The Occupy Wall Street protests has received support from a rather surprising source in the form of the Financial Times. An editorial today came out in general support for the aims of the protest.
A month ago the disparate band of protesters who set up camp in downtown Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park to decry the excesses of capitalism were seen as little more than idealistic youth, doing what youth tend to do. Today only the foolhardy would dismiss a movement reflecting the anger and frustration of ordinary citizens from all walks of life across the world.
So far the protests in the US have been largely peaceful. They may be diffuse and inchoate. But the fundamental call for a fairer distribution of wealth cannot be ignored. What is at stake is the future of the American dream. The bargain has always been that all who work hard should have an opportunity for prosperity. That dream has been shattered by a crisis brought about by financial excess and political cynicism. The consequence has been growing inequality, rising poverty and sacrifice by those least able to bear it – all of which are failing to deliver economic growth.
The frustration of protesters railing against the global financial system, and of the 54 per cent of Americans who polls suggest support their calls, is legitimate. The wonder is why it has taken so long for citizens to come out in popular protest across political boundaries. For the last three years, the country has been paralysed by a political gridlock that has put its future on the line. Both Republicans and Democrats are to blame – the Grand Old Party for its callous obstruction of all Democratic initiatives and President Barack Obama for his naïve neglect of the need for muscular leadership.
Politicians in both camps have failed to spot and channel the righteous anger of those who have seen government spend billions on bailing out banks, while bickering over how to create jobs or educate children. One opportunity after another has been squandered – most recently in the failure promptly to pass a proper jobs bill.
For a brief period in 2010, when the economy looked set for recovery, there was hope that the American dream would prevail. But the return of gloomy economic prospects has reinforced the impression that the political class is irrelevant or, worse, in hock to vested financial interests to the detriment of its service to the public. Reforms to election campaign financing could be a first step to repairing this perception.
Whether or not the protests evolve into a more coherent set of demands, or even become a more lasting political force, remains to be seen. But the cry for change is one that must be heeded.