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Juxtaposing Warren Buffett and the Occupy movement

BY GUEST OPINION | NOVEMBER 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Talking about the "Occupy" movement, a guy I know said, "I admire it, but it's not very well-defined; sounds more like a class warfare complaint."

Let's juxtapose that comment with two others. First, Warren Buffett's plea to the mega-rich this summer to speak out and support drastically higher income-tax rates on themselves. "Most wouldn't mind being told to pay more in taxes … when so many of their fellow citizens are suffering," he wrote.

Cut to a "Statement of Principles" adopted last month by one of the offshoots of the Wall Street original, "Occupy Iowa City." In its eight observations and 12 principles, there's nothing approaching a call for class warfare unless you care to quibble about Principle 9, which reads, "We believe in the equitable and just distribution of all resources, opportunity, and wealth." This is followed by the cautionary Principle 11, which reads, "We affirm our commitment to the process of democratic decision-making and believe all people deserve an equal voice and vote."

Nor is there a call to the trenches in Buffett's statement. Indeed, he implies that the wealthy would accept sacrificing some wealth because, "They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them." The guy I quoted at the start doesn't need to fear class warfare.

What he needs to fear is the evident breakdown of the American political system. It has left the levers of government unable even to consider seriously, let alone reach agreement, on the kind of change articulated by Buffett and Occupy Iowa City. The extreme politicization of even the minutiae of government presents the specter that no matter which party is in power, nothing will change. The parties simply reverse roles. Further, in the mainstream-media coverage of election politics, independent or third party voices — which might call for conciliation, mediation, or compromise — are denied or marginalized.

Ironically, if such a gloomy forecast prevails, the hope and optimism implicit in the respective "have" and "have not" statements I've quoted may evaporate, and the likelihood may swing toward class warfare. After all, when sanity and reason don't prevail in our political and economic crisis, can chaos and violence be far behind?

Norm Vance is a resident of Grand Rapids, Mich.


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