“Occupy Wall Street,” the lack of historical perspective, and the pending death of the Magna Carta

So, is it not interesting that HuffPo reported that “Billionaire financier George Soros says he sympathizes with protesters speaking out against corporate greed in ongoing protests on Wall Street,” without so much as one probing question? Of course he funds huffpo, but I’m sure that has nothing to do with it.

His involvement (and that of other billionaires like Warren Buffet) in the effort to raise taxes on the wealthy is never questioned by the Media–not with any real perspective. I can’t help but think that HuffPo is a guilty collaborator with Soros in his little game of misinformation. Take for instance the subtle deception–not a “lie” mind you–of starting a statement with sympathy for protestors and then continuing with the idea that “he understands the frustrations of small business owners.” Now, whatever else may be said of the protestors, I can assure you they aren’t small business owners (but he never actually said they were–he just implied it). Wall street is not under siege by the local Chamber of Commerce.

Soros little deception should be taken seriously because it reveals something at the back of this current debate over taxes. Notice the language used by the Obama administration. His plan is a “tax on millionaires.” Notice also what wealthy people support it–they are all billionaires.  If you think the difference is but one little letter, think again.

Since we all seem to think time is money, lets look at it this way. If you spent a dollar per second, your million would be gone in 12 days. However, at the same rate of spending, the billion would last you 31 years. So why exactly is the administration siding with billionaires (the grossly wealthy financiers) against millionaires (the average small to medium size business owners and ceo’s who actually work for their money)?

Why? Two words: Magna Carta.

The Magna Carta, for those educated in the public school systems of the last few decades, was a charter of government established in England in 1215 that limited the powers of the King and subjected him to the law. It has been called, “the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot” (Lord Denning). What really matter here is that it is proof that Chesterton was right when he said, “you can never have a revolution to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy to have a revolution.”

What does that mean? Simply put, it was not some mob of rabble-rousers that limited the absolute power of the king, it was the lesser nobility. The “millionaires” of 13th century England got together and limited the power of the “billionaire.” It was the foundation of parliament and the seeds of the ideas we hold so dear from our own national formation–rights to a speedy trial, fair representation under the law, trial by peers, private property, etc. For a revolution to succeed there must be a class of people with some organized democratic power already in place. Otherwise you have no revolution; you simply have mob violence.

It was true of the Magna Carta; it was true of the English civil war; it was true of the bloodless revolution that forever weakened the British crown; it was true of the Pitt and Wilberforce revolution that ended institutions like the African slave trade, and it was true of our own revolution. The “millionaires” of the day did the hard work to limit the oppressive power of the “billionaires.” Now, with the help of progressives in power the billionaires are striking back.

True, the billionaires aren’t marching in the street. But their “sympathies” are posturing them to come in like superman and save us all once we destroy the upper middle class and the civilization they have built. If wall street collapses because of protests it will destroy the millionaires–many of whom happen to be your neighbors, but you can be certain the billionaires will profit from it.

I know, you doubt.  This is a movement of the people–a true democracy in the streets. I hate to burst your bubble, but historically speaking, such things never work without an educated empowered middle wealthy class. I can list the failures, but I’ll stick to one. The French Revolution was a true democracy of the people taking to the streets–for about five minutes. In the end it was simply a mob that produced the reign of terror and brought about the dictatorship of Napoleon.


6 thoughts on ““Occupy Wall Street,” the lack of historical perspective, and the pending death of the Magna Carta

  1. I think there is a similar problem in people’s approaches to Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party protests: your ideology will color what you see, sometimes blinding us to the truth of their contentions. If you’re a left-leaning person, the Tea Party is presented like a sea of uninformed bigots who want to take away helpful resources from needy people. If you’re a right-leaning person, Occupy Wall Street looks like a sea of entitled, whining trust fund babies who have no clue what they’re talking about.

    Neither caricature frames the people participating accurately, because like all people who believe in a cause, there are shades among them. Just like the Tea Party bigot who desires to re-institute slavery, there’s the OWS charlatan trying to make themselves into the new Gandhi, simply for the fame, without any of the commitment or sacrifice.

