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Occupy the Tower!

This coming January, the Occupy Movement is coming to the University of Texas at Austin! Yes, I have heard of its existence downtown (http://occupyaustin.org/). And I have always been an avid supporter of the worldwide movement since its inception at Wall Street. But now, the movement will soon be real, in front of my eyes, at the footsteps of our beloved tower. I no longer have to think about traveling to New York or Oakland or any other place out of my reach. The time has come for us to stand united in solidarity against those who have taken our money, effectively leaving the poor and middle class in worse conditions than they were before. As UT students who make little to no money, who have no time to get a decent job, who have to pay for their education, none of us can sincerely appreciate those with the most power who make a secondary education even more difficult to obtain. Despite what the media has done in an attempt to misrepresent or even smear the movement, we should all be informed of the truth behind the solidarity before we make any sensible judgments. And as students, we should all be in full support of the Occupy Movement.

As most of us have felt the consequent pain, the recent budget cuts in the national and state level have caused the most pain in the middle and lower classes. And I would assume that UT is comprised of mostly middle and lower class people. (In other words, we do not have millions of dollars in our bank account). Just earlier this year, and even more crushing if you witnessed in high school, many teachers were laid off as a result of this financial mess. In my high school alone, around 16 teachers of a staff of over 100 got the axe swung at their blossoming careers, all because the school district lacked the money to fund our education.

To those who accuse that this movement is an uprising of lazy liberals, I wholeheartedly disagree with your notion that this is an issue of left versus right. Rather, it is a movement that seeks to change the power structure in which we live: the rich and powerful hoard all our money, while the powerless suffer the consequences. In the midst of my teachers’ job crisis, many of us, regardless of our political beliefs, openly criticized our superintendent of receiving bonuses and car allowances while lowly teachers received much more unjust treatment. Our superintendent completely refused to take a pay cut, a sacrifice that would have saved the jobs of a handful of teachers, not to mention the education of future generations.

The same applies to our budget. A practical example of our budget problems can be found in the oil industry. A study conducted by the Congressional Budget Office shows that capital investments on oil field leases and drilling equipment are taxed at an effective rate of 9%, significantly lower than that of most other businesses (and most Americans). And because of the existence of numerous other loopholes, some oil companies are able to pay virtually nothing in taxes. While these big companies make millions of dollars in profits each year (their CEO’s have made millions in bonuses) and share almost none of their income with other Americans, families with modest salaries, like my own, pay a hefty part of their incomes on taxes. But somehow, our representatives are either oblivious to this disparity, or they simply do not care. In May of 2011, a proposed bill to eliminate some subsidies for oil companies, the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, failed to gain the necessary amount of votes for debate. The 48 Senators who voted for cloture received $370,664 on average in campaign donations from employees and political action committees representing oil. Those who voted to consider the Act were paid a measly $72,145 (Kretzmann). In subsidies, this cost the federal government $43.6 billion over the next 10 years (Taylor).

So that’s what happened to our budget. We have the ability to tax the wealthiest Americans, asking them to pay their fair share in taxes. But alas, the power struggle that exists in our country allow the rich to pay less taxes as a percentage of their income than do the rest of Americans. Money that could be used to fund the education of many hardworking Americans who cannot afford a post-secondary education. Money that could be pumped into the pocketbooks of citizens who otherwise cannot pay for goods. And without customers, big businesses do not produce anything. And the economy slows to a halt!!

So we have all complained about the hikes in tuition in the past few years. This is why we should all be charged to participate in this Occupy movement. We deserve a right to education. And we must fight so that all people, regardless of their income, have the same opportunity to learn the skills they need for work and for life.

And to those of you who may still disagree with me, I urge you to do a lot of in-depth research rather than just listen to what the mainstream media tells you. Before you make any rebuttals against me, look up the facts and analyze the reasons and passions that have surfaced among the Occupiers rather than make baseless, shallow assumptions.

Occupy the Tower!

http://www.facebook.com/events/307005372649483/

Sources:

Kretzmann, Steve. “Senators Opposing End of Oil Subsidies Received Five Times More in Big Oil Campaign Cash.” The Price of Oil. Oil Change International, 17 May 2011. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.

Taylor, Jerry, and Peter Van Doren. “Eliminating Oil Subsidies: Two Cheers For President Obama – Forbes.com.” Forbes.com. Forbes.com LLC, 3 May 2011. Web. 24 Oct. 2011.

