On September 17, 2011, about two hundred protestors set up camp in Zuccotti Park in New York City. In the past weeks the effort, now known as “Occupy Wall Street,” has morphed into a massive crusade with encampments in many cities throughout the nation. Its impetus was the Canadian-based Adbuster Media Foundation which earlier in the year proposed a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to redress corporate abuses. Their proposals included some sensible suggestions such as reinstatement of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, abandoned in 1999, as well as use of congressional and executive oversight to more effectively investigate and prosecute Wall Street crime.
The goals that spawned the encampments seem lost on most of the participants, as they have yet to convey a coherent message. Although they appear to harbor a general hostility toward the business community that Wall Street represents, the only thing the various constituent groups appear to have in common is a deep-seated anger at inequality in this country. Many want to redistribute wealth; others want to enlarge government social programs; some are protesting against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I acknowledge that the protestors have a legitimate grievance against Wall Street. Corporate investment in America is mostly a “shell game” by which the investor is consistently lured to part with money through a variety of deceptive schemes. It’s the rare stockbroker or securities adviser who has any knowledge of the market. Following any hectic day, where stock prices have either soared or plummeted, hundreds of market analysts will describe in detail what happened— and why. However, the day before none of them will have harbored a clue.
As for mutual funds, which are now the investment by default for most Americans, it’s an industry in which the astute placing of investors’ money is not a consideration. By and large they are little more than skimming machines. Their rapid growth in both numbers and varieties will ultimately wreak financial ruin on an unsophisticated public. It is the workings of these funds and their threat to many citizens’ livelihoods that deserve to be exposed by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Thus far there’s not a word to be heard.
My prediction is that the protests will amount to nothing of consequence. The sort of movement needed to eradicate the abuses in the investment world requires a far more concerted action. Only a systematic effort that is well organized, adequately funded, and politically directed can hope to force the changes necessary to correct the abuses currently built into the system. The ragtag gang of exhibitionists who specialize merely in chanting slogans will not bring about any improvements.