Wall Street and the protests
Today I want to update you on my involvement with the Occupy Wall Street protest and also make an observation about the defensive behavior we see by the Wall Streeters themselves.
Yesterday after work I went back to the protests and looked around to offer a teach-in. Unfortunately it hadn’t been sufficiently organized: the contact who had originally invited me wasn’t around, and hadn’t confirmed with me on email, and nobody else knew anything. It was also very windy, threatening rain, and the noise of the drumming was overbearing. There were drumming circles on two of the four corners of the square, and in the other two corners there were already meetings going on. It would be great if the protests could restrict the drumming area so that people could actually talk.
However, I kind of suspected this would happen, so I wasn’t disappointed. I handed out some flyers with a few friends that met me down there, and I met a few new really interesting and engaging people. I got re-invited to give a teach-in by a very nice man named Rock, who took my information. Rock suggested a daytime talk sometime around noon, and this sounds about right. Hopefully this will pan out, but even if it doesn’t now I have a flyer to distribute and it’s a conversation starter if nothing else. One of my friends also suggested having a t-shirt made with the phrase, “ask me about the financial system” printed on it. I think this is a great idea. I will go back down and be involved when I can make the time.
Also, I wanted to share Matt Taibbi’s column about the protest. His five top demands have a lot in common with the ones we came up with here.
You know how some people win fights even though they’re not big or strong? They act totally crazy and angry, and it works because it confuses their opponents. This is what I think the tactic of the big bosses on Wall Street is right now. They’ve got Tim Geithner talking about it:
“They react to what is pretty modest, common sense observations about the system as if they are deep affronts to the dignity of their profession. And I don’t understand why they are so sensitive,” Geithner said at a forum hosted by The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute.
We’ve also seen Paul Krugman address this:
Last year, you may recall, a number of financial-industry barons went wild over very mild criticism from President Obama. They denounced Mr. Obama as being almost a socialist for endorsing the so-called Volcker rule, which would simply prohibit banks backed by federal guarantees from engaging in risky speculation. And as for their reaction to proposals to close a loophole that lets some of them pay remarkably low taxes — well, Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group, compared it to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
The overall idea is to act like they are the victims somehow. Actually there’s another article in Bloomberg about the Wall St suffering, which I find fascinating as a phrase, and which contains passages like this one:
Bankers aren’t optimistic about those gains. Options Group’s Karp said he met last month over tea at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York with a trader who made $500,000 last year at one of the six largest U.S. banks.
The trader, a 27-year-old Ivy League graduate, complained that he has worked harder this year and will be paid less. The headhunter told him to stay put and collect his bonus.
Here’s the thing. They are suffering, in exactly the same way that a child who is spoiled suffers when they are told they can’t get a toy in a store that they want even though they have one at home just like it. But that’s not real need, that’s a temper tantrum. It’s the parents’ responsibility to ignore that kind of posturing and establish reasonable expectations. But the analogy becomes kind of painful here, because who are the parents?
I guess you’d want them to be the government, or the regulators, but the problem is that those groups have shown the same lack of imagination (or fear) of a new world as the people on Wall Street.
So even though the protests are disorganized and sometimes annoying, the very fact that they are putting pressure on the system to fundamentally change is why I will continue to support them.