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Too Big Has Failed... Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party Are Similar

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The occupation went off without a hitch, apparently.

I'm not entirely sure what "Occupy Tucson" actually looked like, but I'm a good guesser. I'll warrant there was a fair number of Guatemalan handbags, more than a few recycled wardrobes, and in all likelihood a goodly number of early-model Subaru station wagons with pithy social commentary plastered behind. It was probably pretty festive as such things go, a few pick-up ensembles playing variations with gypsy-themed bonhomie. There was probably a nice selection of picket signs, quite a few of them clever. While a clearly defined message was hard to suss, I'm betting the word "corporation" figured heavily in passionate monologues.

In short, I'm willing to bet you couldn't have handpicked a crowd more demographically opposed to the throng attending the concurrent Tea Party rally (which I also didn't attend), a rally which shrewdly dedicated itself to "picking up trash" at the occupation. [Ironic aside: Am I alone in seeing delightful contradiction in the fact that the Tea Party (an anti-government movement) has so few arrests, while the Occupy Wall Street movement (an anti-corporation movement) produces so much consumer waste?]

And yet, if I may be so bold, the two "leaderless campaigns" have something remarkable in common. They're both sick and tired of Big. Big Business, Big Government, Big Banks and Big Spending. Even, if the Perry/Romney fall in the polls is any indication, Big Hair.

There is something fundamentally American about all of this angst. It may be stretching a bias, but there seems to be a Jeffersonian breeze blowing across the land. Jefferson, the "great diffusor" saw strength in the basic, the lowest common denominator, the virtuous farmer-citizen. He distrusted centralization in all its various forms: central banking, central planning, central government.

Centralization in nearly every facet of American life has quietly crept up on us. Our food, our money, and our rules have all been pushed steadily uphill, creating a top-heavy and imbalanced structure that we're only beginning to lash back at.

In agriculture, over 85 percent of beef-processing is done by four companies, up from 50 percent in 1985. Feedlots have gotten huge, with capacities of over 500,000 head, an "achievement" unimaginable in the 1940's. This concentration and the attendant economies of scale have reduced auction-yard prices for my calves so much that I now have to sell 44 steers to buy a new pickup truck, when in 1970 it would have taken just 15. Milk is much the same: in 1965 there were around 1.1 million dairy operations producing milk, now there are fewer than 63,000, a decline of nearly 83%. Eggs, hogs, corn and practically every other agricultural commodity have experienced similar rates of competitive decline. In banking, according to Politifact, the assets of the six largest banks in this country have gone from 17 percent of GDP to 63 percent in just 15 years. In government, the number of major rule changes by executive and independent government agencies more than doubled between 1997 and 2008. These rules impose an estimated $13.2 billion on the economy as a whole, putting the squeeze on small businesses and producers who are less able to comply with the raft of rules, standards, and requirements that such well-intentioned oversight imposes. Movies like Farmageddon have done an admirable job of showing just how hard it is for small-scale farmers and ranchers to compete in a regulatory environment stacked against them.

In short, Big has gotten Bigger and the country has woken to the fact. Spontaneous movements have sprung up to counter this trend, drawing upon the most powerful force known to any polity: the aggregated atomistic decisions of the people. "Locavores" have spawned a new generation of local, small-scale farmers; "Local-First" movements have pulled consumers away from giant box-stores, and Wal-Mart has seen a plateau in its once meteoric growth. "Slow Money" has joined "Slow Food" as a social phenomenon. Many Americans are worried about the megaliths in our backyard.

We live longer, healthier, and less pain-stricken lives than every before in history. This is due in large part to the incredible innovation and efficiency of modern economies, and yes, corporations. Like any good thing, however, there is such a thing as too much. In tapping the power of free markets, we have also inadvertently tapped the vein of mercantilism, that objectionable and cozy relationship that develops between powerful business interests and equally powerful political interests.

Thomas Jefferson would be happy to see both the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements succeed. A rollback of corporate and political might is long overdue, and it's heartening to see a spontaneous, grassroots agreement on this. Jefferson would advocate that we all "come back to the land," to a more fundamental understanding of the physiocratic nature of wealth. Whether you hang up your tie for the last time and buy a derelict farm, or whether you plant a potato in a flower pot, Jefferson would encourage the deeper understanding thereby gained. The gain in personal responsibility and natural independence, multiplied hundreds of millions of times would help slow the flow of influence toward the top.

Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party both have it right: "Too Big Has Failed."