As the year ends, American politics remains mired in the agenda of the right. The House is, at least momentarily, refusing to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits—two policies genuinely beneficial to the middle class. And the presidential campaign heading into the Iowa primaries is dominated by the libertarianism of Ron Paul and the astonishing, appalling ideas—eliminate child labor laws, for instance—of Newt Gingrich.
Yes, Occupy Wall Street changed the debate for a brief spell, and, yes, President Obama harkened back to the glory days of progressivism with his Kansas speech. But in general American politics has lost sight of the most important crisis of our generation: the shrinking middle class.
So let me offer some advice to Democrats and progressives seeking to capture the attention of the American people. It has long been my belief that ownership trumps regulation. What I mean by that is while laws and regulations can create boundaries to behavior, the reality, as we have seen after passing much legislation—Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank—is that even good laws leave room for bad decision making that results in cataclysm. Even though prosecutors should have charged many more bad actors on Wall Street, much of what led to the crisis was not blatant illegality: It was horrific judgment exercised by senior executives and regulators.
More laws and different regulations might have mitigated the disaster, but the best remedy, and the step we have to focus on, is giving citizens more decision-making within the private sector. “We Own Wall Street” should be the rallying cry of the former Occupy Wall Street, come January.