FYI, this post is from a student in 307, not me.
The “Occupy Wall Street” movement continues to gain momentum, yet its message remains unclear to the general public. Are the demonstrators railing against the growing gap in income, the practices of the investment banks, or the struggling economy? Perhaps all three (and many more) reasons are true.
I argue it is a single decision by the Federal Government during the 2008 economic crisis that brought these issues to the forefront. The Federal Government created a program called TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) in 2008 to assist in the recovery of the U.S. economy. TARP allowed the Federal government to buy up troubled or “toxic” assets like CDO’s (collateralized debt obligations). The Federal Government claimed the program was essential to prevent a global economic disaster. While that may be true, a key consequence of TARP is that the Federal Government designated certain citizens “too big to fail”.
Millions of Americans suffered from the economic crisis. They’ve lost their jobs, homes, and pensions, and the blame can be placed on a variety of groups (including themselves). Yet the Federal Government decided only a specific group of citizens were worthy of a Federal bailout. Since TARP, the Wall Street banks have returned to business as usual, swallowing up the failed institutions and creating a larger and more powerful financial sector.
This brings me to my main point: the Federal Government has, in effect, protected the “earning” of a certain group of citizens, as described in Shklar’s book “American Citizenship”. Shklar outlines the two key ways in which Americans become citizens: through voting and earning. While the 99% that the Occupy Wall Street movement claim they represent still have the ability to earn, they do not have the guaranteed Federal protection that the Wall Street Bankers enjoy.
Further, the Federal Government is now protecting a class of citizens that, not so long ago, we as a group held in contempt. The Federal Government has essentially created a new aristocracy, one which previous generations sought to avoid. Shklar claims we previously ridiculed the European aristocracy, one which owed their wealth to a “governmental grant” and enjoyed “unearned advantages”. But are those same ideas not applicable to today’s financial sector?
On page 66 of “American Citizenship” Shklar mentions a moment in American history that I find relevant today. She describes:
“From the first, Americans feared conspiratorial aristocratic and monarchical cabals. And to these, fear of Jacobins and other European revolutionary ideologies were soon added. In the Jacksonian period apprehension of a new aristocracy of monopolists, and especially the men who ran the Bank of the United States, flared up with exceptional vigor. The campaign against the Bank and the long struggle for universal white manhood suffrage aroused enormous resentments, but they also forged an ideology of work that has not lost its preeminence.”
Shklar further describes the beliefs of a Jacksonian radical:
“Only the President can act as the tribune of the people and protect them against the predatory assaults of the money-power and the aristocracy, to whom the laboring classes are always in danger of losing “their fair influence in the government”.
Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street movement is once again campaigning against an aristocracy, and pleading with the President (and government) to alter the group they protect.