I don’t eat tofu.
In college, I didn’t major in improvisational dance. I dislike the outdoors, and dislike outdoorsiness even more. I think science is the best means we have for understanding the world, and that capitalism is the greatest force for good in it.
Why am I telling you all this? So you’ll understand how strange it is that I’m about to praise the Occupy Wall Street protesters and their ragtag brethren in other cities. I want you to see that I’m practically the last person on Earth who’d normally approve of such a thing.
Well, maybe not the very last person. Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JP Morgan Chase, might be the last person. But I’m high on the list. I defend Wal-Mart at dinner parties. I oppose the corporate income tax, since it falls haphazardly on the wrong people while encouraging wasteful contortions by business.
Yet here I am, defending the protesters. The reason is that I fear the political system has been largely hijacked by interests hostile to middle-class Americans, who’ve suffered for years while the top 1 percent of earners has enjoyed enormous gains.
That doesn’t mean the richest Americans are bad people. It just happens that the world has changed in ways that heap ever more rewards on the best educated workers, as well as those in certain select sectors, such as finance. Technology and globalization have been big drivers of this trend.
But not all these changes are the result of forces beyond anyone’s control. When Congress decided to tax earned income more harshly than capital gains, that was a political decision. The near-death of private-sector unions is partially suicide, but federal labor policies haven’t helped.
Middle-class Americans, meanwhile, have seen much of their home equity wiped out. Their retirement savings have been pounded in the stock market. Many lack jobs. The young are burdened by nearly $1 trillion in student debt.
These hard-pressed Americans have noticed that when banks were teetering, taxpayer funds rescued them. It was the right decision, and most of the money has been repaid. But after the bailout, the banks went right back to handing out huge bonuses and opposing regulations that might make a future meltdown less likely.
What does the government do? President Barack Obama proposes feeble jobs programs, and congressional Republicans block them. The real answer, they say, is lower taxes, cutting government and fewer regulations. Meanwhile, Jane and Joe Sixpack, tough luck.
While 50 million Americans lack health care, and medical expenses cause (according to one study) 60 percent of bankruptcies, Republican candidates outdo one another in their opposition to the president’s health care reforms. Florida has even turned down federal money that would have helped move elderly and disabled folks from nursing homes to their own homes.
Herman Cain, in his presidential bid, has proposed a massive shift of the tax burden to those who can least afford it.
People know what’s going on. But only some quixotic protesters in lower Manhattan seem willing to voice their outrage. And as long as they don’t block the roads or break the law, God bless them.
Did I mention that I have a special loathing for public disorder?
That I hate piercings, and sneer at Birkenstocks? That I’m a conscientious objector in the war on gluten? That nothing short of foreclosure could make me sleep on the ground?
Sadly, it may yet come to that, for many of us who think of ourselves as middle class. Meanwhile it’s nice to know Occupy Wall Street is sleeping on the ground for me.