Occupy Wall Street: All the Power to Them, But Get the Targets Right

Last week we paid a visit to the Occupy Boston outpost of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The group has pretty much taken over Dewey Square in front of the Federal Reserve. They had a couple hundred people there, but the numbers seem to be growing by the day. We liked what we felt, though not always what we saw and heard.

What we felt was a brewing angst among activists, working people, and students that something is fundamentally wrong with the way the economy is ‘delivering the goods’ and to whom in the US. They may not know what they are for, but they do know who they are for: who they call the “99 percent”—those of us in the US who are not millionaires, and whose jobs and livelihoods are increasingly threatened.

Also admirable is that they have set up a “Free School University” to educate themselves. And that is where we came in. We were asked to lecture on the “first day of classes.”

Before our talks we strolled around the tented area viewing the myriad placards. That’s when we scratched our heads a bit. We saw some real good ones like “Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out!” and “Wall Street should be Our Street,” “Demon Brothers,” “Bank of F*CK America,” but also “Down with the Fed” And more than one on the ‘benefits’ of a return to gold.

It is obvious that the anger and concern is rightly placed here, but the target can get a bit blurry. So after our stroll we realized we needed to be clear about some key focal points to suggest to them as targets that manifest their concerns. The list could be longer, and will be the next time we go. But for the time being we focused on a few things:

What we argued was the following:

  • “Austerity economics” is not a solution for a sustainable recovery. While it doesn’t make any sense to cure debt with debt, if we all cut at once all we do is shrink the economy and paradoxically increase the total debt.
  • Inequality is a problem because when one group has so much without incomes growing among the rest, it creates a zero sum society
  • No firm should be “too big to fail” because then we are its insurance policy
  • Reinstating Glass-Steagall is a good idea because it takes away the free option on the public
  • Credit rating agencies stand in the background but should be put under the spotlight because they play a key role in cementing deregulation of financial markets and austerity economics.
  • US trade treaties have a dirty little secret called “financial services” liberalization, which exports the Wall Street model to our trading partners.

Click here to see videos of Gallagher and Blyth speaking at Occupy Boston.

With the crowd of 60 or so people that gathered around our lecture we had a lively discussion afterward. We heard some “FED-up” push back and replied that the FED is the least of our worries. In fact, as opposed to the Tea Party, the Republican Party, and to the Obama administration at times, the Fed has been a steady (though often misguided) voice for expansionary economic policy in the United States. And, as fellow Triple Crisis blogger Matias Vernengo has pointed out, if Bernanke learned the lessons from past Fed chair Marriner Eccles, he could do much more for the good with that job.

While the occupiers were inspired by their own momentum and courageousness, they also exude a sense of being overwhelmed by the one percent. To that, us professors had to do what we do best. Give homework! We suggested they all read Arthur Schlesinger’s The Coming of the New Deal and Karl Polanyi’s the Great Transformation. We’ve been here before we said. We can do it again.