Occupy Wall Street protest is an omen of future action against corporate greed
The Occupy Wall Street protest is continuing today in New York. But according to the Bikya Masr indie news site, there are only about 1,000 people present.
The demonstrators descended on the main artery of the U.S. capitalist system this weekend to try to replicate the citizens' protests in Tahrir Square, which brought down Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The protest is being promoted on YouTube.
The mainstream media mostly ignored the event, but if I were a Wall Street banker, I wouldn't be feeling too complacent.
That's because there's growing awareness and outrage over corporate greed. Even uber-capitalist Warren Buffett acknowledged the problem, writing in the New York Times that it was time for billionaires to start paying more taxes.
(Of course, the Sage of Omaha's investment powerhouse, Berkshire Hathaway, has been trying to avoid paying taxes for years.)
The Institute for Policy Studies published a damning report chronicling the extent of greed. It noted:
• Twenty-five major U.S. corporations paid their CEOs more than they paid the federal government in taxes.
• In 2010, major corporate CEOs "earned" (there's a euphemism) 325 times as much pay as the average worker. That was a sharp rise over the 263-1 ratio in 2009.
• For companies listed in the S&P 500 stock index, the average CEO pay was $10,762,304 last year. That's a whopping 27.8 percent higher than the previous year!
As the CEOs pocket more money, the corporations are paying less tax. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, a group called Citizens for Tax Justice will soon produce a study showing that 12 corporations paid a "negative 1.5 percent" on $171 billion in profits.
"No tax-dodging strategy over recent years has filled U.S. corporate coffers more rapidly than the offshoring of corporate activity to tax havens in low- or no-tax jurisdictions," the institute for Policy Study authors wrote in their report. "Eighteen of the 25 firms highlighted in this study operate subsidiaries in offshore tax haven jurisdictions. The firms, all combined, had 556 tax haven subsidiaries last year."
These offshore tax havens are costing the U.S. treasury on the order of $100 billion per year.
The Institute for Policy Studies and the Citizens for Tax Justice aren't the only ones raising the alarm.
In 2010, former U.S. secretary of labor Robert Reich wrote a book, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, which chronicled how the super-wealthy are getting richer, and why that's causing economic decline.
He noted that the top one percent of U.S. earners collect 24 percent of the national income. The last time this occurred was in 1928, shortly before the bubble burst on Wall Street, leading to the Great Depression.
What the greedy bankers don't realize is that when they pay themselves so much and drive down government revenues, they actually create real-estate and stock-market bubbles, which trigger economic calamities.
They're too busy counting their money to learn some basic economic history. And most politicians and journalists are too gutless to call them out on this.
That's why we can expect to see more Occupy Wall Street–style demonstrations in the future—and don't be surprised if they grow larger. This is just the beginning. As Bob Dylan so famously wrote in 1964 before one of the most titanic transformations in American history, "The times, they are a-changin'."
Here's a verse in the song that's particularly relevant to this weekend's protest over corporate greed:
Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.