October 06, 2011
A "prawf-on-the-net" perspective of Occupy Wall Street
Posted by David Groshoff

I enjoyed reading Usha’s earlier post regarding “Occupy Athens, GA?”  While I would have responded differently to the question posed to her (my answer to who’s side are you on would not have been “the corporations'”), which is the subject of another post and also weaves into my current work-in-progress and — I hope — next article).  And unlike Usha’s brief “prawf on the ground experience” or Professor Frank Pasquale’s prawf-on-the-ground experience, I am solely taking a “prawf-on-the-net” perspective.  As a result, I may -- okay, I know myself well enough, — I will fall to Professor Pasquale’s and others’ critiques of being condescending and dismissive, but unlike the MSM, at least I’ll admit it from the outset.

For starters, I found one of the photos that Usha posted earlier today to be insightful.  One protest sign read, “The Crisis is Capitalism.”  Whether economics, finance, or now business law, I’ve always taught and have been taught that we live in a mixed economy, not a capitalistic one.  And, regardless of the skin color of the person holding it, another protest sign in Usha’s posting read, “Debt is Slavery.”  While admittedly speculative, my suspicion is that although George Clason may have agreed with this sentiment, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Harriet Beecher Stowe may have disagreed with such an assessment and contextualization of slavery.  If not, I do.  While some debt collectors and creditors are relentless, I’ve never witnessed or heard of a debtor in my lifetime in the U.S. who was treated like Kunta Kinte  because of incurred debts.  Given that essentially every creditor claim (excepting student loan debt) has some arguable feature of debt dischargeability, to suggest that such a creditor claim is similar to having an “equity interest” or property right in another human being, I think, fails to advance the legitimacy of whatever cause or demands the Occupy Wall Street crowd has.  But as Usha indicated, “No demands.  Protest.”

Protesters have appeared here in Southern California as well.  Earlier today, Occupy LA protested in front of a branch of Chase bank  (the sign featured in the article’s photograph stated, “tax the rich,” building on my prior post) [full-disclosure: since leaving JPMorgan, I no longer have a direct equity interest in the bank]. 

But given that (1) Nobel awarded economist Joseph Stiglitz met with and was sympathetic to Occupy Wall Street within the past week and (2) “on Wednesday, for example, members of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s executive council had a conference call in which they expressed unanimous support for the protest,” I decided to further investigate the demands of Occupy Wall Street from a few other internet sources.

According to CNN, the demonstrations are “against income inequality, corporate greed, corruption,” as well as whatever one means by “a list of other social ills.” 

The Huffington Post recently published a “Solidarity Marcher’s” article, entitled, Occupy Wall Street Has No ‘Message,’ But It Has a Reason.  The author attempted to somehow link his analysis of the protest with protests that, in the author’s opinion, “have meaning,” such as recognition of marriage rights for same-sex couples but also stated that “we must begin by acknowledging that the first fundamental fact of Occupy Wall Street is that it has no message.”  Embracing capitalistic business principles only to the slight extent of learning some basic concepts from a marketing course (free at any public library, available online from one of the best business schools in the world) would have taught about the importance of branding strategies in campaigns. 

Linda Hershman of the Atlantic made another link between Occupy Wall Street and the gay community in her article, Occupying Wall Street Worked Before – Here’s Why It Won’t Work Now, by referencing the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power’s (ACT UP’s) protests during the late 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.  Ms. Hershman wrote,

 “ACT UP launched its first demonstration on March 24, 1987, choosing Wall Street as the symbol of drug profiteering and other social evils. Often goaded on by the inspired polemicist and playwright Larry Kramer, ACT UP went on to five years of brilliant political protest, combining street theater with guerrilla research, transforming the way clinical research was done not just on AIDS but across the board. National Institutes of Health AIDS research chief Dr. Anthony Fauci says there are two eras in American clinical trials: before Larry Kramer and after Larry Kramer . . . . Its members were overwhelmingly focused, in that case on the epidemic that was ravaging the gay community . . . . the main thrust of the movement was always, as they said, drugs into bodies . . . . It is the nature of gay sexual orientation that it falls across lines of class and power. When they finally organized, they were a naturally formidable political force . . . .  Occupy Wall Street encompasses a sprawling set of interests.” 