    Another problem with painting OWS with one brush is that it represents a lot of different specific problems, all rooted in their disdain for corporatism. And unlike the Tea Party, it is attracting a larger segment of Americans, from many races, socioeconomic class, education levels, religions, and political parties. People may not agree about how the problem should be fixed, as their seems to be a lack of cohesion among the protests, but they all are recognizing the problem. (Yes, my resources are the NY Times, Huff Po, and personal videos on youtube discussing why they are protesting, so take that into consideration).

    Your criticism about Obama’s tax plan is an interesting point about millionaire vs. billionaire (though, some of the “millionaires” don’t have a single million, they have like, 900 million). From what I’ve read of the plan, however, it’s not just millionaires, it starts with people making more than a million; I haven’t read anything about it capping before it reaches the billionaire sect, so I’m not certain what to do with that contention (if there is a cap, THAT is an enormous problem, one that would only make matters much, much, much worse and continue to solidify the wealth in a narrower and narrower base). The Obama administration has said this plan was inspired by billionaire Buffet, asking for himself and his super rich friends to be taxed at an equal rate with the rest of the country. I do wish Obama would own up to his contribution to this very problem; giving taxpayer money to corporations without accountability and punishment for the wealthy CEOS who wrongly used those funds and fired their workers. So I do wonder about Obama’s actual commitment to preventing corporate abuse (and any politician’s for that matter, for so many are funded by corporations). But I don’t think there’s a plan to limit this to only millionaires.

    Conservative economists are saying that the income tax rate is the same, because the companies these CEOs own are being taxed at a high rate; but that equates the company’s profits with the CEO’s salary. And corporate personhood means that corporations have the same rights as people; and since they’re more powerful “people” their desires/needs/’rights’ will always trump real people since they can claim as “people” that they’re being taxed at an unfair rate.

  2. I think you miss part of my point about millionaires and billionaires. Note the distinction between how much money a billion is vs. a million. We have a country full of small and medium business people who are technically millionaires but further taxes will hurt them and their business. The billionaires will gladly pay the tax because they won’t feel it–to use my time analogy, if they raise the tax to 40% it wouldn’t hurt billionaires that much, they still have over 15 years of spending $1/sec for every billion they have. Meanwhile, the upper-middle class millionaires who just broke a million loses another half day, so out of the 12 days she worked so hard for, she only has access to just over 7 days. Yet even that doesn’t do justice to what is actually happening.

    As one goverment study showed:

    “Buffett’s tax burden was proportionally low not because of tax rates, but because he was clever enough to keep his taxable income low [10], Mankiw suggested. He also said [11]Buffett’s calculations don’t apply to millionaires who make most of their income through their actual salaries, which would be taxed at rates approaching 35 percent.”

    To put it in perspective here is another study of actual tax rates:

    “There’s one small problem: The entire Buffett Rule premise is false, as the nearby table shows. In 2008, the last year for which such data are available, the IRS reports that those who made more than $1 million in adjusted gross income paid an average income tax rate of 23.3%.

    That’s slightly lower than the 24.1% rate paid by those making between $500,000 and $1 million, probably because the richest are like Mr. Buffett and earn more from capital gains and dividends. The rate for a relative handful of the rich—400 people—fell to 18%. But nearly all millionaires still paid a rate that is more than twice the 8.9% average rate paid by those earning between $50,000 and $100,000, and more than three times the 7.2% average rate paid by those earning less than $50,000. The larger point is that the claim that CEOs are routinely paying lower tax rates than their secretaries is Omaha hokum.”

    It all begs the question–what is a fair share?

    As for any charicature about the OWS people–my only point was that they aren’t middle class working people or small business owners. I’ve seen many images and videos from the protestors–they are largely college age kids and wanna-be hippies. Middle class workers and self employed don’t have time for this type of stuff.

