What Exactly Is The Occupy Wall Street Movement All About?

2011 October 10
by Kyle Bumpus
from → Economy

The Occupy Wall Street movement has gotten a lot of press lately. Basically, the movement amounts to a mass of people who are pissed off about the direction the country is taking and have decided to set up shop not only near Wall Street but all over the nation. And that’s fine, so far as it goes. I understand and share some of their frustrations. But what I don’t particularly like is their approach. Who exactly are they trying to influence? Congress? State governments? Then why are they protesting on Wall Street? The movement is bound to fail unless they can focus their message much more efficiently and direct their ire towards people who can actually do something about it.

What’s The Message, Exactly?

But what is their message, exactly? I’m not entirely sure, other than the general consensus among protesters that “enough is enough.” That’s great and all, but you aren’t going to persuade anybody to come around to your point of view if you can’t even collectively define what exactly that point of view is. Thus far, I’ve see a pretty wide range of “demands” put forth by by protesters ranging from the absurd (you do realize eliminating free trade but then opening your borders are completely contradictory ideas, right?) to the reasonable, from the overly-generic to the specific.

Since nobody can seem to agree, I’ll do my best to try to synthesize the most common demands I personally have heard to the best of my ability.

  • Reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act – This is one I can definitely get behind. The Glass-Steagall separated investment banks (which took risks with investors’ capital in the financial markets) from commercial banks (which accepted deposits from consumers). The 1999 repeal of this act made it legal for investment banks to essentially use deposits to gamble in the market. This clearly violates one of the key tenants of free trade capitalism: that is, the parties involved in a financial transaction should bear the full brunt of any negative potential consequences of said transaction. Unfortunately, in the current system consumers themselves bear the brunt of any disasters, not the banks. A deregulated banking system is clearly contrary to the ideals of free-trade capitalism. Thus, free trade should be restored by way of intelligent bank regulations. And to those of you who believe free trade means no regulations, please go read an economics textbook.
  • Punish the “criminals” – This one is both stupid and childish. For the most part, what bank executives did was not illegal. If you want to make it illegal and enforce it going forward fine, but prosecuting executives who acted in good faith (or even not-so-good faith) is counter-productive.
  • End free trade – I do not think ending “free trade” is an intelligent response to the current economic climate. I could write dozens of posts about why ending free trade isn’t a good idea (and I probably will in the near future), but all I’ll say here is that I believe tariffs on principle should be as low as they reasonably can be and that we should demand transparency and fair dealing from our trading partners. Selective tariffs can absolutely be used to force trading partners to do what we want them to do, but for the most part I think that’s a bad idea.
  • Open Borders - Yes, this idea does completely contradict the one above. Whether you’re locating manufacturing facilities in cheaper countries or allowing anybody to immigrate to the United States, you’re going to get the exact same economic result: lower productivity, lower wages, and social turmoil. If you want to be protectionist, you have to close your borders. Similarly, if you want free trade, you’ve got to open your borders. Why both Republicans and Democrats can’t understand this simple fact is beyond me. You can’t have both!
  • Guaranteed living wage – I have no idea what this means. Guaranteed no matter what? What about people who just don’t want to work? I agree there should be some sort of social safety net, but this demand is just stupid. You have no moral right to receive compensation higher than the value you provide.
  • Universal healthcare – I would love to see a public option. I don’t think that means you need to completely do away with the private system, though.
  • Immediate debt forgiveness for everyone – I have actually heard this from several different sources and the fact that anybody could possibly think this is a good idea quite frankly disturbs me. The financial crisis was a result of a very small percentage of individuals, businesses, and governments who couldn’t afford to pay back what they owed. What do you think would happen if EVERYBODY stopped paying off their debt? Silly.
  • Limit the ability of corporations to contribute to political candidates – Amen. In fact, this limit should be extended to rich individuals as well. No man, woman, or company should be allowed to exert undue influence on the political process. Then again, even if protesters get their way on this point, companies will figure out another way to accomplish the same thing, so the point is probably moot.
  • Eliminate corporate personhood – I think this one stems from a common misconception that the law recognizes corporations as “people.” It doesn’t and never has. What it does do is recognize corporations as independent legal entities, meaning passive investors can’t be held legally responsible for corporate actions beyond that represented by their ownership stake in the corporation. Think about it: if it wasn’t for corporate personhood, if a company you owned through a mutual fund in your 401k did something illegal, the FBI could seize your home and private assets even though you had nothing to do with the illegal acts committed. That’s an extreme example, but the point is that eliminating corporate personhood would make saving for retirement practically impossible for most Americans of modest means because the financial markets just wouldn’t work all that well. And since corporate officers can still be held personally liable for illegal acts committed in the service of a corporation, I see no real need to bother with this at all. It’s a straw man issue.

