Re: Occupy Wall St. - Right to be Unhappy, Wrong about Everything Else
I think both of these points of view are essentially correct. There is a lot more going on than changes in the tax code, but those have had significant effects. Under the ongoing economic system, tax reductions for the rich have enabled them to use the additional money retained to make yet more money via financial manipulation and economic game-playing that is unrelated to any creation of real wealth by the holders of that money. The result is potentially exponential in terms of the financial wealth controled by rich elites. In addition to giving them an ever increasing call on real, material wealth of the nation and world, this also provides a great amount of political power and influence that has generally been directed to the benefit of the elite class at the expense of everyone else. I think it is a mistake to underestimate the role this concentration of wealth and power has had on the rest of the nation.
That said, I think you are also correct in that expressions of anger and resentment reflect a correct view that things have been getting steadily more difficult for the middle class, and that people are getting pushed down out of that category with every likelihood that this trend will continue. The focus and motivation is there, rather than on the wealth of the rich in and of itself. While concentration of wealth and power has come at the expense of the middle class as well as the poor, there are other fundamental issues as well.
First, I think that the idea that the US is and has been an essentially middle class nation with a few poor and a few rich, but not enought to matter, is a somewhat distorted view held by the middle class during a snapshot of history encompassing mostly the post WWII period. It is, or was, a pleasant view in which life was fairly comfortable for the middle class, trends indicated potential upward mobility on an absolute basis, and it was pretty easy to ignore the rich and poor as somewhat irrelevant outliers. There was a vague understanding that this was the natural order of things.
This view seems to miss several underlying realities. Life in the US was likely always somewhat more advantageous than some other places simply because this is a country blessed with abundant natural resources and hence a place which has offered a lot of support for their exploitation and the resultant creation of real material wealth. But I think there were always a lot more people at the bottom of the economic ladder than we generally acknowlege. Our view of middle class American life reflects a big expansion of that class and improvement in its lot in the post-war period that had several major drivers. The union movement was temporarily successful after a century of struggle in moving a lot of workers up into the middle or lower-middle class. And the age of oil flourished, considerably enabled by the mass growth of an educated and more highly skilled workforce spurred by the WWII GI Bill, which was the first entry into the ranks of the college educated for millions of families, paving their way into middle class life. This combination drove tremendous growth of productivity relative to the previous period, in which much work was still performed by the muscles of people and animals. There was a lot of growth in the real wealth of the nation, and a lot of it got spread around.
These things are changing. Unions have been fighting a losing rear-guard action for decades. The handwriting is on the wall for the end of the age of oil. Unfortunately we have spent the better part of a century structuring our society and economy around the idea that transportation is and will always be cheap, fueled by energy that flows out of the ground. As a result that we have a lot of serious inefficiencies that matter when that energy flow starts to sputter and the transport system we built around begins to become more expensive. And we are now facing economic competition from around the world as other societies have developed and increased their educational standards so we have lost the advantage of being the only game in town, to the extent that we are now net importers to the tune of some $635 billion per year. The impacts of these changes are falling largely on the poor, working poor, and middle class however one cares to define these groups, while the data shows everyone pretty clearly that the rich have gotten richer. We just don't see the same broad-based growth in real wealth and in distribution of that wealth that colored our view of the decades immediately following WWII.
I suspect that you are right that resentment of the rich is mainly driven by the declining fortunes of the remainder of the population, and that these are driven by fundamental and structural factors such as those I mentioned above as well as by changes in the distribution of wealth. I tend to doubt we will return to the "essentially middle class society" era unless we address both sets of problems.