Occupy Wall Street claims it's the voice of everyone who isn't a fat-cat banker. But Occupy Wall Street is teeming with fat cats of a different kind, those who enjoy the perks of a nation that's been living beyond its means—beyond their means—for several decades.
Demanding collective belt-tightening, of course, isn't going to attract many people to camp in a smelly park for a month. Far more effective is the rallying cry that demonizes Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and the like for taking more than their fair share from The System.
In that, bankers are guilty as charged—and have plenty of company. If Occupy Wall Street's objective is to out, and ultimately eliminate, the perks of the unfairly over-advantaged, here are some other constituencies it should go after.
The 1.2 million "income-based" student loan deadbeats: The White House estimates the current student-loan program will permit 1.2 million student loan debtors to repay less than they owe the federal government. Borrowers with high debt relative to income or family size now pay back no more than 10% of their incomes. After 25 years, the unpaid balance is forgiven (aka, paid by you and me). If the borrower goes into "public service," the debt is retired completely after 10 years, and the IRS waives taxes on the forgiven balance.
The 46% income tax freeloaders: Nearly half of Americans will pay no federal income taxes in 2011, according to the Tax Policy Center. In total, 76 million filers will contribute nary a dime to the commonweal, or have the sense of ownership and responsibility that come with pitching in. Half the income tax free riders don't earn enough to owe anything under our progressive system. The rest get free passes thanks to offsets like the earned income credit, child-care credits and the American Opportunity credit.
The 27% of mortgage interest sharpies: The mortgage-interest deduction claimed by 27% of tax filers will cost the Treasury about $131 billion in fiscal 2012, according to the Urban Institute. That's more than the combined fiscal 2011 budgets of the departments of Justice, Agriculture, Treasury, Interior, Labor and NASA—not to mention the Troubled Asset Relief Program (on which the government will ultimately show a profit).
The millions of Medicare moochers: Federal health care beneficiaries retiring at age 65 in 2011 will receive far more in benefits than they paid in taxes. Single beneficiaries and two-income couples can expect to receive about $3 in Medicare benefits for every $1 they paid into the system, according to the Urban Institute. For single-income couples, in which both spouses are eligible for benefits, Medicare is likely to pay out $6 for each $1 contributed.
The 18 million public pension parasites: About 18 million active state and local government workers, or 80% of the total, are eligible for traditional defined-benefit pensions. Fortunately for them, their unions have proven at least as adept as Wall Street at winning political favors. All told, public employees have successfully lobbied for $1.3 trillion more in benefits than is available to pay for them, figures the Pew Center for the States. To fill the breach, public officials are wishfully sticking to long-held claims that their investments will earn around 8% annually. The only way they'll come close is by owning equity in thriving businesses. Among the top investments held by public pensions and the outside managers who run their money: Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs.