Illustration: Sun Ying
The Occupy Wall Street movement happens for a reason. The public furor over issues of social injustice and access to power reflects serious problems with US capitalism.
Although the definition of capitalism has been through some gradual changes in the past decades, the importance of the production and allocation of economic input on political and legal systems has not changed. The rich still have great influence on society and government. The social hierarchy tightly depends on the distribution of capital. The US serves as a perfect example of such organizational structures.
A social movement against Wall Street, a symbol of capital, points its finger directly at the heart of the problem. It carries much more significance than protests outside the White House or the Capitol Hill.
The success of a political figure or institution in the US heavily depends on successfully procuring financial resources by partnering with financial powerhouses. It has become a common unwritten rule of law and serves as the backbone of the higher political structure.
It takes a lot of courage to wage a war against capital since the pursuit of wealth is often seen as the core value of the American dream. For a long time, political parties were under the control of the upper 1 percent, and the public accepted it without question. Although academics sprinkled criticism here and there, the highly lopsided power structure has never been fundamentally challenged.
The disproportional influence of the rich hardly makes real democracy. Politicians, so far removed from the massive majority, represent only the interests of their sponsors. Although elections counter-balance this misrepresentation of public interests to a certain extent, financial institutions have various ways to work around them.
The system excludes the poor from politics. Attempts to challenge financial dominance in politics are no different from political suicide.
And the press in the US covers scandals in every walk of life but goes easy on the financial powerhouses. The rich and powerful are systematically idealized by the mass media. Industrial tycoons, who are deliberately impersonalized through unbalanced reports, are rarely criticized. The double standard about the rich has been accepted as the norm.
Although it seems almost impossible that drastic change will be brought by the Occupy Wall Street movement, the lackadaisical reaction from the top down is alarming. Perhaps because the movement accurately points out the crux of the problem, politicians opt for living in denial. Being dismissive about the logic and argument of the protestors, several Republican senators denounced them as "mobs" without offering any analytical commentary whatsoever.
The centralization of capital has greatly facilitated the development of human society, but the eventuality of the unbalanced power distribution has become a major source of concern.
Mild adjustment through social programs to counter-balance the social disparity proved to be effective in the past, but a short-term plan cannot close up the gap between the rich and poor definitively.
The whole-heartedness of the political agenda of the demonstration is honest and endearing. Though the force it mustered against the established financial power is limited, the point it raised against the capitalist system is sharp and revealing.
The survival of the higher political structure in the US now highly depends on whether the voices heard in the protest can be reflected in future public policies. We have yet to see whether the US can correct itself.
The author is an editor with the Chinese edition of the Global Times. firstname.lastname@example.org