Tea Party

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) vs The Tea Party: A Brief Comparison

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) vs The Tea Party: Why Occupy Wall Street is not the same

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has drawn countless comparisons to the Tea Party. Both have arisen out of discontent with the current political system and have attracted followers from opposite sides of mainstream party lines, in addition to many independents. However, it would appear (given economic history) that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are angry for the right reasons (and have racked up impressive endorsements from people like Suze Orman and Howard Buffett and whereas the Tea Party is angry over their misguided notion of taxes and government (driven far more by ideology than objectivity).  Both camps claim to want “take the power back.”  But whereas the Tea Party has a simplistic “taxes and government are the problem” mantra we often see coming from the angry right, the Occupy Wall Street protesters realize that it’s corporate special interests that have filled the political power vacuum (a vacuum that exists largely because everyday people either haven’t participated in the Democratic process or, like the Tea Party, allow themselves to be blindly led by said corporate interests and unwittingly act against their own best interests).  Whereas the Tea Party protests appear to be an 8-5 affair where protesters prop up  (often racist) signs and speak out against government then go home (and enjoy their social security and Medicare benefits), the OWS movement appears to be a 24/7 affair, with protesters camping in public areas in financial districts. 

As this Occupy Wall Street Protester articulates (Fox News conveniently failed to air this):

Occupy Wall Street vs Tea Party: The Politics

Occupy Wall Street is comprised predominantly of political independents (70%), who are young and educated.  The Tea Party is predominantly comprised of Republicans (66%) who are older and wealthier and have favorable views of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and George W Bush.  Tea party members are also likelier than the average citizen to believe that too much is made of problems facing African Americans and that Obama was not born in the United States.

occupy wall street vs tea party movement pictures
Click thumbnail for entire graphic

Occupy Wall Street: Angry for the right reasons

Occupy Wall Street protesters are angry that the wealth has gone to the top 1%, and that corporations have gotten richer while the average American has seen less and less fruits from their own labor.  Well, they’re right.

Most of the wealth over the last few decades has coagulated at the very top as taxes on the rich have been lowered and union-busting has largely dismantled unions and their ability to fight for living wages for workers.

The “1%” really is pulling away, while median income earners are left behind

Wealth inequality - richest 1 percent


Americans generally underestimate the level of wealth disparity that exists

The rise and fall of middle income earners is commensurate with tax policy

It’s a little-known fact that taxes on the highest earners were far higher from the mid-late 30’s until the late 80’s than they are today. While income inequality certainly existed, it was nowhere near the levels we see today.  Ironically, this is the era many fiscal conservatives generally long for (mistakenly believing that taxes were lower and unions were weaker).

Taxes top 1 percent and wealth disparity

CEO pay has skyrocketed, while typical workers haven’t seen any gains

CEO to Worker pay Ratio

Corporate taxes have actually been drastically reduced since the 1980’s

Corporate Taxes vs Corporate Profits

Likewise, the lowering of corporate taxes has only met with more hoarding of wealth.

Corporate Taxes vs Corporate Profits
And this disparity between the rich and everyone else is far more prevalent here in the United States than in other industrialized nations.

Wealth Disparity - United states vs canada britain france germany

wealth disparity across countries - US Canada France Sweden

Reaganomics: tax cuts on the wealthy were allegedly going to “trickle down” on everyone else

Reagaonomics - Trickle down economics - tax cuts

The Tea Party: Angry for the wrong reasons.

The Tea Party is angry about taxes and the size of government.  Unfortunately, a study by Forbes shows they are grossly misinformed on both subjects.

Both taxes and government are smaller in the US than in other advanced nations.
Whether one believes the US government is “too large” is a matter of subjectivity and open to debate.  But regardless of one’s normative beliefs on this, the US federal government is actually small (as a percentage of the economy) compared to other advanced nations.

taxes across countries - US, Canada, France, Mexico
Click to Enlarge

And in fact, economic mobility has fallen behind in the US.  The “American Dream” of transcending the socioeconomic status one was born into seems to have moved to Europe (see full report (PDF)).

economic-mobility-us vs europe

For all the complaints against the US’s “welfare state,” advanced countries that see more upward mobility (see above) actually tend to have stronger safety nets

social safety net - united states vs europe

Here is a comparison of debt as a percentage of GDP for many of the nations above.  As you can see, there it’s difficult to argue that they are somehow worse off than the US financially.

United States Europe Canada Debt GDP

They are angry at the sudden rise in taxes.  But in fact, Obama has actually enacted more tax cuts than Bush so far.

obama vs bush taxes

Naturally the Tea Party is angry about the debt: but the debt is a result from lost revenues from the Bush tax cuts and the economic downturn.

Deficit - Reasons - Obama vs Bush

obama vs bush on deficit debt & spending
Click to Enlarge

The Boston Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street and the modern Tea Party Movement

Many have criticized the Occupy Wall Street protesters for engaging in disruptive behavior.  But it would seem to me that we generally have no qualms with the fact that The Boston Tea Party itself was vastly “more illegal” according to  British Law.  Whereas the Tea Party protesters appear to show up, protest against government, then drive home on public roads, OWS protesters are camping out–24/7.

The effects of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street

The Tea Party’s Red Herring

Both movements clearly had an affect on our national and political discourse, well as on the trajectory of policies.  Amidst a weak and fragile economic recovery where private sector job creators were bearish on investing in job creation, the Tea Party was instrumental in shifting the focus to smaller government and reduced government spending (the only source for maintaining meaningful job creation).  After 8+ years of wasteful spending under Bush, the Tea Party decided they’d had enough once Obama was in office.  Now, the political discourse would revolve around a false impending debt crisis (which gave Republican obstructionists the ammo they needed to obstruct a faster recovery).  The result?  A paralyzed Congress that couldn’t agree to raise the debt ceiling and a subsequent lowering of the US credit rating.

Occupy Wall Street: Back to Reality

OWS was instrumental in getting the focus back onto the lack of jobs and furthermore, brought the increased disparity of wealth to the mainstream.  This disparity of wealth is a bulk of the reason for this slow recovery.  Even as jobs slowly increase, the buying power of the middle class is too weak to support a faster and more sustained recovery.

Google Trends, Occupy Wall Street, and Income Inequality Search Volume

Search volume for the phrase “income inequality” shows a huge spike and subsequent overall increase after the Occupy Wall Street movement.  In the 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama addressed income inequality, resulting in an even greater increase in searches for the phrase.

Occupy Wall Street - Income Inequality

Further Reading



Fact and Myth
Leon McCloud is a prominent political blogger and commentator known for his insightful and thought-provoking analyses of political issues and economic trends. Born in 1985, Leon's passion for understanding the complexities of the political landscape began at a young age and has driven him to become a respected voice in the world of political discourse.