Occupy This

Occupy Vancouver

Three 99 percenters walked into a bar and realized there wasn't a one-percenter around to pick up the tab. They went home thirsty. Hahahaha!

A friend sent me a link about 10 Things Wrong With Occupy Wall Street (OWS). It got me thinking so I decided to try to respond to all ten points with my esteemed two cents. (That’s a total of twenty cents for those keeping score.)

Here we go. I will now try to offer my customized and heartfelt rebuttal to the following list of things that are alleged to be “wrong” about OWS.

1. The whole we’re the 99% thing.

The author of the article says that OWS does not represent “the middle class, small business America, or people employed by corporate America.” Who said that is supposed to be who they are? By definition, if they claim to be the “99%” then that means they are not the 1%. And who is the 1%? It might just be me, but I think they mean the richest one-percent of Americans.

Who is the 1% if we look at it based on income?

In 2009, it took just $343,927 to join that elite group [of one-percenters], according to newly released statistics from the Internal Revenue Service.

Source: CNN Money

That’s so one-percent I don’t even think I’ve ever even met anyone in that group. I’d hazard a guess that includes most corporation CEOs, at least those in Fortune 500 companies.

If you make less than $344 super clams a year then you’re in the elite group known as the 99 percent. Also, if you’re in the bottom one-percent of that group then you’re known as a “99-percenter bottom dweller.” If you’re in that group all I have to say is, “Howdy, neighbor.”

2. Confusing targets.

I don’t think the target of OWS is confusing at all. I think the target is the system that results in the division of wealth and power in our society. It’s a belief that a gap that is too large has detrimental consequences for us all. When the gap is too large it weakens our society. (That’s just a pet theory of mine.)

Is a growing gap in wealth and power really the best thing for our country, or is that a line of bullshit that we’ve all been fed? For three or four decades now we’ve tried the “trickle down” approach of stimulating investment by easing taxes on the rich and where has it gotten us? An ever-growing wealth gap, high unemployment, an economic recession, a banking crisis, and a diminished middle class. I’m satisfied the trickle-down approach is dead wrong.

3. We need more legislation and regulation.

You want to come face to face with The Evil? See a human being and/or a for-profit company and/or a greedy corporation and see what actions they think are acceptable in the absence of regulation. When I hear folks say they are against regulation, what my filter bubble sends to my brain is, “We want impunity to do what we want and destroy and make others pay for it so we can have more of the green. And we shouldn’t have to pay for any of the destruction we cause. We don’t need to be regulated.”

Besides, I’m not sure legislation and regulation is what OWS wants at all. What they want is a change in the status quo. They want a system with more equity. The trick is figuring out how to get there.

4. Who’s to blame?

Do you have to assess blame to be desirous of change?

5. We don’t want to flip burgers.

Like Judge Smalls says famously in the movie Caddyshack, “Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too!” It’s easy to point a critical finger at someone who doesn’t want to flip burgers. The question remains, though, if there aren’t enough “middle class” jobs out there, someone has to work minimum wage jobs, and what is society supposed to do with those people? Are they simply supposed to exist and subsist until they keel over dead with no health insurance and limited access to care? I think the OWS movement wants to know what’s going to happen to people like my little buddy Mediocre Fred.

6. Corporate America and CEO pay.

Yes, it is out of whack. It may not be all CEOs but it is enough, especially when you compare something like $5 million to make Netflix suck with a minimum wage employee bringing home $16,500. I don’t know how you slice it to say that this guy is worth a fucking 300 times more than that guy.

7. The rich don’t pay their fair share.

Yeah, yeah. We’ve all heard some variation of the statistic about the 1% paying 38% of taxes. That factoid, in and of itself, doesn’t mean anything. That isn’t some kind of proof that the system is hella good and things are fine and dandy. You need to bring more than that tired argument, at least if you want to take buying power and things like food, shelter and clothing from more of the 99%.

8. President Obama using the movement to promote his reelection campaign.

How does a politician doing what politicians do have anything to do with what OWS has right or wrong. I think the author is off base on this one.

9. The big banks aren’t actually on Wall Street.

Eh? Really? The author goes after a nitpicky technicality here? I think he better revise his top 10 list down to nine. He’s more than weak on this point.

10. We’re disgusted with both political parties.

Here I think the author was just groping for something – anything! – to complete his top 10 schtick. He admits that OWS is right on this score but that they were late to the party. So this actually isn’t anything wrong with OWS. Hopefully the author will re-title his piece a “Top 8 List.”

