Gary Dorrien in America:
City governments around the nation have driven Occupy Wall Street demonstrators into the streets—sometimes with unusual force—depriving “Occupiers” of a physical claim on ongoing protest in public space. But the movement no longer depends on privileged sites of occupation. It may be on its way to becoming something much more—a force for economic democracy, a contemporary vision of society and economic justice that has deep roots in Catholic and Protestant social ethics.
It was not a coincidence that the Protestant social gospel, the modern Catholic tradition of social teaching, various socialist movements, the fields of social ethics and sociology and the ideas of social structure and social justice all arose during the 19th century. They were all cultural products of the clash between corporate capitalism and a rising trade union movement. A call for the common good and economic democracy, the social gospel was a response to the story of its time.
The story of our time is that the common good has been getting hammered for 30 years. Today’s debates about busting public unions, cutting Medicaid and privatizing Medicare are the culmination of three decades of economic globalization and of massive structural, and to some degree politically engineered, inequality. Social contracts have vanished under threats of obsolescence and ruin, while the global market exploits resources, displaces communities and sets off wealth explosions in wild cycles of boom and bust.
Every recent trade deal signed in Washington has resulted in well-paying jobs leaving the United States. Partly as a result of such free trade commitments, wages have been flat for 35 years and wealth inequality has accelerated dramatically. In the 1980s the United States cut the marginal tax rate from 71 percent to 28 percent and the capital gains rate from 45 percent to 20 percent. Since then the share of U.S. income held by the top 1 percent has more than doubled. The top 10 percent of the U.S. population holds more than 70 percent of the nation’s wealth; the top 1 percent alone commands an astonishing 39 percent share. Meanwhile the bottom 50 percent can claim just 2 percent. The United States needs economic democracy now more than ever.
The global integration of two radically different models of growth—debt-financed consumption and production-oriented export and saving—created a wildly unstable world economy featuring asset bubbles and huge trade imbalances. During this period nearly every manufacturing-oriented society not only outperformed the United States in income growth; they did this with more equitable distribution of income. Why didn’t the United States do the same?