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Occupiers: Here's a Cause for You

Over the last several months, I have watched the Occupy Wall Street movement with a great deal of interest as both a self-described liberal and a confirmed capitalist (yes—these two are not mutually exclusive). A few thoughts have sprung to mind as I reflect on this protest going into its fourth month.

Most importantly, It is refreshing to see that a movement of this scale is still plausible in the America of 2011. I had started to believe that as a nation we may have reached the point of abandoning the traditional American values of activism and protest to effect change. The fact that OWS has been largely an organic movement that sprung out of spontaneous collective dissatisfaction, as opposed to an organized and well-financed effort by a central body, is heartening.

With that being said, the goals of OWS have morphed into a grab-bag of unrelated items. Rein in Wall Street? Check. Reduce my mortgage payments? Check. Recognize the ancient rights of indigenous peoples? Check. Kill my landlord? Not yet…but you get the idea.

Strong popular movements (think civil rights, the Vietnam war, and the Indian independence movement) have coalesced around one important idea. Trying to be all things to all people and including everybody’s hobby horse of an issue sounds like, well—a political party instead of a protest movement.

The key is to focus on the central issue—economic inequality. And this cannot be combated by frivolous ideas like “just forgive my debt, because I am the 99 percent and the 1 percent have deep pockets.” No society can operate that way. That undermines the underpinnings of any financial system. Would you loan a friend, neighbor, or stranger cash if you knew that you had no recourse if they decided not to honor their obligation? Of course not. That would result in a complete collapse of the way our world works—there would be no home ownership because mortgages would evaporate, utility companies would always bill you in advance, and credit for any endeavor would disappear. So the answer has to lie in a realistic solution to economic disparity that appeals to as many parties as possible.

One idea which I believe has tremendous merit is the Automated Tax Payment Transaction Tax proposal. In a nutshell, it revolves around not taxing at a municipal, state, or federal level. It would be a transactional tax. When any entity (individual or corporation) engages in a financial transaction, it would pay a tax. The amount of these transactions was approximately $500 trillion dollars last year. By comparison, our federal budget was $1.75 trillion dollars in 2010. So in order to meet our budget in 2010, we would have had to tax all financial transactions by 0.7 percent.

An example might be helpful. If a family of four made $120,000 per year and incurred $100,000 per year in expenses, a total of $220,000 in taxable dollars would be available at the point of sale. The total tax burden to that family would be $220,000 x .7 percent, which equals $1,540. Multiply this by every transaction in the country, and you balance your budget. And even better—we already have entities in place to collect these taxes on behalf of the government. They are called banks and credit card companies. No more IRS, and no more filing taxes.

This program answers the Right’s goal of less government intrusion and less taxation, while meeting the Left’s desire for the fulfillment of neglected social programs. We enlarge our tax base in aggregate, without increasing the tax burden disproportionately on any individual pocket of our society. If political fiefdoms were not an issue, common sense would have prevailed in this matter years ago resulting in a more sane tax system. With that being said, no one proposal is a silver bullet—every tax framework is going to have its issues.

So an word of unsolicited advice to those in the OWS movement—concentrate your limited resources on economic inequality, reach for one concrete solution, and hammer that one point home repeatedly until everyone understands it. It is what good marketers do, from Coca Cola to President Obama. The other ancillary issues are just white noise. If you do not do this, you will be dismissed as a group of dilettantes chasing a vague idea of disenfranchisement that appeals to everyone at once—and no one at all.

> Aaron Siegel, Buffalo

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