It finally ended, not with a bang, but a whimper.
The squalid tent cities in Bangor and Augusta are gone and Portland’s days are numbered. Good riddance to them and to the fawning media coverage that portrayed the Occupy Wall Street movement as a spontaneous populist revolt against corporate greed. It was nothing of the sort. Rather, this ragtag collection of misfits, dupes and professional agitators is just the latest shape-shifting face of the progressive movement, which finds its home today in the Democratic Party.
As soon as the first tent cities popped up, Democrats and their union-boss allies couldn’t wait to get their arms around the squatters. While Rep. Nancy Pelosi actually asked God’s blessing on them, state Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, was only slightly less enthusiastic in her embrace of the Occupy protesters. She predicted the movement will continue to gain traction because people are angry that the rich are getting richer. Or, as Scott Cuddy of IBEW Local 1253 put it: “The wealthy have way too much and the rest of us have way too little.”
Not to be outdone, Cokie Giles, head of the Maine State Nurses Association, dropped this gem: “We saw the protests in Cairo last spring and we said, ‘When are we going to see that here?’”
Be careful what you wish for, Ms. Giles.
Giles wants the feds to tax financial transactions to punish Wall Street for its excesses. Proponents claim the new tax won’t affect your 401k (how can that be?) but would generate about $350 billion a year. Then we just need to find another trillion dollars or so a year in new revenue and we could balance the federal budget.
But wait. The new revenue wouldn’t be used to pay for current government services. It would fund new spending programs and pay to keep public sector employees on the job.
Sounds like another stimulus. So how’s that last one working out for everyone?
We’ve tried soaking the rich before. Back in 1990, the first President Bush signed a tax bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. The new luxury tax on yachts was meant to make the rich pay their fair share. Mitchell talked breathlessly about “fairness.”
How did that turn out?
Mitchell’s new tax was a tidal wave that flattened the boat building industry in Maine and elsewhere. Many people in the market to buy expensive boats either didn’t buy one or (selfishly) bought one overseas. Yacht retailers in the U.S. reported a 77 percent drop in sales in 1991.
Boat builders estimated job losses in excess of 20,000, including several thousand blue-collar jobs right here in Maine. The new tax generated a net loss to the U.S. Treasury after accounting for lost tax revenues from all the laid-off workers and the cost of unemployment benefits.
Going back a few more years, progressives in this country applauded the redistribution of wealth (called “agrarian reform”) that swept across Russia and eastern Europe after the overthrow of the czar. A friend of mine here in Hancock County has a family history that dates back to that time in Lithuania. His story is powerful evidence that the progressive movement isn’t the least bit interested in justice or fairness, but only in the unbridled exercise of state power to bend the unenlightened masses to the will of the ruling class.
Jim’s grandparents farmed 100 acres in Lithuania. When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1918, they decreed that the farm should be broken up into 10-acre lots and redistributed to landless peasants. The next year, the Bolsheviks determined that the farmhouse was too big for just one family, so several new families were moved in.
Jim’s grandparents managed to flee their homeland and come to America, where they started over with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Where will we go when it’s lights-out on liberty here?
The good news is that more and more Americans are waking up to what’s at stake. They know we can’t continue down the path we’re on, and they refuse to drink the Kool Aid brewed by the chattering classes in the media and academic establishments.
Will our state and federal governments be based on the progressive redistribution model or will we turn back toward individual rights and economic freedom? Halfway measures won’t work. And only one or the other of those competing visions will ultimately prevail.
Lawrence E. Lockman of Amherst conducts legislative research in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.