Friday, November 25, 2011

Traditional Business Media and the Occupy Movement

Press coverage of the Occupy movement has shifted its focus from the financial/political issues that created the movement to the commotion, arrests and individual acts of destruction that are its byproduct. Despite this, it is heartening to see that the mainstream financial press is examining some of the issues that the Occupy has highlighted. Three months ago, the prime topic was how to reduce the budget deficit (by cutting Social Security and Medicare, but not cutting military expenditures or raising taxes). Now there's talk of the decades-long shift of assets and income from the middle class to the ultra rich, and about the strangling influence of corporate money in politics and the media.

Here are some quotes, sympathetic and not, from recent articles in Fortune, Bloomberg Business Week,, and The New York Post (owned by Newscorp/Fox).

Occupy Wall Street’s Next Step Is to Set a Reform Agenda:
By the Editors of Bloomberg Business Week, November 16, 2011
So what’s next -- for protesters in New York and around the world? They might consider a proposal of one of the movement’s leading voices, Kalle Lasn, the founder of the Canadian website Adbusters: “We declare ‘victory’ and throw a party.”
Lasn -- who warned last week that “the other side is owning the narrative right now. People are talking about drugs and criminals at OWS” -- is right that there is much to celebrate. A small group of people has imprinted on the American and global consciousness an important message that must be addressed: Inequality is growing extreme, and opportunity is becoming constricted. Although the protesters appear to have no unified agenda and plenty of complaints, that core observation has struck a chord across political and economic divides the world over.
Rather than risk losing public support through accounts of lawbreaking at their encampment, or a dwindling of their numbers as cold weather sets in, the protesters in New York and elsewhere would do well to clear their heads, refine their message and set an agenda for reform.

The real ‘1 percent’ by Michael Tanner,
The New York Post, November 8, 2011
So just who are those top 1 percent of Americans that we’re all supposed to hate?
If you listen to President Obama, the protesters at Occupy Wall Street, and much of the media, it’s obvious. They’re either “trust-fund babies” who inherited their money, or greedy bankers and hedge-fund managers. Certainly, they haven’t worked especially hard for their money. While the recession has thrown millions of Americans out of work, they’ve been getting even richer. Worse, they don’t even pay their fair share in taxes: Millionaires and billionaires are paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries.
In reality, each of these stereotypes is wrong.

Memo to "one-percenters": Look out your limos by John Cassidy, contributor, November 4, 2011
For years ordinary citizens looked on impassively as their incomes stagnated, their jobs were shipped to China, and a few lucky folks made out like medieval crusaders. Every year journalists (myself included) would point to the latest Census Bureau data showing that the top 1% of earners were taking a bigger and bigger share of the national pie. (Between 1979 and 2007, says a new Congressional Budget Office study, it went from less than 8% to 17%.) And nothing would happen.
The message from our nation's financial elite is pretty clear: They just don't get it.

Occupy Wall Street Actually in the 1% by Shanthi Bharatwaj,, November 9, 2011
According to the Congressional Budget Office's latest report, income grew by 60% between 1979 and 2007 but it did not grow evenly. Incomes at the poorest fifth grew 18%, while the richest fifth saw incomes surge 65%. The top percentile saw incomes jump 275%.
While on the subject of income inequality, why not look at global income distribution as well? According to an article that appeared in The New York Times earlier this year, America is still a very wealthy country.
The article points to some interesting data in a book called the Haves and the Have-Nots by World Bank Economist Branko Milanovic. Apparently, a typical person in the bottom 5% of America's income distribution, those who probably make $6,700 a year, is richer than 68% of the world's population.

How Inequality Hurts the Economy Bloomberg Business Week by David J. Lynch,
Bloomberg Business Week, November 16, 2011
The public discussion about the widening gap between rich and poor hasn’t been this loud since the Great Depression. Warren Buffett has condemned the disparity, Occupy Wall Street has inveighed against it, President Barack Obama cites it to justify higher taxes on the wealthy. Much of the debate, though, has focused on inequality’s moral dimension. Somehow it just doesn’t seem right that so many Americans struggle while a handful prospers. What many are missing is the actual impact rising inequality is having on the U.S. economy. Hint: It isn’t good.
Since 1980 about 5 percent of annual national income has shifted from the middle class to the nation’s richest households. That means the wealthiest 5,934 households last year enjoyed an additional $650 billion beyond what they would have had if the economic pie had been divided as it was in 1980, according to Census Bureau data.
The typical U.S. household, meanwhile, has yet to regain the ground it lost during the recession. The median income of $49,445 at the end of 2010 remains a shade below the level reached in 1997, adjusted for inflation. “Income inequality in this country is just getting worse and worse and worse,” says James Chanos, president and founder of money managers Kynikos Associates. “And that is not a recipe for stable growth.”

Interesting Occupy-related websites: (some live streaming, chats and general assembly meetings)