(Pre)Occupied Wall Street: The 99 Percent and the Conscience of Billionaires


Financial elites in the U.S. are showing themselves to be nervously ambivalent about the “We are the 99 percent” movement. Besides politicians, some billionaires recognize the danger of a large swath of the population losing their jobs and assets, and express sympathy for the protesters. The middle class that essentially stabilized U.S. society for 60 years is fast disappearing, leaving no buffer between the super-rich and the impoverished.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, “Jim Chanos, founder of $6 billion hedge fund Kynikos Associates, and Bill Gross, who runs the world’s biggest bond fund, joined top asset managers in voicing understanding for anti-Wall Street protests as they spread to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, home to the city’s financiers. Chanos said New Yorkers don’t appreciate the impact government bank bailouts have had on other U.S. citizens. Gross, who works at Pacific Investment Management Co., said that wage earners are fighting back after three decades of class warfare against them.”

Others in the elite, epitomized by billionaire hedge-fund manager John Paulson, angrily defended their actions, blaming everyone but themselves for the financial meltdown of 2008. Most are concerned about their own survival and fear that the public backlash against their activities may result in new regulation. As if they were protagonists in a Greek tragedy, financiers can’t stop themselves from chasing bubble profits regardless of the Cassandras warning them against it. Big banks continue to pressure the government for immunity from fraud prosecutions while the legislature itself has lost much of its authority: even the Washington Post describes the Senate as “the Washington institution most warped by the current culture of gridlock, transformed from a balky but functional legislative body into a strange theater of failure.”

Bloomberg reported that Wall Street executives say there isn’t enough global stability, leverage or risk appetite for the economy to recover in any meaningful way. “The future is not going to be like a past we knew,” said the president of the Navigator Group hedge fund, “There’s no exit from this morass.” And William Hambrecht, chairman of the company which organized Google Inc.’s public offering in 2004, said: “I’m not sure people really have come to terms with the fact that what we had was a financial bubble.”

There are all sorts of rational ideas for more regulation and taxation on the financial industry, but the problem is that the system is already beyond this kind of control. As Peter Dorman commented in Econospeak: “This is a hazardous season for the global financial system.  European politicians dither in the face of impending sovereign defaults and a re-recession that imperil their core banks, and big players on this side of the Atlantic, like BoA and Morgan Stanley, are clearly staggering.  While the odds of a second financial meltdown during the coming month or two are still well under 50%, they are not at all negligible. What if the meltdown arrives, and Wall Street is still occupied?”

Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi explains that the oligarchic power of the financial industry was exercised through “its complexity and day-to-day invisibility: Its worst crimes, from bribery and insider trading and market manipulation, to backroom dominance of government and the usurping of the regulatory structure from within, simply can’t be seen by the public or put on TV. There just isn’t going to be an iconic “Running Girl” photo with Goldman Sachs, Citigroup or Bank of America – just 62 million Americans with zero or negative net worth, scratching their heads and wondering where the hell all their money went and why their votes seem to count less and less each and every year.”

But 62 million Americans are not going to continue supporting a political system dominated by big business and finance which deprives them of a voice and plunges them into indebtedness. Their resistance has already begun to create a mass pluralist movement.  The efforts of the authorities to constrain the occupations to manageable proportions, like the mass arrests of protesters in Boston on Tuesday, can only have the effect of galvanizing more members of the public into open physical support.

According to the Boston Globe, “In-person donations continued coming in at the other end of the [Dewey Square] encampment, at the logistics table. There, people sympathetic to the movement dropped cash into a large plastic tub with a slit in the middle of the cover. A youthful-looking man kept the tub underneath the table where he sat. On one occasion, a man in dark blue business suit, with close-cropped hair, pushed several neatly-folded twenty dollar bills through the slit.

“Another man preferred to simply drop $20 into an open bucket just outside the legal tent. ‘I assume it just might be used for hamburgers,’ said Frank Maloney, 48, of Marshfield, who works with a technology company about a five-minute walk from Dewey Square. ‘There are too many people casting aspersions on what is going on here. I, for one, believe in what they are doing, and that includes how they are taking care of the donations’.”

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Filed under austerity measures, credit creation, debt limit impasse, financiers, marxism, monetary economies, Obama, occupy wall street, political analysis, populism, state unions, Tea Party movement, We are the 99 percent

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