    My other ongoing point about OWS is there is not a plan or even a clear idea of what they want to do besides shut down wall street, there are many anarchists involved, it is a destabalizing force, and I promise you–just like with the tax code–it won’t hurt the mega-rich like mr Soros. If the banks close and wall street shuts down, the middle and upper middle class will be hurt (and whatever you may think of trickle down theory that hurt will “trickle down” to the poor–or more likely gush down), many “millionaires” who have invested their entire life into creating a business and jobs will be destroyed, and people like Soros will simply take an extended vacation on some well stocked and secure island he owns before comeing home once things settle down a bit to buy aother politician and “save us all.”

  3. I misunderstood your point about millionaire/billionaire; I thought you were saying only billionaires would be taxed. Yes, a tax that hurts one sect while being nothing to the higher one is a major problem. Hopefully the tax plan will be adjusted so that the rate of taxation is different for each income bracket in a way that doesn’t hurt small business. If this is a conspiracy of billionaires to further weaken those in lower brackets, that would be problematic. I will be writing my politicians to insure that any plan is executed fairly so that the higher ups are held accountable financially.

    You are right that OWS does not have a cohesive goal, and while people are there with a variety of solutions, plans, and discontentments, ranging from anarchists to socialists, Adbusters, a major organization participating in the movement, said that

    “we demand that Barack Obama ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.”

    This seems to be the one clear directive: get corporations out of DC and get politicians attention (then again, if all politicians are in the pockets of corporations and NOT their constituencies, then this might be futile; nevertheless, they are expressing their frustration). Shutting down Wall Street, of course, would not accomplish that, but I don’t think that’s the main message of OWS: it’s a collective of differing views and ideas all intent on expressing their discontentment with corporatism. There’s no cohesion, so it’s difficult to criticize OWS as one particular thing/idea/solution.

    Some of them are working class people…who have nothing to do because they’re unemployed, so they’re there. I’m somewhat bothered by the idea that just because someone is in college they’re just riding on the coattails of being “radical” and don’t have anything of substance to add to the protest. Of course *some of them* are, but my main problem with the way conservatives have been talking about OWS is that that’s ALL that there is to it, and thus deeming the entire movement invalid. They are being looked down on for their youth; some of them are ignorant and naive, but some of them aren’t.

    The short-sighted demands should be critiqued and evaluated, but for a lot of them this is very real and their youth does not make the problems illegitimate. I feel a lot of their frustration: I played by the rules, did well in school, worked part-time to pay for college, took out loans because I was told I could get a good job to pay them off, and now I’m in retail because of the recession, caused by the bailouts (which is Obama’s fault and my major contention with him), bad mortgage lending practices, and the monopolizing of wealth in a few companies/people. I see that you see that frustration as well, though you disagree with their methods, which is fine. But the individual parts do not make the whole illegitimate.

    To conclude, here is a clip from The Daily Show about OWS/Tea Party (there are vulgar jokes): http://www.mediaite.com/tv/jon-stewart-how-are-the-occupy-wall-street-protesters-not-like-the-tea-party/

    1. Hey, Thanks for your responses. You do provoke thought.
      I’ve posted some articles on FB you can read if you like.
      However, I’ve been really challenged by Simon Chan and Hauerwas just since last night.
      I genuinely sense that the majority of OWSers have embraced lies about solutions. It is fairly simple to see a problem exists, it is much harder to really know what the problem is and respond correctly. I love the Chesterton quote, “I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.” I think it is very true.
      That said, the Holy Spirit is challenging me to back off this conversation for a while–and most societal noise (not just with you–and probably least of all with you because there is a civility and passion for truth on both sides when we discuss that I really enjoy), but because the general tenor of discussions is pushing me towards what Hauerwas and Chan refer to as “unholy alliances.” I have been passionate about this because I think many Christians are making an unholy alliance with movements like OWS, but it is so easy to slip in the other direction.
      I’ll not be blogging or FBing for the next 11 weeks–until Christmas. I’ll be cutting out as much noise as possible.
      As a side note, may I recommend the book Spiritual Theology by Simon Chan. I think you would appreciate it.

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