Note from Brian: I first became acquainted with and a fan of economist Jeffrey Sachs several years ago when I read The End of Poverty. Over the weekend I saw that Pat Salber placed this video on The Doctor Weighs In, and naturally was impressed. It’s worth mentioning that Dr. Sachs has a new book out, The Price of Civilization, which has received terrific reviews.
In this video, Dr. Sachs speaks to Occupy Wall Street protesters at Zuccotti Park on October 7, 2011.
First I want to say thank you. You are changing the direction of this country. And this country’s direction needs changing. And you’re the first to do it in a very long time. You got the right message. We are the 99%. We really are the 99%. And the 1% doesn’t get it yet. So keep telling them the truth. They are a little slow, but they’ll get it eventually.
I wanted to tell you a little bit about the 1%. I’ve been studying the 1% for a while. It’s quite a story. You know there was a long time in this country when the 1% were under control. They were still well to do but they didn’t own everything and they didn’t run everything. And this country started to split around 1980.
So here are the basic facts, which I’m sure you know very well. In 1980, the top 1% took home 9% of the household income. Now, the top 1% takes home 23% of the income. The top 1% of wealth holders has more wealth than the bottom 90% of this country. The top 0.01% – that’s 12,000 households – take home 6% of the household income. That’s more than the poorest 20 million in this country. The last time America had this level of inequality was in 1929. And you know what happened then. It led to disaster. So we have to head off disaster.
How did we get to this miserable situation? It started in the 1970s when globalization began and that was good for many poor countries. It was good if you were rich in the United States. But if you were an average worker, you started to find that your income was squeezed. All of a sudden you were facing competition from halfway around the world. Now those were poor countries halfway around the world, and they started to get wealthier, which was all to the good in my view. But this country left the people who were hurting.
If you had a high school education and you were working in a factory, you could say goodbye to your job. It was going somewhere else. If you wanted to keep your job, they were going to bust your union or cut your benefits or cut your wages. A civilized country would have done something about this. We would have helped people get more skills, more training, more education. We would have helped our factories to be more productive. That is why we have a government after all. It was supposed to help.
In 1981 a very strange thing happened. A man was elected. He came the first day of office and he said “Government is not the solution. It is the problem.” Now a man who believes that should not be our President. He should have stayed on TV and left us alone. We need presidents who believe that government is the solution for all of us. But what Ronald Reagan did was he cut the taxes at the top and cut the benefits below and put our country on the path of inequality.
Now here’s the sad news. It is not news to you because you figured it out before everybody else. It wasn’t just Ronald Reagan. It wasn’t just the Republicans. It was both the Republicans and the Democratic Party. They figured if they cut taxes for the rich, the rich would give them campaign contributions, and they could all live happily ever after. They could all live happily ever after. Not us. They are the 1%. We’re the 99%.
This has gone on for 30 years now. The corporate lobbies have owned our government – even Barack Obama, who I supported and I voted for and I want to succeed. He’s having dinner with rich people all the time, but he’s not having dinner with the 99%. If you have to pay $35,800 a plate, the 99% are going to go hungry. Every week, President Obama is having a campaign dinner. $35,800 per plate. Who do you think he’s meeting? Who do you think he’s listening to? The 1%. We need to elect a government for the 99%.
What are we going to do when we get it? We are going to reestablish government for the people. The people need help and the government is there to help. So with all that income of the 1%, there’s some pretty good things to do. We are going to go for at least 1% more of GNP in income tax, 1% of GNP in a wealth tax, 1% of GNP in a corporate tax, 1% of GNP in enforcing our tax laws so that people pay what they owe, so they don’t hide it in the Cayman Islands. No offense to the Cayman Islands, but stop hiding our profits there.
Now when we have those 4% of GNP, we are going to add 2 more percent immediately because we are going to get out of Afghanistan and Iraq and we are going to close these military bases and stop wasting the fortune of this country.
Now you have 6% of GDP. We can get our budget in shape. We can invest in our young people. We can invest in our infrastructure. We can invest in our schools. We can invest in sciences to solve problems of disease and hunger. There’s nothing that this country can’t do. This is still a great country. This is a country of great talent. This is a country of great ingenuity.
Except the 1% are lazy and they’ve stopped trying and they’re not paying their share. It’s not a choice anymore. Tell them they’re paying whether they like it or not. No more excuses. It’s not a favor. If they don’t like this country, they have to do something else. They can’t be here and take the privileges and not pay for civilization.
I leave it to you ladies and gentlemen. You are doing a magnificent job. This is how history is made. This is how this country is going to turn. Anything I can do, I’m going to be with you to support you. Keep it up. We’re going to take back this country and we’re going to make it great again.