Just up the street from last week’s AFP Annual Conference in Boston, tents housed the members of the Occupy Boston movement. Although there was little interaction between conference attendees and the protesters, former President Bill Clinton and Executive Institute speaker Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter addressed the movement, its origins, and why it has moved beyond a simple protest into a worldwide phenomenon.
President Clinton, speaking at the Opening General Session on November 6, weighed in on the growing inequality in the United States and throughout the world—the primary reason the “Occupy” movement began, he believes. President Clinton said inequality has been increasing for the past 30 years—the first of several factors that are negatively impacting the modern world.
Between World War II and 1981, the United States “built the greatest middle class the world had ever seen,” said President Clinton. But in the 1980s, due to the changing nature of the job base, a weakening of public investment amid a push for smaller government, and changing ethics and economics in the corporate world, “we became a country that believed that corporations’ overwhelming primary obligation was to the shareholders,” he said.
In the previous decades, corporations generally had multiple obligations; not only to shareholders but to their employees, customers, communities, etc. “Once you elevated the shareholders’ weight above everybody else, it had the ironic impact of giving more weight in the corporate decision making to the group who had the least stake in the long-term success of the corporation and denigrating the interest groups that had the largest stake in the long-term success,” President Clinton added.
Since World War II, the bottom 90 percent of wage-earners in the U.S. have gone from 65 percent of national income to 52 percent, while the top 10 percent grew from 35 percent to 48 percent, with the top 1 percent going from 10 percent to 21 percent, said President Clinton. “It’s a highly unequal society. I’m rather shocked it’s taken people so long to notice,” he said.
In her speech at the Executive Institute on November 8, Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter, Professor, Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University and former Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State, noted that by challenging authority—a key component of innovation—the Occupy could truly change the trajectory of U.S. politics through spreading awareness.
“I think it is going to be an extremely powerful consciousness-raising tool, so that lots of reforms that are already out there will be more likely to go through because of the awareness of a simmering anger and discontent that was there, but wasn’t visible,” she told AFP in an exclusive interview. “And the way I think about Occupy Wall Street is; you can’t avoid it. It’s there. That’s why they won’t leave. It’s literally reminding you day-in and day-out of the millions of young people that don’t have jobs but are also looking at their future and saying, ‘What have you all done? The structure is biased against us.’”