Occupy Wall Street: A Professor’s Perspective

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have been going on for over a month now. They have been smeared as Un-American by some politicians on the far right, and received some shows of solidarity from Democrats as well those in the entertainment industry Everyone has an opinion on the now month long demonstrations. Some are calling this a struggle for economic justice, and a return to the kind of populist outrage not seen in decades. To get a historical perspective on Occupy Wall Street and the economic downturn that laid the backdrop for this struggle, Polite On Society reached out to Prof. Judith Stein. She is a professor of History at The CUNY Graduate Center and author of the book Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories For Finance in the Seventies.

POS: In your book, Pivotal Decade, you put forth the idea that we are in The Age of Inequality. Could you explain a bit about what that means?

JS: After the war from 1947-1973, income and wealth were mildly redistributed, even as economic growth soared.  That is, even though there were rich people and poor people, the income of  poor and middling Americans grew at a greater rate than that of the richest 20 percent of the population. The Age of Inequality began  in 1973 when wages began to stagnate. Since then the top fifth, and within that the top one percent garnished, the greatest percentage of the fruits of  the nation’s economic growth.

POS:  In your article from Dissent Magazine, you talk a little bit about the failure of Obama-mania. Could you elaborate a little on that?

JS:  I mean that many people placed excessive faith in what Obama could do. They demobilized, partly encouraged by the president and his advisers.

POS:  In your opinion, does OWS constitute a movement? If so, what does it need to do to solve the political problems it succinctly points out?

JS:  Not yet. It is a banner under which many different people present their diverse goals. Movements have  to make decisions about what is primary and what is secondary.  Movements attempt to change laws and offer a new political morality that benefits people’s lives.  To solve the political problems they point out, they will have to enter or influence politics.  That is the only way to produce political change.

I would like to thank Prof. Stein for taking the time to talk with us on this issue. To learn more about her book, you can see this synopsis.

-Marc W. Polite