The swelling protests against Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street protest movement spread from New York to dozens of other cities across the country.

What happened

The Occupy Wall Street protest movement continued to gain momentum this week, with demonstrations growing in dozens of cities across the country. In New York City, where the protest began a month ago, hundreds of demonstrators set out from their camp in the financial district and marched through some of Manhattan’s toniest neighborhoods. They paused outside the homes of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, and industrialist David Koch, chanting, “We are the 99 percent”—reflecting the demonstrators’ view that the wealthiest 1 percent are getting rich at the expense of everyone else. “I have nothing against these people personally,” said protester Michael Pollack. “I just think they should pay their fair share of taxes.” In Washington, six protesters were arrested after their group marched into a Senate office building shouting anti-corporate slogans. And more than 100 people were arrested in Boston after protesters tried to set up camp in a downtown park.

As the demonstrations entered their fourth week, politicians in Washington began weighing in. President Obama said the protests reflected “the frustrations” many ordinary Americans feel toward top bankers, who caused the recession but escaped punishment. Leading Republicans, meanwhile, offered fierce condemnations of the protesters. Eric Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, denounced them as a dangerous “growing mob,” while Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain argued they were simply “jealous” anti-capitalists. “Don’t blame Wall Street,” he said. “If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”

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What the editorials said

The protesters are justifiably angry, said The New York Times. The share of income held by the richest 1 percent of households now sits at around 23 percent—“the highest since 1928.” Meanwhile, middle-class and poor families have seen their earnings plummet over the past decade. Studies show that such extreme inequality causes a host of ills, from poorer public health to lower levels of educational attainment. And “it also skews political power,” as policy invariably reflects the interests of wealthy Americans.

This left-leaning crowd would be better off “raging against their own machine,” said The Wall Street Journal. “Their political favorites ran all of Washington until January,” but Obama simply prolonged the recession by hitting businesses with a barrage of regulations. “We sympathize with their frustration at the sad economic results of all this.” But if they really want to revive the economy, “they might try joining the Tea Party.”

What the commentators said

We should heed the demonstrators’ message, said Andrew Sullivan in “The massive concentration of wealth at the top” is undermining our social and political order, as much of it was unfairly accumulated through “accounting chicanery, crony capitalism, and a K Street fix.” Calling for this gross inequality to be addressed doesn’t make the protesters socialists. They’re merely pointing out the social evils wrought by “capitalism, unchecked by government.”

But which inequalities do the Occupy Wall Street crowd want to tackle? asked Victor Davis Hanson in The fact that a municipal worker makes $30,000 a year, while liberal darlings like Matt Damon and Johnny Depp “extort $20 million for a month’s work”? That John Kerry owns a multimillion-dollar sailboat? Or do they only get angry when Republican-voting businessmen make large sums of money? The simple truth is that lambasting the richest 1 percent won’t fix our problems, said David Brooks in The New York Times. During the boom years, the supposedly virtuous 99 percent “overconsumed and overborrowed.” Even if we tax away 50 percent of the income of those making between $1 million and $10 million, we’ll “only reduce the national debt by 1 percent.” Escaping the current economic malaise requires all of society to work together.

That’s why the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street should join forces, said Conor Friedersdorf in Both groups “regard the nexus of Big Finance and Big Government as irredeemably corrupt.” While they disagree about the size of the government, together they could prevent Wall Street execs and “co-opted bureaucrats from capturing money” that could be spent on tax cuts or infrastructure. As yet, though, Occupy Wall Street protesters still think of Tea Partiers as crypto-fascists, while pundits on the Right “dismiss anyone with a union card, a nose ring, and an iPad.” Unless those attitudes change, “the establishment is going to win again.”

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