The Issue Behind the Occupy Movement
Many years ago, when I was first establishing my private educational practice, I signed up for a seminar on running a consulting firm, to see if anything they had to say applied to my new business.
The seminar leader turned out to be a consultant only in name: he used his title of "security consultant" to sell companies on his real business, which was providing outsourced security personnel.
He hired private security cops, then rented them out to the companies he "consulted" for.
So I learned very little about consulting from him.
But I did learn something far more important.
In the course of his lecture he told us how he got into "consulting" and about a "revelation" that had come to him one night in bed.
He started out as a security guard, but his employer didn't want to pay his payroll taxes and so insisted that he work as an outside contractor.
At some point the job got too big to do alone, and so he hired an employee to cover the hours he couldn't cover himself.
After a year or so he ended up with several employees, and this was when his grand revelation came.
He was lying in bed one night, drifting off to sleep, when he suddenly realized that there was a man standing guard outside a building, at that very moment, earning him money while he slept.
He described this as the turning point in his life.
He had found the secret to success—he simply had to arrange his affairs so that he profited from the work of others.
He described this as his transition from a wage-slave mentality to the mentality of an owner.
If you expect me to go off on a rant against business owners at this point, you'll be disappointed.
I'm a business owner myself. I'm related to business owners and have business owners as friends.
But there is an important issue here—an issue which lies at the heart of the Occupy movement, of the economic mess this country is in, and of the greatest current threat to the United States of America.
Consider the following scenarios:
- A group of people form a business together. They divide up the work equally, and divide the profits equally as well.
One of them takes on financial responsibility: sees to the bookkeeping, taxes, etc.
One of them takes on marketing: makes sure that sales are good.
One or more concentrate on production: making certain there's a high quality product, and that there's enough of it to supply their customers.
And one takes on management: making certain that the others have the tools they need to do their jobs, that production and sales are communicating well, working with finance to make sure that the cash flow is good enough to meet the other's needs, etc.
Here you have management without hierarchy, everyone takes the same level of responsibility, puts in the same amount of work, gets the same reward.
- An Entreprenuer starts a business. In the early days she works alone, building the foundations, doing a little bit of everything to get the enterprise off the ground.
Soon she has the income necessary to grow, and hires employees.
The employees put in their eight hours, and some take more responsibility than others, but none works as hard or as long as the owner.
Consequently, the owner makes twice as much money as any of the others. She sees to it that the more responsible ones get more reward than those who simply do the minimum, but in the end she works twice as hard, takes twice the responsibility, and gets rewarded accordingly.
- The heir to a fortune inherits millions of dollars. He hires accountants and lawyers and investment experts with a small part of that money, and gives them the job of increasing his fortune.
They go about this by investing in the stock market, buying up whole companies, creating mergers, hiring and laying off employees with no concern for the effects on anything other than their boss's bottom line.
As a consequence, the millionaire becomes a billionaire.
Those billions come, ultimately, from the hard work of the employees who labor day in and day out for the companies that the heir is buying and selling.
It seems clear that the moral line doesn't lie so much between scenarios #1 and #2 as it does between #2 and #3.
Even if you give the "heir" in #3 a break, and assume that he works twice—even three times—as hard as any of the employees at the bottom of his food chain, you still have to ask how there is any fairness in a system which pays him an annual income almost 10,000 times that of the average person doing the actual work?
To be a bit more precise, based on figures from the last five years, a mere 9,577 times the median workers pay. The top 400 incomes in the U.S. averaged about $344,800,000 per year. The median income was around $36,000.
There's clearly something wrong with that system.
You remember the old Communist slogan?
From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
Our current system has a different one:
From each according to his ability, to each according to his power.
It's hard to see how that differs from the slogan of a slave-owner.
We have become a country which rewards wealth with more wealth, power with more power, and the the result is a loss of democracy itself.
Look at what the Koch brothers and their Republican friends are doing to voting rights across the country, or to the rights of workers.
Look at how campaign finance laws have been finessed so that the wealthy can launder their contributions, and influence our elections in secret.
Notice the lobbyists they pay to write our laws.
This is about something more than who was responsible for the current recession.
It's about where our country is headed: whether we will be a democracy for long, or whether we will end up as a corporate slave-state, where anyone who is not of use to those in power will be left to starve on the streets.
And it's a moral issue—a spiritual issue for us as a nation.
Do we really believe that the secret to success should be positioning yourself to profit from others' work?
Do we really believe that might makes right?
Do we really want to return to pre-revolutionary days, when the government was run by the rich and powerful, and the common citizen had to take whatever the rich and powerful dished out?
It's possible that the Occupy movement is the beginning of a major change: a return to our liberal, democratic values as a nation.
But that will only happen if we all insist on more than a few indictments on Wall Street, or a decent jobs bill.
We need deep, and lasting, changes in the fabric of our culture—political and economic changes that involve the balance of power in our land, and a change of heart concerning our attitudes toward the "rights" of money and power.
At least, that's what I think today.