Saturday, November 19, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party: Polar opposites or two sides of the same coin?

Image: Tom Curtis /


OWS is left-wing, radical, dedicated to bringing down the one-percent and redistributing wealth. The Tea Party is right-wing, socially conservative, and dedicated to ending unfair taxes and big government. They appear to be polar extremes. And yet...

At bottom they are making much the same argument: American society, ostensibly committed to free enterprise and success based on personal merit, has been hijacked by powerful interests. Adam Smith's invisible hand has had strings attached to it and has become the puppet hand of puppet masters. Once one acknowledges that the boundary between the private and public sectors is porous, it a small leap to the conclusion that both groups are challenging the same people and are seeking the same outcome: a reformation of the free market system, so that ordinary Americans once again have a chance to succeed, while those with too much wealth and too much power are curbed, if not curtailed.

Just as one can argue that OWS and the Tea Party are two sides of the same mass-movement coin, one also can argue that there is little difference between Democrats and Republicans. Consider the following factoids:

1. Pelosi and Visa:

compared with

Cheney and Halliburton:

2. The one-percenters in Congress:

On November 14th, TIME Magazine's cover story asked, "Can you still move up in America?"

Conclusion: It's a lot tougher than it used to be. Is that the result of Adam Smith's invisible hand? Not really. Other capitalist countries have prospered despite much steeper, graduated tax rates for the wealthy (as the US used to have pre-Reagan), curbing CEO compensation, fostering powerful labor unions (even to the point of giving them representation on corporate boards in some countries). Americans have been sold a bill of goods. The result is where we finds ourselves today.

Both the OWS and the Tea Party are challenging this 30-year-old paradigm. If they could find a way to reach across the cultural abyss that separates them, they might be a lot more effective, even dangerous. The way to close that gap is for both movements to recognize that at bottom they have at least one fundamental goal in common: to restore fairness and genuine freedom to the American free-enterprise system.

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