THE OCCUPY movement’s most powerful unifying factor has been its clear and simple identification of the key problem in American society: the divide between the vast majority of the population—the 99 percent—and the richest and most powerful 1 percent.
This 99 percent/1 percent formulation isn’t just a statement about income inequality in the U.S. today. It’s also an acknowledgement that the 1 percent largely controls the government and is therefore able to rig laws, taxes and regulations in its favor.
If you look at opinion polls on questions like taxing the rich, regulating Wall Street, spending money on jobs, prioritizing economic growth over cutting the deficit or preserving and protecting Social Security and Medicare, you’ll find popular, often lopsided, majorities opposed to austerity and in favor of “redistributionist” policies.
Yet the dysfunctional government seems incapable—and not even much interested—in doing much of anything to meet these popular demands. By contrast, Congress acted with tremendous speed—and with little regard for the deficit—to appropriate hundreds of billions of dollars for the banks and other corporations when the financial crisis struck in 2008.
In theory, we’re all equal at the ballot box, and so popular majorities should be able to force politicians to address their concerns. But the Occupy movement has caught fire because millions of Americans realize that the way Washington works in reality bears no resemblance to the political science textbook explanations.
So how does the 1 percent get away with it?