(This was previously published by CBC when I was an Occupy Toronto correspondent. All Occupy related articles have since been migrated to the archives section. A live link is no longer accessible and the original would need to be sought by request from the broadcaster.)
It’s a widespread, global phenomenon; the greatest revolution of our time – and yet no one can seem to put their finger on it. The participants haven’t summarized the problem in three weeks’ time and the media isn’t sure where to begin. So what’s this Occupy Movement all about?
On Saturday, October 15th, I will join with citizens from every nation in what is set to be a record breaking event, with the Toronto chapter. Representatives for 99% of the world’s population are intent to be heard, uniting their voices as one. This movement now spans every continent except Antarctica. But is this for teachers, pilots, unionists, the unemployed, middle class, impoverished… or is it a bunch of communists as some corners have suggested?
The first question that begs answering is who are the 99% and how did they get that way. They are you and me and everyone we’ve ever known. Unless you’re part of the 1%, you’re part of the 99 and it’s just that simple. The middle class has a tendency to view themselves separate from the woes of common man, but rest assured the consequences apply to them too – especially them, in fact.
Ultimately the occupation results from “trickle down economics”, to put a very complex set of circumstances in a single nutshell. According to the Conference Board of Canada, the gap has been growing between rich and poor for more than two decades. The disparity grew by the greatest proportion in Canada, where average incomes remain stagnant with levels of the 1970’s. After factoring inflation and debt, our value from wages has actually decreased 10%. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives paints a stark contrast for the top 1%, who happened to increase their value 219 times greater than any of us.
The score is -10 versus +219. This kind of disparity hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression and even then society’s wealthiest only controlled 8% of income growth, whereas they control an entire third today. In response to that historic calamity, governments were forced to respond with public policy that addressed fair taxation and wages. The goal was to redistribute prosperity even-handedly to prevent another collapse of the country. Presently however, they control as much as 42.5% of our wealth and government has insisted on lowering their taxes, again to levels not seen since the Depression. It’s apparent those lessons have been forgotten and astute historians are intent on getting the message out before lines under Salvation Army signs quadruple.
The theory to cut taxes for the 1% says this will result in trickle down benefits for the other 99. It’s supposed to create jobs and cause the market to remunerate us properly based on natural forces. It’s supported by both the IMF and OECD in the global view of financing. Except all data shows the benefactors continue to pocket the overwhelming profits and fail to invest in our workforce. They’reinvesting 40% less in their businesses than they were before the gift of major tax reductions. That means our so-called stimulus is filtered straight to their bank accounts and they’re taking even more from profit margins.
This is like asking us to ignore an elephant in the room. There have been 11,724 foreign takeovers of Canadian companies in the last 25 years and all our jobs are exported with them. It was thought through even distribution of global competition that we could replace these countless industries. But we’ve been forced to reckon with the inability to maintain a system of minimum wage, health or safety regulations and remain competitive with countries that don’t have them. We’ve already cut costs at a detriment to safety and felt the repercussions through Walkerton and Maple Leaf. The utilization of employment agencies and repeated attempts at union busting already serve to decrease our wages or any access we had to benefits. All in the name of shining us up, so we look our best for the 1%.
In another bid to win their favour, our governments are deregulating everything from banking to trade, takeovers, wheat, power, food and pharmaceuticals. Canada has been undergoing a personality makeover to morph into the US and it’s been a harsh battle to keep our social network balanced with the shift toward total capitalism.
The FIAT monetary system also bears mention. At the same time a gap defining rich from poor was allowed to establish, so too was this currency adopted. No longer was money gold-backed and instead it became traded on the stock market based on debt, wars, ability to repay, GDP, employment rates, investment and poverty. Since debt is now factored into dollar value, governments have found themselves printing money without the ability to repay it and as a result cause hyperinflation. The history of FIAT currency has ended in complete failure, without exception, since the beginning of money in 800 AD and bureaucracy only turns to this method of calculating wealth in times of trouble to artificially pad their value.
But the moment of truth has arrived and 99% can no longer afford to live within reason. We’re not making enough to afford inflation, depreciation of wages, or repayment of a deficit to cushion the elite. We can least afford the cuts to public services that are sacrificed to maintain this pretense of funny-money in our time of suffering.
Financial industry employment already outnumbers public sector jobs by 4% to 0.82% respectively. By the year 2023 they are predicted to control the majority of employment across Canada, should present trends continue. For every doctor, teacher, police officer, fire fighter, social worker, EI counselor, garbage collector and soldier – there are four stock brokers, insurance agents and bankers to steer our agendas and speak for our needs.