United States. Congress of the United States. Congressional Budget Office. Taxing Capital Income: Effective Rates and Approaches to Reform. 2005. Web.

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December 4, 2011 | | Comments are closed for this post

6 Comments to Occupy the Tower!

Dear Khang:

First of all, I have to tell you that I do support the Occupy Movement.
Let’s Occupy the Tower!!!

However I’d like to direct your attention to some superficial statements you are writing about. For example: What do you mean when you say that these CEO’s “share almost none of their income with other Americans”?

In an attempt to understand what’s going on with this money I will assume for a moment that this money could only have three avenues from here. It may be going to the purchase of luxurious goods, it could be going to investments or it could be going to below the mattress. Of all these options, the last one does not seem rational since even buying treasuries will get you some interest back with “theoretically” no risk.

Now, if they are buying luxurious goods, then they are giving this money back to Americans who provide luxurious goods and services. These Americans typically generate employment through their companies since rich people do not provide products or services personally. That is being done by middle and lower income people employed by business owners.

If it is the case that this rich person is investing his money, then he is giving back to society too. He is financing some company that needs the money to keep in business so they can pay their employees’ salaries as well as their suppliers.

If it was the last case that all the money they are making goes under the mattress, then I would totally agree with you that they are not sharing their money. But I believe that this is the most stupid behavior and it is not likely that a CEO that makes millions of dollars would have such an ignorant attitude towards money.

In conclusion, most of us are not rich, but especially in the United States, there are a lot of opportunities to become rich if someone wants to give it a try. However becoming rich implies a lot of sacrifices many of us are not willing to commit to. Yes, being rich has its perks and yes many rich people live wasting resources in a stupid way. But what most of them have in common is that they need to have their money invested in order to stay rich.

Hey, all I am saying is that as a Biochemical Engineer you are most likely going to be working for a company that belongs or is controlled by rich people. And if you do, you would prefer that the company does not pay too much taxes if that allows it to stay in business, because that will allow you to keep your job and your salary. I will however turn it over to you and ask you: how many employment positions are you willing to create during your future professional life?

December 23, 2011
— Daniel
 

Hey Daniel,

That’s a great point you bring up. Yes, of course the CEO’s and other rich folks have to spend their money. I mean they would serve no good if they simply flaunt their change around. They will undoubtedly spend their money, just not on the less expensive material goods that I and other low/middle class folks would purchase.

You seem to imply that trickle-down economics would be the best solution to this economic crisis. While if this were an ideal world, I might be more tempted to have such faith that companies would be willing to invest their resources in their workers. But in the world we live in, the money spent by these CEO’s on luxury goods goes to the company, which in turn pays the CEO’s of that company. Why pay their workers? Sure, one might have a good heart and decide to shower their employees in bonuses with the extra money from tax cuts. But in this economy, the workers are at the mercy of the company. Workers struggle to keep their jobs in fear of unemployment. Companies that hire them play off this fear: they don’t have to pay their workers exorbitant wages since they have nowhere else to turn to find work. So with the extra money, why not pay the people who run the company instead, the people who wield a disproportional amount of power? The money cycles among the rich (from CEO to company to CEO to company, with little else in between), leaving only a few droplets, if any, of benefits for the rest of us.

The opportunities of getting rich in this country are receding as we speak. This used to be a country of dreams, but now, it has become a country of the powerful bosses who puppeteer the powerless majority.

In response to your last statements, I would rather work for a company whose CEO does not take millions of dollars in bonuses while leaving his/her employees in the dust. If I were to create employment positions (are you implying a hypothetical that I am a CEO in your final question?), the excess money that would fund my gargantuan salary and pay for my lambos and 50-room mansions would instead go to my fellow employees. I would never allow corruption and greed to elevate my status in society at the expense of the rest.

Thanks for helping me clarify my opinions, Daniel! Feel free to reply with another comment. I would be glad to keep this discussion going.

January 4, 2012
— Khang
 

Khang, I’m really digging on the political interest/ social justice bend of your blog. It’s one of my favorite topics to read about, and I commend writers who brazenly put opinions into a public forum. To me, that’s what college should be about… finding a voice! Cheers, and hope you have a great semester.

January 12, 2012
— Rebecca
 

Excellent answer Khang, let me tell you, I think you are up to something really good professionally if you are able to take your passion and work for what you think is right.

