One of the criticisms of the Occupy Wall Street protesters is that their demands and goals are unspecified and diffuse. "We are the 99 percent" is a difficult slogan to translate into specific actions that government and businesses could consider.
But a basic principle exists underlying these protests, and it is that the current imbalance of power between mega-corporations and all other institutions and individuals in the world constitutes a danger to peace, health and prosperity. While the protesters in the Middle East rebel against powerful repressive governments, participants in the Occupy Wall Street protests share a perspective that a relatively small group of corporate and wealthy individuals now wield too much economic influence and control in the United States and the world.
Given this background, here are a half-dozen ideas to begin a discussion about this imbalance of power:
1.) Enact the Buffett rule. Warren Buffett essentially proposed that people making $1 million or more per year at least pay the same tax rate as middle-class earners. Given that the wealthy and corporate America benefited disproportionately from President George W. Bush's tax cuts, let's tax capital gains and incomes fairly.
2.) Tax stock market transactions. One of the influences on the recent volatility in the stock market is the really large number of stock purchases and selling done on the basis of quantitative computer models. Tax each transaction at a tiny amount to increase revenue for deficit reduction and expansion of job programs.
3.) Hold corporations accountable. Corporations that claim the same legal rights as individuals should be responsible members of their communities. We condemn welfare cheats and Medicare frauds, but what should we think of companies that make enormous profits, and then socialize financial risk at the taxpayers' expense?
4.) Put jobs and labor back at the top of the country's agenda. One of the simplest ways for corporations to increase profits is to cut jobs and assign the work of what used to be done by two or three people to the remaining employees. It is not surprising that job stress and dissatisfaction are the highest they have been for many decades.
We must find creative ways to increase employment for groups of people who need or would benefit from career and work assistance. How could we provide a job for every veteran who returns from a combat deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan? Could we create a technology skills bank of young people to be tapped by small businesses that lack the resources to create Web pages and social media?
5.) Reconsider policies regarding corporate mergers and monopolies. When the failure of a relatively few corporations in a single industry can send shock waves throughout an entire country's economy, those companies are too large. If big government causes problems, doesn't it make sense that big business can, too?
6.) Refocus on environmental concerns. Climate change is here, and its effects will become more extreme in the future. The products and policies of mega-corporations are the single most important factor influencing the status of the environment. For example, manufacturers can make nearly every part of every product recyclable and reusable. How can we make recycling and reuse the norm in our disposable culture?
The genius of the Founding Fathers was to establish a system of checks and balances between branches of government. What the Founding Fathers did not envision was that a new aristocracy would arise based on enormous disparities of wealth and influence between the top 1 percent and the remaining citizens of the country.
The perspective of the Occupy Wall Street protesters is that we now find ourselves as Lilliputians surrounded by corporate Goliaths. "We are the 99 percent" points out a message that has been largely lost in the past 30 years: In a democracy, government's primary focus and policies should benefit we the people.
Scott T. Meier, Ph.D., is a professor and associate dean for faculty development in the Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology at the Graduate School of Education at the University at Buffalo.