talk this over sometimes,

  12. Just one last little note – thought this BBC piece was very relevant to the discussion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suJCvkazrTc

  13. Thanks for sharing the BBC program Eric. I watched the whole thirty minutes of it.

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