On Sept. 17, 700 highly-educated but unemployed young people gathered at Liberty Square, at the center of Wall Street in New York City. They proclaimed that they were going to occupy Wall Street, where big banks and investment firms enjoy their bonus parties with the taxpayer money, and to continue their occupation until the unemployment problem is solved.
This protest, which did not draw too much attention at first, has become major news all around the world, as the movement spread over every major city throughout the U.S. Especially as the movement has been joined not only by young people with higher education but also by labor unions, the “Occupy Wall Street” protest can no longer be regarded as an impulsive, temporary event.
This brings back memories of the anti-Vietnam War protests in the 1960s, which helped lead to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam. Of course, the nature of the protest in Wall Street is different from the antiwar protests during the Vietnam War, as it contains the message that the greed of the bankers in Wall Street made the poor people lose their jobs and suffer.
It is a fight against the absurd unfairness in what happened after the financial crisis _ to stop the financial meltdown, Wall Street was saved by the government bailing them out with taxpayer money, but the bankers and financiers of Wall Street, the real culprits of the financial crisis, remained unpunished and were even rewarded with bonuses. The protesters’ claim is that the top 1 percent receives every benefit, while the remaining 99 percent of good people are alienated and deceived.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s popularity has fallen lower, and even his reelection has become uncertain. The popularity of Congress has also fallen greatly. If this continues, a third candidate (like Ahn Cheol-soo in Korea) might suddenly jump out in the U.S., too. The 250 year-old two-party system has begun to crack.
The Obama administration put forward a job creation proposal, the so-called jobs stimulus package, in a hurry. This plan purports to involve increased taxation on the higher tax brackets. However, there was a dispute over the surtax on the rich and its criterion. The Democratic Party proposed a tax on those making over $250,000 in annual income, while the Republicans want to set the line at those making over $1 million in annual income.
It was decided at over $250,000, and those whose annual incomes are more than $250,000 would pay an additional 5.6 percent surtax. During this process, the far-right tea party members of congress opposed any kind of tax increase, claiming that taxing the rich was nothing but class warfare.
Meanwhile, the number of participants in the Occupy Wall Street protest has been increasing continuously, and its effect has even reached Korea. A recent poll showed that over three-quarters of Americans welcome taxing the rich, and that they also support the protest. The protesters even have come to Congress and continue to hold rallies there, after the report that the Republican-dominated House is not likely to pass the bill that will increase taxes on the rich.
Certainly, these angry young people have a point. They claim that their American dream was lost because of the greed of the rich people in Wall Street. And in Korea, according to news reports, while people are suffering under the 900 trillion won household debt, the financial sector is having a party by making the biggest net profit in history, while savings banks have tried to make illegal dealings using public fund to enjoy profits among themselves, which only generated debts worth several trillion won.
However, these savings banks just put all their debts on the back of the poor people, who are squeezed by household debts, as if they did nothing wrong. Silence from political establishments toward these upper classes makes one suspect that they are quiet because they are receiving enormous political funds from these richer bankers.
It deserves consideration for Korea, just like Obama, to adopt a plan to put an additional tax on annual income above 250 million won and, with the revenue, increase the employment of young people. Also, as the budget deficit of the nation is increasing rapidly, welfare programs and spending should be reduced at first, and taxes on the rich should be increased. Korea should study Obama’s job creation plan that tries to reduce deficits and create jobs by increasing tax on the rich.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the KimChangJoon US-Korea Foundation. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com). The views expressed in the above article are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of The Korea Times.