19 responses

  1. Could I be that friend who sent you that list 😉 There’s plenty wrong with the system, I just don’t think people camping out in various cities is going to do any good. What is their message, exactly? They should be camping out in front of the White House and Congress. (Read “Reckless Endangerment” please, I beg you.)

    President Obama and the Banksters (especially Goldman Sachs) are bedfellows, despite what he says from time to time. It’s a symbiotic relationship. I didn’t hear Obama make a peep about the Fannie and Freddie bonuses. He expects to get some of that Wall Street and Banker dough, as he did for the last campaign. And they expect favors from him. Fannie and Freddie have been left to run amok. Obama was said to be thinking about making Corzine (see story below) Treasury Secretary after the current Treasury Secretary, Goldman Sachs alum Timothy Geithner, left the post. Fortunately, Corzine went down in flames first. (As NJ governor, Corzine left that state 8 billion in debt.)

    I agree that Wall Street adds very little value to the economy for the money they get. (See article below) As the saying goes, the Banksters privatize profit but socialize loss and risk.

    I don’t care whether people who start legitimate businesses that employ people get rich, though. I don’t see a lot of people doing it. You and I aren’t doing it. Why am I not doing it? Because I don’t want the responsibility. I know people who have started businesses, which employ people, and they are good people, too. I applaud them.

    New York Times: November 7, 2011
    End Bonuses for Bankers
    By NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB
    I HAVE a solution for the problem of bankers who take risks that threaten the general public: Eliminate bonuses.

    More than three years since the global financial crisis started, financial institutions are still blowing themselves up. The latest, MF Global, filed for bankruptcy protection last week after its chief executive, Jon S. Corzine, made risky investments in European bonds. So far, lenders and shareholders have been paying the price, not taxpayers. But it is only a matter of time before private risk-taking leads to another giant bailout like the ones the United States was forced to provide in 2008.

    The promise of “no more bailouts,” enshrined in last year’s Wall Street reform law, is just that — a promise. The financiers (and their lawyers) will always stay one step ahead of the regulators. No one really knows what will happen the next time a giant bank goes bust because of its misunderstanding of risk.

    Instead, it’s time for a fundamental reform: Any person who works for a company that, regardless of its current financial health, would require a taxpayer-financed bailout if it failed should not get a bonus, ever. In fact, all pay at systemically important financial institutions — big banks, but also some insurance companies and even huge hedge funds — should be strictly regulated.

    Critics like the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators decry the bonus system for its lack of fairness and its contribution to widening inequality. But the greater problem is that it provides an incentive to take risks. The asymmetric nature of the bonus (an incentive for success without a corresponding disincentive for failure) causes hidden risks to accumulate in the financial system and become a catalyst for disaster. This violates the fundamental rules of capitalism; Adam Smith himself was wary of the effect of limiting liability, a bedrock principle of the modern corporation.

    Bonuses are particularly dangerous because they invite bankers to game the system by hiding the risks of rare and hard-to-predict but consequential blow-ups, which I have called “black swan” events. The meltdown in the United States subprime mortgage market, which set off the global financial crisis, is only the latest example of such disasters.

    Consider that we trust military and homeland security personnel with our lives, yet we don’t give them lavish bonuses. They get promotions and the honor of a job well done if they succeed, and the severe disincentive of shame if they fail. For bankers, it is the opposite: a bonus if they make short-term profits and a bailout if they go bust. The question of talent is a red herring: Having worked with both groups, I can tell you that military and security people are not only more careful about safety, but also have far greater technical skill, than bankers.

    The ancients were fully aware of this upside-without-downside asymmetry, and they built simple rules in response. Nearly 4,000 years ago, Hammurabi’s code specified this: “If a builder builds a house for a man and does not make its construction firm, and the house which he has built collapses and causes the death of the owner of the house, that builder shall be put to death.”

    This was simply the best risk-management rule ever. The Babylonians understood that the builder will always know more about the risks than the client, and can hide fragilities and improve his profitability by cutting corners — in, say, the foundation. The builder can also fool the inspector; the person hiding risk has a large informational advantage over the one who has to find it.

    Banning bonuses addresses the principal-agent problem in economics: the separation between an agent’s interests and those of the client, or principal, he is supposed to represent. The potency of my solution lies in the idea that people do not consciously wish to harm themselves; I feel much safer on a plane because the pilot, and not a drone, is at the controls. Similarly, cooks should taste their own cooking; engineers should stand under the bridges they have designed when the bridges are tested; the captain should be the last to leave the ship. The Romans even figured out how to deter cowardice that causes the death of others with the technique called decimation: If a legion lost a battle and there was suspicion of cowardice, 10 percent of the soldiers and commanders — usually chosen at random — were put to death.

