Editorial: A growing sense of inequity
We watch with interest the continuing protests on Wall Street and their expansion to other places.
Our take, for what it’s worth, is that they came about through the frustration of unemployed, underemployed and employed people with no prospects of improvements. They are frustrated because they cannot find a job, or get more hours, or get a raise. They read of multi-million dollar bonuses, see some companies bailed out while others are allowed to fail, and they think, "Something is wrong here."
One protester a couple of weeks ago got the crowd to chant along these lines: "We are here on behalf of working people, those who have jobs, and those who do not."
In reporting on Occupy Wall Street, many journalists have written that they have no apparent goals or demands. There is puzzlement: what do the protestors want, except to rail against their perception of inequity? What would satisfy them?
A speech by former President Bill Clinton, given to graduates of New York University in May, illuminated the unspoken frustration that things have gotten out of balance.
Thirty years ago, he said, MBA students were taught "that American corporations had obligations primarily to their stakeholders. Ever since then we’ve been teaching our young people that your primary obligation is only to the shareholders. The problem is that if you do that, you ignore the other stakeholders."
Clinton went on to explain who else holds a stake in the well-being of a corporation; that it is not only the shareholders, those who wait for the financial returns and their dividends, whose economic well-being is involved.
The community in which the corporation is located is vitally involved. When jobs move overseas, for the sake of the stockholders’ returns, the community suffers and dries up. The workers who produce the goods are the third leg of the stool. They lose their jobs, face financial stress, purchase goods from the cheapest sources and, because they have lost the power and pride of building something, "it could be why customers don’t care so much what the source of their purchases are," said Clinton.
The economic stool, so to speak, is no longer well-balanced.
Flash back and peer forward
The protests have the appearance of a good old-fashioned social movement such as this nation has not seen for several generations. The students of today and those who entered the workforce within the last 20 years have no memory of the civil rights protests and the antiwar protests that roiled the nation, but which also gained civil rights and brought the Vietnam War (eventually) to an end. They have no working knowledge of what such protests can do. Most of the ’60s protestors are retired now.
But today’s protestors sense that something is wrong, that the nation is off-balance, and that perhaps the forces of mega-capitalism, as personified by Wall Street, are getting all the breaks and advantages, while the small businesses that dutifully pay their taxes and the working people who have generated America’s economic power, are getting what? The shaft?
It’s in its early days yet. These protests could fizzle. Or they could bring about a real change, of a shape not yet imagined. Grassroots America is making its voice heard once again. We wonder what lasting words will emerge from the clamor.