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6 Responses
  1. 2011 October 10

    I think it is very simple. If somebody want to have socialism, revolution – let them go to China. No communism here, thank you very much.

    It is a free economy. If the rich do not want to pay more, no health care, no social support – so be it. This is what makes this country free.

    By the way, people protesting on the wall street – are not 99%, they are who are draining our resources, staying out of work.

    I think there should be no limit on any contributions – again, this is foundation of America.

    What they should do is go back to work and keep the economy going.

  2. 2011 October 10

    I’m not sure I understand your argument. Are you saying you don’t think anybody, be they rich or otherwise, should have to pay taxes into the system if they don’t want to? Who would pay for the country’s infrastructure, then?

  3. 2011 October 10

    I disagree with the contributions — money donations are part of political speech, which you admit because of the nature of your argument. Limiting free speech is absolutely never the right way to go. I disagree with the KKK and Wall Street, but I will defend their right to say what they want however they want it.

    Saying no one should have “undue influence” over the democratic process misses the entire point of the democratic process — people having the freedom to influence it how they want.

    That said, the principle “having extra money shouldn’t allow you to have an extra voice” means that the middle class should be outlawed from donating at all, because the super poor can’t afford to donate anything.

    I understand the point at first, but after contemplation, you’ll see why it’s not a good principle. That, and the Supreme Court ruled it’s illegal to limit free campaign finance speech.

  4. 2011 October 10

    I completely disagree and I think the Supreme Court is dead wrong on this one. Sometimes, limiting free speech IS the right way to go. After all, you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater, can you? The United States is not now nor has it EVER been a democracy. It is a representative republic and it was specifically designed to to avoid two things 1.) a tyranny of the majority and 2.) a small elite being able to control policy to the detriment of everybody else. Allowing corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns effectively gives them control of political policy, which, as we’ve seen, is clearly a bad thing. Standing by ideals even when they obviously are not working is not a reasonable way to go through life. Your KKK analogy is waaaaay off, because the KKK membership isn’t buying public policy to the detriment of everybody else. Corporations are absolutely doing that. Hence, a limit to free speech is reasonable and necessary. Your argument seems to basically amount to “well, there’s no perfect way of doing it so we should just stick with the status quo.” Nonsense. Limiting corporate campaign donations is a big improvement, even if it isn’t itself a “perfect” solution. Campaigns should be mostly publicly funded in order to avoid undue influence from special interests.

  5. 2011 October 12
    Mark Glomski permalink

    Wall Street is not loyal to “We the people” of the United States. Corporations are not loyal to “We the people” of the United States. They only want to make more and more money and they do not care who gets hurt in the process.

  6. 2011 October 12

    Mark,

    1.) Did you ever think they were loyal to “we the people?” Did anybody? Do you think you’ve uncovered some deep conspiracy?
    2.) SHOULD Wall Street and corporations be loyal to “we the people?” That’s a serious question. My answer is, “of course not.” They should be loyal to themselves. That is the ENTIRE basis of the western economy (not just in the US, but everywhere in the west).
    3.) Can you honestly say that YOU care about anybody other than yourself? Do the OWS protesters? I think if you’re being honest, you and 99% of them will answer “no.” Neither you nor the protesters hold any kind of moral high ground over Wall Street and the corporations.

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