    No such pain faces bailed-out, bonus-taking bankers. The period from 2000 to 2008 saw a very large accumulation of hidden exposures in the financial system. And yet the year 2010 brought the largest bank compensation in history. It has become clear that merely “clawing back” past bonuses after the fact is not enough. Supervision, regulation and other forms of monitoring are necessary, but insufficient — consider that the Federal Reserve insisted, as late as 2007, that the rapidly escalating subprime mortgage crisis was likely to be “contained.”

    What would banking look like if bonuses were eliminated? It would not be too different from what it was like when I was a bank intern in the 1980s, before the wave of deregulation that culminated in the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that had separated investment and commercial banking. Before then, bankers and lenders were boring “lifers.” Banking was bland and predictable; the chairman’s income was less than that of today’s junior trader. Investment banks, which paid bonuses and weren’t allowed to lend, were partnerships with skin in the game, not gamblers playing with other people’s money.

    Hedge funds, which are loosely regulated, could take on some of the risks that banks would shed under my proposal. While we tend to hear about the successful ones, the great majority fail and their failures rarely make the front page. The principal-agent problem they have isn’t a problem for taxpayers: Typically their investors manage the governance of hedge funds by ensuring that the manager is hurt more than any of his investors in the event of a blowup.

    I believe that “less is more” — simple heuristics are necessary for complex problems. So instead of thousands of pages of regulation, we should enforce a basic principle: Bonuses and bailouts should never mix.

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a professor of risk engineering at New York University Polytechnic Institute, is the author of “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.” He is a hedge fund investor and a former Wall Street trader.

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    1. LOL, yes, it was you! You are that very same friend made famous in this post. See? Now you have scientific proof that I read the links you send me. I bet that makes you feel real good. 🙂

      Will OWS accomplish anything? I don’t know. We’ve all heard the bitching about young people not participating in elections. At least here they are out putting their thoughts into action. They are doing something political. I appreciate their perspective. I’d be out there with them if sleeping on the ground didn’t make me so sore and grumpy.

      Another thing people gripe about a lot is some variation of “throw the bums out.” Once again, here is a bunch of committed people actually making a statement. They may not get all the bums thrown out, but they are making an effort. At the very least they have been successful at P.R. and making people think about the status quo. I’m not naive enough to believe that will win the day but it still warms my heart.

      I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. I just think something like OWS isn’t too surprising after bankers and money movers made themselves rich, got “too big to fail,” got a huge helping of our money, gave themselves bonuses, then said, in essence: “Sure, the economy is having trouble. We’re not going to take a hit, though. Instead we’ll squeeze the fuck out of you, the unemployed and underemployed, to support us as-is in the lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed to.” Things like the $5 month fee for debit swipes from Bank of America are an obscene slap in the face to people who are struggling to make ends meet.

      Their own incessant greed has finally mobilized the public to see what was wrong the whole damn time.

      I like your argument. I reject wholesale the premise that bankers HAVE to have bonuses simply to do their jobs. Providing liquidity to the economy can be important, but the compensation and valuation of their services and the value they add to society is exponentially inverted. I heard a money dude talking on the BBC world news podcast about how bankers can’t have a limit on their potential earnings. I was incredulous. “What the fuck?” I screamed at my iPod. Billions of people around the world do that every fucking day. It’s called a “job.” Why is it some people can’t be expected to settle for what everyone else has as a matter of life and death necessity. FUCK EM!!!

      Just like OWS, I don’t have a magic solution in my pocket. I just know that what we have right now is a bullshit imperfect system. More of the people who add minimal value to society need to have their compensation adjusted and vice versa. There has got to be some human-based system that could be more equitable.

      Serious, though, thanks for the thought provoking link. My OWS post was long overdue.

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  2. I have to give props to all the campers on Wall Street. I couldn’t do it. I need my own bathroom. However, I am glad that they are creating some buzz about the inequalities of this country. And props to this post 😉

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    1. Me, too! Someone was talking about occupying something the other day and I asked, “Where can I pitch my tent?”

      I saw one OWS protester climb a pole in New York City and say he wouldn’t come down. I had a few bathroom questions of my own about that. It would certainly be interesting to see, but I’d give him a very wide berth. That probably wouldn’t be the best place for my tent.

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      1. As for the personal sanitation issues, people in New York are starting to call OWS “Poopstock.” Now Woodstock alums David Stills and Graham Nash have shown up at Zuccotti Park to try to be relevant. People just want to hang out, be a part of something. Poopstock Nation!

