Much has been said about whether "Occupy Wall Street" will finally be the spark that brings the impetus for economic and social reform. I believe that it will, for one simple reason: had the super-wealthy stuck to the social contract and let highly-skilled and intelligent people rise up in the world, then frankly everyone else would be screwed. In a real meritocracy those with enough brains and skill tend to join the establishment at the earliest possible opportunity, because for all but the most hardcore the pay-offs far outweigh the moral satisfaction of not doing so. An unholy alliance between the born-elite and the semi-elite who have risen from humbler beginnings can generally keep a lid on others' dissatisfaction, while the ability to easily point to those who have "made it" on their own puts the onus on the individual to take responsibility for their own lack of success instead of blaming structual societal issues. Historically, that combination has tended to succeed.
But the elite of our societies have now made one big mistake and that is that they've cut loose from the rung that was just under them. Of the highly-skilled people in their 20's or 30's that I know (and this covers quite a lot of people), levels of bitterness, cynicism and disenfranchisement are sky-high, which means that people who four years ago laughed in my face when I told them Western society does not have democracy, are now phoning me up to demand how it could have taken four years of research to discover that obvious fact, complain that I haven't cracked Bradley Manning out of jail yet, and, by the way, while I'm at it, tell them more about those jerks at the IMF. In other words, I'm beginning to pass as normal, and that represents a bit of a sea change in the way people in general are thinking.
And why is that? It's because when these multilingual, hard-working, certified geniuses, who are by and large multiple graduates of top universities, were kids and students they were told that if they but worked really hard and were good people, they would eventually get a good job, house and car and be able to look after their blue-collar parents in old age. And now, after years spent living in sub-standard housing and working a job next to studying, we all are currently much worse off than our parents were at our age and generally fall into one of four categories: living in our parents basements while working a menial job; paying rent to a real estate tycoon while being ridiculously underpaid for the job we're qualified for; globe-trotting after our tax-haven-seeking employers with no fixed address, the last of which means that we're flush in money, but have no home, fixed friends or relationships and have to pick up sticks every few years at someone else's behest. "Underpaid" also covers quite a lot these days: I know a medical doctor who reckons she makes $7 CDN an hour doing her internship at a Canadian hospital - that's after 8 years of education at a top university and with $70,000 of debt to pay off, and getting to work 30-hour shifts at a time. (That's right - if you are in a Canadian hospital and get a young doctor, they may well have been awake for 24 hours and are getting paid less than you. Ask yourself if that sounds like a good idea.) Taken all together this means that as a group of people we are Not Happy and have a vague feeling that we should have all just stayed at home and taken over our dad's small business, except of course, that our dads are making the same hourly wage that they did when we were born. Still, it sounds a lot better than doing another free internship "to gain experience" when we've all been working in career-related fields near full-time the whole time we were completing all those degrees.
This sense of frustration is compounded by getting to watch our classmates whose parents were neurosurgeons, corporate lawyers, plain rich, etc. waltz into the jobs that were waiting for them the entire time they were studying, while living in one of their parents' condos and jetting off to Thailand for two weeks every March Break. The gulf between these two sets up people - the born-privileged and the highly-skilled and educated who started off lower down the ladder - is now exceptionally wide, and thus the latter are increasingly accepting the need for radical social change. And that is why this really is class warfare, in the form of the elite vs. everyone else.
However, the most wealthy and most elite frankly won't be able to take on everyone else. They've always needed that rung beneath them to cover their backs and convince everyone down to the proletariat to enroll in the entire system. Thanks to their own uncontrolled selfishness, that second rung is slipping away like sand through their fingers, and that is why all of these movements demanding social change (Occupy Wall Street in America, the Indignados in Spain, the ongoing Greek protests) are increasingly too big to fail.