It’s hard to ignore the signs: One percent of the population controls 40% of the wealth in this country. Financial institutions, after a decade of living large off riskier and riskier bets, are passing along costs to consumers. The unemployment rate for people under the age of 30 is nearly 17%. And it’s not just the poor. The Middle Class are being squeezed from every direction. Is it any wonder that people have taken to the streets to Occupy Wall Street?
We know that as a country we can’t sustain this level of inequality for much longer. In the short term, we need to update the New Deal so that the protections envisioned by FDR are realized for the Gig Economy – the 30% of our workforce who are excluded from basic worker protections and whose “jobs” last months instead of years. That means creating portable health insurance that workers can take from gig to gig and revising our unemployment system to account for the millions of people who are currently left out of it.
But in the long term, our best bet to prevent another Great Recession is to stop thinking that benefits are provided by an employer and support systems are delivered through the government. Those days are slipping away, and it’s time to completely shift our thinking. We need to come up with new, creative ways to solve these problems by coming together in what I call New Mutualism: People with shared interests cooperatively building solutions to the problems they face.
Wall Street won’t remain occupied forever. But the spirit of the protests can live on, especially if we can channel the anger, frustration, and hope on display in Zuccotti Park into new institutions that balance people, community, a living wage, and basic supports with reasonable profits.