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  3. So that means those who make a mere $300,000 a year are with us lowly 99%-ers? I’m so far out of touch with even the $200,000 a year makers it’s ridiculous.

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    1. Yup! That’s probably why I felt the need to discriminate the data further and refer to myself as the lowest 1% of the 99ers. Us 99ers have to be particular about who we associate with!

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  4. What? No comic? I’m disappointed. 😉

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    1. You know what they say. “Sometimes talent takes a holiday.” And that day is now. I heard that today was National Harvey Wallbanger day or some such shit.

      [slapping forehead]

      Comic? Ah, shit. Why haven’t I hired you as a consultant yet??? There’s gotta be a way to work a fertilized egg into a post about OWS. I can just feel it!

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  5. The post addresses things anti-99%ers say — because they’re either confused OR, more likely and as usual, misinformed by politicrits playing to their ignorance and emotion.

    You can be ignorant with a PhD, a Masters, a BA/BS or even without a high school diploma. Ignorant is often used to denote dumb or “being an asshole.” It means lacking facts/ understanding.

    I understand your #1 point. It addresses perhaps the biggest sticking point for people against the 99% movement. I get it’s written for style but it’s such an important point that I’m afraid people will read it yet read no further…and the whole piece should be read by anybody left confused by all the talk or who argue the points addressed!

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    1. At least the kids are doing something political. Methinks they should care about their future. They can still make a difference.

      The mob is why we’re a republic. With too much true democracy we’d probably idiot ourselves to extinction.

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  6. I am split in my feelings for the Occupiers. That somehow having a gap between the rich and the poor is morally wrong — especially since they’re the ones that feel that they’re being wronged. Do you think that if they were making 200k a year (still part of the 99%!) that they’d be out there complaining about the system? Of course not.

    We have created an American Dream that says if you work hard you can “make it” — but that’s a system built on competition. If I win, you don’t. Tough luck, right? The problem is — and here’s where I agree with the OWS folks — is that the system has been rigged against them. I don’t mind competition. In every society there are going to be winners and losers, but for the American Dream to succeed, you have to still believe that you CAN “make it” — and right now, I’m not sure that a good chunk of people can.

    How to fix it? Well — we could go back to the tax rates in the 1990s, which were not particularly onerous by historical standards and produced rare balanced federal budgets (of course, we weren’t paying for two wars then either). That’s certainly not fleecing the rich or hurting “job creators”. Because let’s face it — corporations have learned that they can survive and even excel in an environment of employee cutbacks with a frightened workforce that’s just “happy to have a job”. And that the tax breaks that corporations are getting aren’t being turned into new positions.

    Let’s turn it around though. Two colleagues and I founded a small business two years ago. We’re taking 20% of what our salaries were and we’re barely hanging on. The cost of our accounting and legal services that we need to comply with governmental regulations might take us down — the impact of regulations is much harder on small businesses than on large ones (who have enough slush to figure out how to manage new regs) — so I really hope that’s not the answer. If we can make it — and we’re hoping to know in the next six months, we might actually be able to pay ourselves and have enough to hire a couple of new employees.

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    1. You should link your post on this topic. I thought it was very good!

      I hear you on the 20% salary thing. I currently make about what I made in 1984 so. And that’s not adjusted for inflation. My standard of living has taken a major shit.

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  7. Loved this. I actually agreed with much of what that guy said, but he only painted half the picture. YES, I agree they are too vague, and I definetly agree that all of us have had to work for minimum wage at some point. But he was going on about “Even the Green Bay Packers head coach had to work at a toll booth once”. Okay, well, now he WORKS FOR THE GREEN BAY PACKERS. Hello, not all of us end up that way.

    He gripes that his wife had to work for minimum wage as a vet tech. Well, I did too, buddy, and the wage is still crappy. Teachers, nurses, firefighters, veterans, many of them are in the hole and why the hell does our society value them less than football players? That is part of the problem here.

    I just love people saying they should protest the White House – I hardly think it was Obama who got us into this mess. Look at the surplus we had under Clinton. Now, whose fault is this? Not to mention the much-ignored natural disasters and pollution from big corporations, big oil, big polluters. No one talks about that, and how they won’t spend a dime to prevent it. Exxon, so far as I know, still will not invest in double-hulled tankers. They can easily afford them, and the Prince Willliam Sound spill never would have happened if they had done so.

    Don’t like being called 99 percent? Just watch, if enough of us protest, they’ll find out just who is in the majority, and it won’t be pretty.

