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Imagine for a moment if a bank CEO and an Occupy Wall Street leader sat down over a cup of coffee to talk. The conversation might go something like this:

Banker: Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. The first step toward understanding is to listen closely to one another. We do too little of that today. And I have to tell you that I empathize with the concerns you and others have about our economy. I am concerned, too.

Occupier: I want to thank you for taking the time to listen. Our goal is to raise awareness of the incredible challenges many in our community are facing: Job loss, unaffordable education, losing a home and loss of hope in the future.

Banker: How would you like to begin?

Occupier: How about with the 1%. The rich in this country are not paying their fair share of taxes. While I am saddled with student debt and no job prospects, bankers like you are rolling in dough and paying a lower tax rate than your secretaries.

Banker: Rolling in dough? Have you checked our stock price lately? Anyway, that's a side issue. But let me address your question about taxes. Now, I am not anywhere close to the 1%. But believe me, that very small group will always find a way to beat whatever new tax you throw at them, even if it means working less or taking less income. I think you are probably referring to the so-called Buffet Rule, that Warren Buffet's secretary should not pay a higher rate of tax than her billionaire boss.

Occupier: Yeah. That really gets us.

Banker: Well, I personally, like Warren Buffet, wouldn't mind paying more taxes, although, between federal, state, property, sales, fire district, gang prevention and other taxes I could pay upwards of 30% to 50% of my income in some kind of tax. But here's the deal on my paying more taxes, and I think a lot of people feel this way right now. I would pay more tax if I knew it was going to improve the education of our children or go to some important infrastructure that would benefit the community. But why should I pay another $1 in taxes if it is just going to go from my pocket to the pocket of a 59-year-old government retiree with a six-figure pension? Or if that dollar is going to go out of my pocket into a fantasy government project like the bullet train to Bakersfield? Or to Solyndra?

Occupier: OK, I can understand that. But it looks to us like capitalism has failed to widely distribute the benefits of the wealth-creating assets of this country. Right here at this bank you are sitting on profits rather than putting them into the community in some way to help correct this imbalance.

Banker: Yes, you are correct. We are holding profits back to build our capital base. And we, and all well-run businesses, hold back some capital so they can weather unforeseen events in their industry or the economy -- especially now not knowing what event will come at us next.

Occupier: OK. But we are getting no where. We still have hundreds of thousands fewer jobs than just three years ago. Millions just left the labor force for good. A record number of Americans are on food stamps and our non-profits that serve the needy are struggling. And no one has articulated a clear path out of this.

Banker: The only way out of this in the long run is to expand the economic pie so there is more to spend on modernizing education, investing in infrastructure and helping non-profits. The bigger the pie, the more there is to go around for everyone. Only the private sector can do that. Right now, we are in a struggle for dominance between the public and private sectors. All of our futures are riding on the outcome.

Occupier: I think we should keep talking....Brad Bollinger is the Business Journal's editor and associate publisher. He can be reached at 707-521-4251 or bbollinger@busjrnl.com. 

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