By Marty Russell
As a slogan, “We are the 99 percent” just ain’t cuttin’ it.
Why? Because the 1 percent they’re protesting against in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations don’t seem to even acknowledge our existence except when elections roll around and then we’re only given their hand-picked candidates to choose from.
And, technically, the slogan is wrong. According to most economists, the real wealth in this country resides not just in the top 1 percent but in the top 0.1 percent. So maybe they should change the slogan to “We are the 99.9 percent.” Seems to work pretty well for Ivory soap and hand sanitizers.
These types of demonstrations may have worked in the past, especially in the ’60s and ’70s with the Vietnam war protests, but back then the wealth was, although not evenly, more widely distributed. In 1983, for example, 19 percent of private wealth resided in the bottom 80 percent of the population. By 2007, that figure had dropped to 15 percent and continues to fall.
So why should Wall Street and the banking industry listen to people who have no money? There’s no profit in it. At least not in listening to or caring about the 99.9 percent. But apparently there is profit to be made from that segment of the population.
Bank of America, the nation’s largest, recently announced it will start charging a $5 monthly fee to customers who use their debit cards. Other large banks like J.P. Morgan and Wells Fargo have said they’re also considering a monthly debit card fee and, according to the Wall Street Journal, Regions bank, headquartered in Birmingham, started charging a $4 monthly debit card fee to “certain” customers Oct. 1. I feel certain I know who those “certain” customers are and I’m betting they don’t fall into the top 1 percent of wealth holders.
Bank of America’s CEO said the fee was necessary to recoup losses from new regulations that reduced the fees the banks can charge merchants each time a debit card is swiped. So they’re passing those losses on to their customers.
“We have a right to make a profit,” CEO Brian Moynhan said, sort of the 21st century equivalent of “Let them eat cake.” Poor Bank of America. It only posted $3 billion in profits last year.
So I don’t expect the Occupy Wall Street movement to amount to much. If we really want to get Wall Street’s attention, here’s one suggestion: every time the bank charges you say a $5 fee for accessing your own money, take $5 out of your account. That way there’s no net gain for the bank’s assets.
Sure you’re out 10 bucks, but you still have $5. Enjoy a Happy Meal or a happy hour and know that you’re, at least in a small way, sticking it to the man. Of course, it will only work if 99.9 percent of us participate.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by email at email@example.com.