So far Occupy Wall Street and its imitators across the country have directed their rage at Wall Street and the rich in general. But they would be better served if they aimed their criticism at the true authors of this country’s problems: the politicians in Washington.
Obviously there are unscrupulous businessmen, and some on Wall Street behaved unethically, if not dishonestly taking advantage of lax oversight and bailouts to make fortunes while the rest of the economy suffered. But, if you look at the one percent that OWS is denouncing, most of them got rich by giving us things that makes us better off, or at least things that we want. Of the top one percent of earners, roughly a third are entrepreneurs or managers of nonfinancial businesses. Nearly 16 percent are doctors or other medical professionals. Lawyers, engineers, scientists, and computer professionals make up another 15 percent. In fact, fewer than 14 percent are involved in the financial industry at all. And even those much reviled bankers provide valuable services, including generating the capital that enables businesses to start, expand, and hire workers. At the same time, the rich are paying a disproportionate share of the taxes and contributing more than $150 billion annually to charity.
On the other hand, what have the politicians in Washington given us?
Many of the students taking part in the OWS protests are reportedly concerned about the cost of their student loans. Since the average student who graduates this year will do so with a debt of more than $25,000, that concern is understandable, though there is ample reason to believe that government is more responsible for that debt than the rich or even the banks. But, as bad as that debt is, worse is the $48,000 that each of those students owes because the politicians in Washington can’t stop spending. That’s each student’s share of our $15 trillion national debt.
And that doesn’t even take into account the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare. If one counted the full indebtedness of the U.S. government, each of those students owes more than $196,000.
Michael D. Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, heading research into a variety of domestic policies with particular emphasis on health care reform, welfare policy, and Social Security. His most recent white paper, "Bad Medicine: A Guide to the Real Costs and Consequences of the New Health Care Law," provides a detailed examination of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and what it means to taxpayers, workers, physicians, and patients.