The frustration over social injustice, inspired by Wall Street’s flagrant behavior before and after the calamitous downturn of 2008, strikes me as the most urgent issue facing us right now. How to get out of the present slump and build a viable future are tied up together. If unfairness is allowed to prevail – and gets elected by proxy to the presidency – there are enough downward trends to insure the American decline that so many commentators predict. In an earlier post I outlined the three main causes of injustice: income inequality, anti-democracy, and the triple threat of corruption, cronyism, and influence-peddling.
Necessarily the picture looks bleak. Neither political party has found the moral courage to address the misdeeds of the financial sector, which continue today without regret or reform. When wrongdoers lack conscience, the other sectors in a democracy must step in. That’s what we do with violent crime and law breaking generally. But this is called a special case. The economy cannot do without the financial sector, which accounts for more than half of all corporate profits. One part, the Republicans, nakedly oppose any attempts at reform. In addition, Wall Street spends lavishly on every kind of influence peddling, and a reform-minded candidate who opposes them will find himself abandoned by huge donors. The system is broken, to repeat a mantra on everyone’s lips.
How can a justice movement be mobilized that might continue the start made by Occupy Wall Street?
Here are some possibilities:
1. A grass roots movement to undo the Citizens United ruling by which the Supreme Court ushered in an era of influence peddling on the grandest scale. A constitutional amendment is the only way presently to overturn their decision, and it is unlikely to succeed. But the issue needs to be kept alive as a focal point for action.
2. Burrow from within. That old Soviet-era slogan points to action inside Wall Street. There are young bankers and financiers who genuinely reject unfettered greed, and we should do all we can to unite them into a movement with teeth. Already a list like the Fortune 500 is being assembled to highlight corporations that are practicing just capitalism, i.e., capitalism with social justice in mind.
3. Elect better candidates. Few people are running for office on a fairness agenda. They are blocked by the current panic over jobs as well as the outraged Tea Party.
4. Bring back civics lessons. One of the most pernicious effects of electing school boards across the country with a bent toward fundamentalist Christianity is that “moral values” is code for narrow-mindedness and reactionary agendas. I know that schools are strapped trying to teach not much beyond basic reading skills, but the Internet is free and open. We need to build websites with celebrity speakers who talk about the ideals of fairness, sharing, democratic cooperation, and altruism in public life. Let’s get some inspiration going.
5. Stop defending the indefensible. Corporate America is enjoying the highest profits in 45 years, mirroring a general prosperity among the haves while the have-nots suffer. The same thing happened in the Great Depression, when the wealthy sat on their hands moaning excuses for massive layoffs and their refusal to invest in the future. Demonizing them is tempting and more than a little correct, but in truth all of us who are not suffering should stop sitting on the sidelines. To do nothing is to let the reactionary forces win. Passivity is the same as defending injustice. Look in the mirror and tell yourself that.
I haven’t done any deep research for these proposals; they just seem like common sense from a moral viewpoint. I’m sure that others have come up with better schemes based on greater insight. The main thing is that expertise isn’t needed here. The ordinary citizen still smells the stink of Wall Street’s misdeeds, the lack of accountability, and the shameless profiteering that has ensued since 2008. This isn’t a passing phenomenon. Once the fabric of a just society is undone, it takes generations to weave it back together.