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    1. I used to get 50 cents a week allowance! 🙂

      I think Obama has faced record amounts of obstructionism and took over in very bad times. I think it could be worse. And it may still get worse. Much worse. I hope we can avoid the greatest depression our country has ever seen. The corporations and the rich moving wealth overseas sure doesn’t help, even though I have too small of a brain to understand such things.

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    2. Here’s a a discussion of the “Clinton surplus.” Thank Republicans for Clinton’s Bold Deficit Reduction Tactics.
      http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/scott-galupo/2010/07/30/thank-republicans-for-clintons-bold-deficit-reduction-tactics

      Obama has made our debt problem so much worse.
      http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57400369-503544/national-debt-has-increased-more-under-obama-than-under-bush/

      The National Debt has now increased more during President Obama’s three years and two months in office than it did during 8 years of the George W. Bush presidency.

      The Debt rose $4.899 trillion during the two terms of the Bush presidency. It has now gone up $4.939 trillion since President Obama took office.

      The latest posting from the Bureau of Public Debt at the Treasury Department shows the National Debt now stands at $15.566 trillion. It was $10.626 trillion on President Bush’s last day in office, which coincided with President Obama’s first day.

      The National Debt also now exceeds 100% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, the total value of goods and services.

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      1. I think this is a fine example of my brain not being able to calculate the bullshit coming in from every direction. One side tells me up is down and the other tells me down is up. It all can’t be true all at the same time, can it?

        I spent five seconds Googling and found this. Note: The piece says “currently” but doesn’t provide a date. I hate undated information on the internet. It’s almost beyond useless. Based on the graph, though, it appears to be as current as Jan. 2012. Here’s what I found:

        In 1981, the supply siders commandeered the Reagan Presidency and employed their Voodoo economics, as Bush senior had called it in 1980. He was saying that tax cuts would not increase government revenues. As you can see above, the Voodoo performed just as Bush predicted, and the supply siders turned a 32-year winning streak into a debt disaster that continues to this day. For 20-years, under Reagan and the Bushes, the national debt increased compared to GDP every single year. In most other years it decreases. Twenty years in a row can’t be just and accident, but to understand you need to learn the voodoo strategy. (Why Debt / GDP ?)

        Bush senior fought against it, so the Republicans didn’t support him and he lost to Clinton, who put an end to it supply-side economics. G. W. Bush brought it back full strength, with V.P. Cheney saying “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” Currently supply siders are in full control of the Republican party.

        Source: http://zfacts.com/p/318.html

        Obviously you don’t just believe everything you read on the net. This is just some website I know nothing about and is more bullshit to overload my brain.

        Also, I heard Rachel Maddow say something about the “deficit” the other day and disputed Romney’s frequent claim that Obama has “doubled” it. Add that to the list of things I’m confused about.

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  8. Cathy, Re: Your Fareed Zakaria link above. I like Fareed. I think he’s a pretty clear thinking. I enjoy listening to what he has to say. And he makes a lot of sense. Like everyone else on Earth, we agree in some areas and disagree in others.

    Taxes are extremely complicated and they get exponentially more so the richer one gets. Is this reason for this obfuscation? Perhaps of the sort like a store clerk being distracted so you won’t notice someone else stealing your wallet and/or your goods? It wouldn’t surprise me.

    To properly answer any question you have to have a good understanding of basic facts. If your assumptions are wrong the likelihood of reaching faulty conclusions dramatically increases. Do the rich pay too much in taxes? Do the people on the lower end of the spectrum pay too little? Is the system fair? What distribution of the burden is best for our economy as a whole?

    I do know this. As a person surfing the edge of the federal poverty line, if I find out that I’m paying a higher tax rate than rich people, I am likely to feel … irritated. And then, if I’m also told the rich are paying too much, my irritation exponential out of control.

    What is the real truth? Are the rich overtaxed? Do the rich loophole their way out of 99.99% of their tax responsibility? How in the hell are we even supposed to know the difference? With statistics? Oops, I mean “damned lies.”

    As a blubbering idiot on the lower end of the spectrum all I know is that I work 40 hours a week and try to be a good, honest person. I know that the amount I pay in taxes feels way too damn high based on what I make. And I don’t suck a single penny out of the system. But if I want something as simple as a new pair of sneakers I have to start a fund and save for a couple of years. A new iPad 3? That’s laughable! Talk about pie in the sky. As a full-time worker in this economy I literally have very little to put back in in form of discretionary spending.

    I wish I knew enough to know which end is up.

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