But, again, three articles later, I’m still left asking, What are Occupy Wall Street’s interests and demands that would lead, among others, organized labor and a Nobel laureate to lend support to, or sympathize with, this cause?

So I went to Occupy Wall Street’s website, and there, as evidenced by several webpages, the organization cannot agree on its demands.  One webpage includes as proposed demands [my -- sometimes snarky -- comments in brackets]:

(a) raising the minimum wage to twenty dollars an hour;

[Maybe the cost of living is the same throughout not only the State of New York but also the entire United States, and maybe $20 is the magic number that provides a living wage in all locales];

(b) providing free college education;

[Are the Wall Street firms supposed to provide this education?  Or even if one believes that college education indeed represents a public good to be funded by government, public K-12 education is not free, and government financed colleges are themselves privatizing due to the current economic landscape];

(c) allowing for open borders migration;

[Wall Street firms often hire immigrant workers and sponsor worker visas, so I’m uncertain as to why Wall Street is to blame, given that many of its firms actively seek to recruit and retain the best labor, regardless of that laborer’s immigrant status, even in the face of having to comply with administratively expensive and time consuming laws and regulations]; and

(d) forgiving all debt, emphasizing, “and I don't mean debt that is in default, I mean all debt on the entire planet period.” 

[Thus ensuring the destruction of future global credit markets and requiring pure-equity capitalization for all entities, thus destroying numerous corporate "control" mechanisms set forth in negotiated credit agreements, allowing some corporate executives to run further amok.  This webpage of proposed demands ends with the alleged author's name and telephone number.  I didn’t have the heart (or the temper control?) to call to inquire about the relevance of these desires to Wall Street or to any mission, goal, message, branding, or demand of Occupy Wall Street.].

Another Occupy Wall Street webpage stated demands that ranged from enacting “legislation to protect our democracy by reversing the effects of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision” to investigating, arresting, and trying “the Wall Street criminals who clearly broke the law and helped cause the 2008 financial crisis . . . there is a pretty broad consensus that there is a clear group of people who got away with millions / billions . . . .”  On the first point, I’m not sure that Wall Street is the answer for the problem or the proper forum to address the issue.  Earlier this year, Vermont introduced a resolution to amend its state constitution to ban corporate personhood.  Given that corporations are state entities, perhaps state legislatures, and not Wall Street, are the appropriate outlets if this demand is, in fact, a demand of the group.  On the second point, the intensifiers, a disregard for the difference between millions and billions, and (as I tell my students), a “failure to articulate the rule,” are all problematic.

Overkill:  If you’ve had enough of this unrealistic fun, a post entitled “Realistic Demands” was written just hours ago.  There, the author stated that “realistic demands” for Occupy Wall Street ought to include ending “the War on Drugs [and] dependency on energy that damages the planet; push clean and renewable energy sources.”  But were I to be an investor at a firm with a major Wall Street presence, why wouldn’t I want the ability to invest in a pharmaceutical company that made safe, consistent, doses of re-legalized drugs that millions of Americans would want to purchase?  The author’s “realistic demand” misses the point that ending the war on drugs doesn’t even allow for Wall Street to invest in pharmaceutical companies at all; re-legalizing drugs does.  And if money can be made, why would Wall Street generally be opposed to such an idea?  More specifically, when has “Wall Street” taken such a pro-war-on-drugs stand?  Or an anti-immigrant stand?  Or a pro-slavery stand?  Or an anti-education stand?  Or any other stand on its website and that (i) the Occupy Wall Street group has articulated and (ii) I’ve highlighted?  Much of this Occupy Wall Street rhetoric seems to be the bizarro leftist version of some of the Tea Party's ridiculous and baseless assertions coming from the far-right.

To conclude, and most importantly, another protester from another era, radical anarcho-capitalist and economist, Dr. Murray Rothbard, may have said it best: “It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’  But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”

| Bookmark

TrackBacks (0)

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Links to weblogs that reference A "prawf-on-the-net" perspective of Occupy Wall Street:

Recent Comments
Popular Threads
Search The Glom
The Glom on Twitter
Archives by Topic
Archives by Date
January 2019
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    
Miscellaneous Links