I would just like to leave another comment to think about.

OK, I agree that most CEO’s would do tremendously well with half or even 1/10 of what they make, which is true of most top sport players, but let’s leave them apart for now.

Do the rest of the employees really need that extra 10% to 20% that they could receive if the CEO decided to raise salaries, instead of getting that huge annual bonus?

Would these people be actually happier?

What are the needs that minimum-wage Americans are not fulfilling because they’re making minimum wage?

Allow me to make a comparison with my country of birth, Mexico, which is by no means the poorest country in the world. The minimum wage there is about $133 USD a month. This is less than Americans on welfare get, isn’t it? And let me tell you that the 3 largest cities in Mexico are more expensive to live in than Austin is, for example.

Now, these people really don’t have much of a chance to get access to even public education, because they are too busy working to buy food and clothes. They need to forget about more advanced needs like professional realization or contributing to society.

Oh and by the way, do you remember who the richest man in the world is? That’s right, Mexican Carlos Slim according to Forbes. And he get most of his riches from cellular service company America Movil, in part because one need most people in Mexico need to fulfill is having a cell phone (>90 million cell phone lines in a 112 million people country)

The point of this comparison is that inequalities exist and are even worse if you consider the whole world. I do agree with you on the belief that inequalities are totally exaggerated and ridiculous these days, but let’s face it inequalities exist because people are diverse.

Think about this, if tomorrow you would leave 100 people in a desert island, with nothing more than their clothes on, the day after, some will have more than others because some will choose to work and others won’t. Some will find more intelligent ways to get mangoes or coconuts so they will get more than others, typically through leadership and influence. And then, others will find what some people are missing and will provide them with the missing items in exchange for other items or even for work.

In the end, what is closer to and ideal world? One in which everybody has the same or one in which everybody own what they deserve according to their virtues?

I’d say it’s the second one, and if it is, then I would worry more about violent people taking by force what they are too lazy to work for, rather than about people who have great influence on others and get unproportionate benefits from it.

January 13, 2012
— Daniel
 

Daniel, let’s not forget to credit yourself as well. I have enjoyed our conversation so far, and it reminds me that despite my convictions, I still have much to learn. And for that, I applaud you.

Inequality in this and other nations exist, but to blame it solely on merit or work ethic undermines some of the underlying causes. In one of my earlier blogs, I mentioned the people who I worked with at McDonald’s and their life stories. Some of them seemed very brilliant. But alas, they work at a low-paying job because they had no other choice. I’ll highlight one of many examples: when she was in high school, my shift manager’s parents died of cancer. With no one else to turn to, she sacrificed her opportunity of getting a higher education in order to work and support her younger siblings. As a result of working nearly full-time, she could not dedicate herself to the higher education most of us take for granted. Given her incredible leadership skills, kindheartedness, and especially her incredible wit, I would not dismiss her as “lazy”. Of course, on the island, the people who work harder are better off. But that is when everyone starts on an equal footing. In reality, that is not the case at all. So while I do agree with you that many people do not progress in society because they do not believe in hard work, I reject the fact that all people are poor because they brought it upon themselves.

This is where the rich can help. If we can redistribute money so that it is not concentrated on the wealthiest, we can redirect those resources to improving the lives of others. Let’s start with people like my shift manager. If she had been provided with better resources in her past, she probably would not have had to drop out of school. Instead, she would have more time to devote to her studies, ultimately resulting in a much better position in life for her to grow intellectually, start a family, and contribute to society in some meaningful way. But we must give people like her an opportunity to pursue her career goals first. And they way our society is built, the currency of opportunity is usually money.

And I think the issues of poverty in other countries can be addressed, to some degree, by income inequality and the concentration of wealth. These social issues definitely exist in all corners of the globe and a combination of ability and (mostly) opportunity are to blame. You ask at the end what the ideal world entails. But does that ideal really fit our model of society? Or am I just being too optimistic about the least fortunate among us?

January 21, 2012
— Khang
 

Khang, Very well said, you have a good head on your shoulders, congrats man!

I just read this blog, and you are hitting the problem right on the dot: It is because this uneven playing field or as you put it “when everyone starts on equal footing” that causes some people to have distinct advantages or for the poor; disadvantages.

Keep up the good work my friend, you are a bright young man, and we need more people like you on our team!

February 21, 2012
— Armando Franco
 
photo of Khang