There is a constant push in the media to simplify the Occupy movement into a single catchphrase, then to either jump on board or vilify it based on an equally simple notion. Enter Michael Bloomberg:
“It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp. Now, I’m not saying I’m sure that was terrible policy, because a lot of those people who got homes still have them and they wouldn’t have gotten them without that.”
This is one of the points the right likes to jump on from time-to-time, the “Blame Clinton” thread, which pins our entire mess at his feet in the 1990s. Investors Business Daily recently dived into this, with an article breathlessly titled Smoking-Gun Document Ties Policy To Housing Crisis (echoing some of Michael Bloomberg’s comments). It just came out yesterday, and I can bet it will be all the rage on right-wing radio and blogs.
I won’t even argue that what it describes wasn’t a contributing factor (I’ll leave that to this excellent piece), BUT it does conveniently ignore the fact that while the housing boom was on, NOBODY on the left or the right was complaining. I personally remember very vividly that one of George W. Bush’s re-election themes was how a record number of people were homeowners during his term.
And while lending standards were being relaxed, how did the industry react? I suppose the banks were all dragged kicking and screaming into this because the government forced it upon them? That they were forced to give out all these loans, then forced to package them and resell them at a profit to other institutions? To extend extra credit to people based on the inflated value of their home they knew they couldn’t afford? All the while raking in greater and greater profits while becoming increasingly leveraged out to the precipice?
I would argue that the mortage crisis is the culmination of 30 years of government policy. The deregulation started under Reagan removed the safety valves from our economy, leading to the middle class stalling out while the 1% did better and better. With the middle class stuck, the only way to increase purchasing power (even against inflation) was to use credit. This was ultimately unsustainable as we all found out.
So should the Occupy movement really be about protesting government policy?
In part — this movement is about fighting the collusion between large corporations and government against the best interests of the general population. Government policy has been geared to benefit a small sliver of the American public for too long, under the guise that the benefits they reap will somehow spread to the rest of us. It has resulted in a corrupted, skewed system where the voices of the vast majority of people are no longer being heard.
For our part, we were complicit in our silence. That has changed, and people are waking up now and realizing that the only way to change the system is to stand up to it.