Is it really fair to compare the "Occupy" movement to the Arab Spring?

But I won’t belabor the obvious. Of course, the Arab world has no democracy and the West does, so the one protest is immensely more urgent, and braver, than the other. Egypt needed a revolution; the United States could use some reform. But it’s also true that the protestors in Egypt and Tunisia knew very well what the fundamental solution to their problems was, and those in Zuccotti Park did not. And this persistent, even insistent, vagueness has proved to be a problem. The question of what Occupy Wall Street “means” has always been a chimera. Do protesters want to end “hypercapitalism,” or capitalism itself? Do they want to make big corporations behave better, or do they think big corporations themselves are bad? It’s impossible to say. Even if we accept that the essence of the movement is that the “99 percent” is getting shafted by the “1 percent,” what does that tell actually us? The Tea Party, a leaderless mass movement from the pre-Arab Spring era, loathes Wall Street but also loathes taxes, and so objects to increasing tax rates for the very rich. Do they not count as part of the new zeitgeist?

Perhaps the real problem with Occupy Wall Street is less that it is indistinct as that it is inadequate. What gets people into the streets is rank injustice — a brutal dictator, a pointless war. Bankers getting away scot-free after helping to wreck the economy is a pretty gross injustice, too. But that doesn’t go to the core of America’s economic problems. The United States, unlike Egypt or Libya, does not have a true bad-guy problem, although it would be gratifying to see the con artists high and low discover the inside of a jail cell. The United States doesn’t even have an injustice problem, though of course there’s injustice aplenty. The U.S. problem is that it can no longer find the political will to muster the resources it needs to be competitive in the world. It cannot, or rather will not, make serious investments in infrastructure, research, education, and training. And it cannot do this because it raises too little revenue — thanks in part to the anti-tax mood sparked by 2010’s grassroots revolutionaries, the Tea Party and broadly embraced by mainstream Republicans — and because it spends too much of that shrinking pool of revenue on entitlements, thanks in part to the Democratic party and its special interests. The grotesque spectacle of the recent budget negotiations shows how deeply the U.S. is stuck.