Is it a ‘Global Spring’?
At first the anti-Wall Street upheaval could have been called an “American Spring.” However, after a short time it spread all over the world and became ‘’global.’’ There are two similarities between the global and U.S. movements if their origin is taken into account: Deteriorating income distribution and the fact that the poor are getting poorer during recent years. Naturally crowds on streets in the western hemisphere have no democracy and freedom problems like the people in some Arab countries. However, the demonstrations in the U.S. and some other western countries prove that balanced income distribution is also important, not only for economic and social prosperity, but also for political stability.
The Census Bureau in the U.S. recently reported that 46.2 million Americans have been living below the poverty line. This is the highest number in half a century. It means that 15.1 percent of the total population is poor and getting poorer, according to the recent statistical estimations. To comprehend the seriousness of the situation, it is necessary to know that the poverty line for a family of four was $22,314 last year.
The sad news is that the average household income level fell to the level of 1996, and the gap between the top and the bottom incomes has been growing. The statistics for minorities are worse. The poverty rate for African-Americans and Hispanics rose to around 27 percent. It is estimated that in four or five years, 10 million people will be added to the ranks of poor.
The reason for the recent deterioration in income distribution is obviously the rise in unemployment. This is not only an American case but a widespread problem all over the world. In some countries like Turkey it is mainly a structural problem. However, especially in the western hemisphere nowadays it is a cyclical trouble, and the main culprit is the recent crisis. But if this crisis continues for more years, unemployment will become a structural problem also in western countries.
The anti-Wall Street protest in America and similar demonstrations in some western countries have already become an anti-rich movement, and this might spread to some other parts of the world where people still stay calm. Angry crowds in the U.S. shout for levying more tax on the rich, and without any delay the same was heard on European streets. In the United States that request was identified as anti-American by some Republicans. It is also understood that some Democrats will not support the new tax bill presented by President Obama so as not appear as an ally of a president who is losing popularity. This is the unpleasant face of politics. But European politics are quite different from those in the U.S.: Governments might try this change to satisfy the people’s demands.
But the fact remains that taxing the rich cannot solve the poverty problem as experienced several times in the past, especially by the leftist governments in Europe. The most important taxing principle is of course getting more from the rich, but this does not mean that the application of that principle can technically bring any important relief for the poor.
Unfortunately there is not a quick solution to the problem of poverty. Simple remedies in the macroeconomic sense are not effective to balance income distribution. One method might be reaching poor families directly one by one. But it is not easy to decide on the feasibility and the practicability of this approach. Improving public services such as health, education and transportation is another way to ease the pain of poverty.
Fighting against poverty is of course mainly a matter of humanistic intentions. However, it must be remembered that poverty might destroy social peace and as a result might deteriorate the political regime itself. It is not a fantasy to mention the period between WWI and WWII with its tragic hyperinflations, the Great Depression and destructive impact on the middle class in western societies