by Michael K. Smith
In spite of the predictably absurd attempt of the corporate media to portray the Occupy Wall Street movement as a left-wing version of the Tea Party (so Obama and GOP "moderates" can pose as reasonable centrists) the two movements are completely different. The Tea Party is a fake populist movement of the well-off seeking to attack "big government" that helps the poor and middle class, while Occupy Wall Street is a movement of the downwardly mobile ex-middle class seeking neither small government nor big government, but rather, representative government. Their objection is to a government of rich capital, by rich capital, for rich capital.
The Tea Party attempts to paint the Occupy movement as hypocritical on the basis that Danny Glover and Michael Moore are included in the 99% while successful businessmen are considered part of the 1% exploiting class even when they are far from being millionaires or billionaires. But this is nonsense, as both Glover and Moore acknowledge that they are the part of the 1% that happens to sympathize with the just aspirations of the 99%, while small business is obviously not part of the gargantuan centers of private wealth that the Occupy movement is indignant about. If anything, small business has benefitted from the occupy movement, which has been a boon for coin laundries, pizza parlors, and camping supply stores. In any case, small business is simply not part of the corporate owning class monopolizing social property for its own ends.
The important distinction between the one percent and the ninety-nine percent has to do with private ownership of social property. The one percent lives mostly on investments, i.e., stocks, bonds, rents, and other (social) property income. Its income derives mostly from the labor of other people. The 99% lives mostly on wages, salaries, fees, and pensions. Its income derives mostly from laboring for those who own.
The one percent doesn't see anything wrong in runaway war spending; continual tax cuts for the rich; HMO price gouging; the off-shoring of millions of jobs; trillions of dollars in unconditional bailout money going to banks and transnational corporations; fiscal stimulus packages that make the stock market boom while doing little or nothing to help 25 million unemployed and underemployed Americans. The good society is the society that promotes maximum profit for the 1%, no matter how much suffering and injustice is borne by the unimportant 99%.
According to the Tea Partiers, U.S.-based corporations have every right to flee the country, enticed abroad by lower taxes, less regulation, and cheap labor. These are sound moves any corporation accountable to its shareholders has to make, and the fact that such outsourcing systematically erodes the U.S. middle class, and has for several decades, is an incidental consequence. Profit is holy, however earned, and the destruction of people's lives mere collateral damage ("externalities" in the jargon of free trade theorists).
A favorite mantra of Tea Partiers is that workers are not being robbed by capital but are voluntarily agreeing to whatever wages and benefits employers feel like offering. Of course, we could say the same of robbery victims on city streets, who voluntarily hand over their wallets to armed hoodlums when given the choice of doing that or having their brains blown out. This makes almost as much sense as saying that U.S. workers voluntarily erode their standard of living by submitting to outsourcing, runaway military spending, repeated tax cuts for the super rich, bankster bailouts and on and on. What choice do they have? (Note: polls show that the American people favor increased taxes on the wealthy rather than further cuts in government services, but who cares? The wealthy control the government, and trillions of dollars in further cuts are on the way, while tax rates continue to decline for the wealthy.)
Particularly ludicrous is the Tea Party claim that Occupy Wall Street and Obama are European-style "socialists," and that their penchant for excessive social spending is driving both Europe and the U.S. to economic ruin, the characteristic destiny of socialist states. This fanciful thesis overlooks the fact that the Occupy movement is a severe critic of Obama, while European socialism ended with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (it was in all the papers). Apparently, Tea Partiers need a refresher course on political economy: Cuba is a socialist society; the European Union is entirely capitalist. There is no question but that it has fallen into serious crisis, but it's capitalism that's in crisis, not socialism.
Equally foolish is the notion that the Occupy protesters' criticism of capital is hypocritical unless they renounce their use of cars, airplanes, computers, smart phones, Facebook, any and every technological item owned by corporate America. The upshot is that if you object to capital buying the government, you are anti-business! Of course, a slave in the ante-Bellum South could have pronounced slavery morally irreproachable on similar grounds, since slavemasters were the source of everything the good life had to offer in their day. Abolitionists were simply anti-cotton.
The Tea Partiers never tire of reminding us that we are children of the Founding Fathers, and therefore somehow obligated to allow corporate America to loot the public treasury. History is not their strong suit. Thomas Jefferson explicitly rejected rule by "monied incorporations," which he regarded as a kind of slavery. Speaking at the 50th commemoration of the Declaration of Independence he said their triumph would spell the death of the American Revolution. If he had lived to see corporations given all the rights of biological persons, he never would have stopped screaming.
The accusation that the Occupy movement is just an attempt to foist more "big government" on the American people can simply be dismissed as the rantings of modern day Know Nothings. Ask yourself this: Is anyone calling for the elimination of the U.S. national security state, now the largest planned economy in the world? This is the biggest part of "big government," and the GOP, the Tea Party, and the Democrats are all united in promoting it. In short, big government is here to stay; the only question is what master it shall serve, corporations or we-the-people.
There is no need to deny that government had a hand in the 2008 disaster, but capital created the speculative monster, and not for the first time. Busts, panics, crashes, and break-downs are a constant occurrence under capitalism, and can't be remedied at the ballot box, no matter who our preferred candidates are. Hence the Occupy movement, and the rising tide of protest throughout the world.
Tea Partiers like to claim that government "interference" in the marketplace is artificial and destructive of "free markets." (Their belief in the immaculate conception of capitalism is truly touching.) But so is corporate interference. Market distortion due to the centralizing influence of private tyranny, i.e. corporations, is completely contrary to the free market forces described by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations. According to Smith, free markets are characterized by extensive and pervasive equality, not oligarchy, which is what we have now. Tea Partiers never take this into account.
What Tea Partiers, libertarians, and other free-trade enthusiasts never get is that big government is the creation of big business, which demanded national regulation of a national market to replace the chaos of conflicting state regulations inherited from the 19th century. So being pro-big business and anti-government is like being pro-acorn and anti-tree.
Postscript: Ron Paul can no longer count on a warm welcome in the Tea Party movement, and he more than any other single individual gave the movement its claim to populism.
For a Tea Party take on the Occupy Wall Street movement, see Sally Zelikovsky, "Occupy Wall Street Protesters Need a Dose of Reality," Marin Independent Journal, December 6, 2011
On Adam Smith, see Daniel Fusfeld's "The Age of the Economist," (Harper Collins, 1994) pps. 23-36
On Smith's view that free markets need to be characterized by pervasive equality, see Noam Chomsky, "Keeping the Rabble in Line," (Common Courage, 1994) page 248.
On the Tea Party, see Paul Street's "Real Populism vs. Fake," in the December 2011 edition of Z Magazine.
On big business being the source of federal government regulation, see Gabriel Kolko, "The Triumph of Conservatism - A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900-1916," (Free Press, 1963)