This is how pressure becomes placed on our governments to accommodate deregulation that increases prices, again in an effort to pad the 1% at our expense. They’re the folks who do the advising, they approve loans for governments in trouble and they fund a majority of major political parties. Talk about a conflict of interest! And yet the current Canadian federal government is making laws to end subsidy based on votes and force every party to embrace financing from the 1%. They also do what they can to prevent unions representing public interests from participating.
When that wasn’t enough, the deregulated markets took up the art of speculating. For those who don’t understand, speculation is the process of buying something (in large quantities) without the need or perhaps intention to sell it. This artificially manufactures shortages and drives up prices for the 99%. You’ve watched the result of this activity unfold at the gas pump increasingly throughout the years. We’re paying the same price per barrel of oil today, as we were when it cost 79 cents at the gas station. The price has only risen to $1.30/litre now, specifically because of speculation.
Since middle class incomes haven’t risen effectively for more than a quarter century and the cost of living has gone through the roof, we also lost our buying power – which is essential to keep a capitalist system functioning. We were thoroughly supported by manufacturing to meet our own demands, but can only need so many TVs, cars or new clothing patterns and our ability to purchase them on a whim has diminished.
So enters the business of speculation and commodities. We still must eat, drive and light up our homes. Again through deregulation and privatization, we’ve seen hydro, insurance and interest only climb and once those avenues were saturated they started tinkering with our food. The 1% is now gambling with our ability to eat, the same way they did with hedge funds and everything else that bubbled over.
Global markets are now speculating on corn, grains, sugar and water – the basis we need to make all else. Like clockwork it’s already doubled our prices at the grocery store, the same as they did with oil. The 1% has run out of things to increase their incomes beyond the 220% benchmark and they haven’t stopped at anything to maintain their status quo.
Further complicating matters is the logistical problem with 1% holding everyone’s wealth. We’re told they’re “too big to fail” and have to cover their tab for unbridled, vicious grabs at even more of the economy. They created the internet bubble, housing bubble, finance bubble, food bubble and oil bubble, but the system is set up so they continue to benefit no matter what they’ve done to the economy while you and I are forced to pay for it – WE, the 99%.
Last but not least this eats into our tax base, as they lobby governments for deeper cuts and fewer regulations still. The bulk of our services like health care, child care, education, pensions, EI and housing are on the chopping block because we can’t afford to provide public services while covering the debts of the rich. The 99%’s debts are forever owed to the 1% and the 1% shift their debts to the 99%. It might be brilliant if it wasn’t so blatant.
The result of these high stakes experiments is the disappearance of a middle class. It’s predicted for 2025 in Toronto and most cities around the world are similar. I don’t think there’s any coincidence between financial markets dominating the workforce by 2023 and the collapse of families on its heels 2 years later.
I hope this explains why we’re the 99% and everyone needs to support this movement, no matter which path they take to get there. Ultimately you’re not protesting the people who work on Bay Street, or the police for that matter (they’re the 99% too)! The financial district was chosen as a symbol of capitalism gone awry, without the courage of governments to control them in the best interests of their people. And make no mistake; while Canadian banking is more regulated than our counterparts, the entire act of trading, speculation, lending and borrowing is still done on the same global playing field, to the same rules and repercussions. The attitude of governments is how to become a bigger player in that game, as opposed to moderating the Billionaires Gone Wild before we’re manipulated to ruin.
The Occupy movement is not asking for “a” program. They’re not asking for “a” tax rebate. What they’re asking for is fundamental change within our system and readdressing priorities like our forefathers had to do in times of disparity past. This is no easy task on a global scale, but it’s precisely why we elect governments and it’s their job to enter an open discussion in favour of solutions. The gig is up and 99% of us are ready to take our balls home – or stare through windows in every financial district until they have the courage to notice.
This isn’t a fringe group of radicals or anyone holding a grudge from the G20. This is Grandma, Grandpa, Mom and Dad; Suzy, Bobby and Rufus too. The most people ever documented in history will be joining together to begin a dialogue with their governments on Saturday. We can’t afford what amounts to trickle down economics to support the 1% anymore. Two thousand new entries were made on the critical housing list in Toronto just last month. 40% of our food bank users are now children. A full third of many communities are already dining there.
When situations were radically unfair and unmanageable in the 1960s, our families united and led the way for reluctant governments then too. Call them hippies, call them whatever you like. But I call them honest and courageous, agents of positive change. No one in history will argue they didn’t do something necessary that shaped our future for the better. The time has come for us to show the same care to our children.
***Added February 13, 2014 for educational value. Please see this fantastic animation that makes the economic situation crystal clear.