The economy remains weak, with unemployment stagnant at 9.1%, and understandably Americans are frustrated, and not afraid to show it. A growing grassroots movement known as “Occupy Wall Street” has spread throughout the country, where Americans are protesting economic inequality, the greed on wall street, and the inability of politicians to create jobs and provide policies that are more egalitarian. Drawing from the writings of the Anti-Federalists, we see firsthand what happens when representatives elected are only the elite, and therefore cannot act in the best interest of the public. The makeup of Congress is disproportionate, where “almost half of members are millionaires.” The top 1% wealthiest Americans’ net worth is more than the entire bottom 90%, and it is evident that Congress caters “to rich constituencies rather than to the median voter, much less to the poor.”
As a result, we see the second step in Morone’s four stage cycle in effect, “people out of doors,” protesting the perceived injustices of the political elite and wall street high earners. However, it seems unlikely that the cycle will be completed and new political institutions will arise because those in power are not representative of the will of the people. Part of the goal of these protesters is to restore the participative forms of a direct democracy, and forcing the elite to recognize the “99%,” as those not part of the 1% who own a disproportionate amount of wealth have called themselves. Blogger Joseph Robertson hits the nail on his head when he says:
“Participation and transparency are antidotes to the temptations of unfettered power, elite negotiating environments, and deals that ignore the interest of most people and structure outcomes to favor insider interests. Participation and transparency are democracy; their absence is not.”
Here, Robertson takes a civic republican view of Democracy listing participation and transparency in political processes as necessary conditions for democracy to work as intended. Yet, it is my belief that the problem of income inequality and root of the protesters gripe can be better explained by turning to Judith Shklar’s work “American Citizenship,” primarily about earning being essential for citizenship.
There was a shift to the notion of hard work as the means for individual self-improvement and a high social standing, changing the Republic from “the old view of a virtuous public citizen” to one where “a good citizen is an earner, because independence is the indelibly necessary quality of genuine, democratic citizenship” (Shklar 93). Yet today, this does not hold true; the notion that “one [works] for oneself and for the community simultaneously” is simply untrue (Shklar 72). Because those at the top control an extremely disproportionate amount of wealth and are able to use their influence to keep it this way, self-advancement is limited for the masses despite how hard one works.
Famed economist Jeffrey Sachs points to education as a reason for this income disparity. Those with higher human capital have more employment opportunities, while “those without higher education and financial capital have found themselves facing much tougher job competition with lower-paid workers half way around the world.” Because most families do not have the money to send their children to college and graduate universities, they become disadvantaged to those in the top 1%. Despite how hard they work, without formal education, their chances at self-advancement are limited. This goes directly in opposition to Shklar’s assertion that free education is key for citizenship because it “was designed to democratize the young and to prevent aristocratic tendencies.” Yet, in this present day it is almost impossible for a great majority of Americans to achieve this self-advancement due to the lack of free higher education. Therefore, in Shklar’s view, many individuals in the bottom 99% are unable to fulfill her criteria of “earning” and are consequently not considered citizens.
It is anyone’s guess if this rising movement is pervasive enough to cause real change. Increased participation and transparency will undoubtedly create an atmosphere where politicians are forced to answer the tough questions and answer the 99% of Americans who feel their voice is being hidden by the power of money and interests. However, in Judith Shklar’s view, democratic participation will not create change when a majority of the American people cannot excise their rights as full citizens because of their inability to earn to their full potential. It may take a reevaluation of our priorities as a nation to promote an environment where working for oneself also benefits the community.