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Occupy Wall Street Changing the National Conversation

Leading bank executives unsurprisingly have a negative opinion of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and they think that “their representatives” should protect them from the pitchforks. I think this week’s New Yorker cover about sums it up.

A bit more surprisingly is how many national leaders have lined up on the other side of the oligarchs and with the alleged dirty hippies. For example, Suze Orman:

I want to publicly say thank you to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Thank you for not accepting the status quo. Thank you for not assuming there is nothing to be done. Thank you for rattling the cages. Much coverage of Occupy Wall Street has cast this as the beginning of something new. That’s only partly true. What I find so encouraging is that Occupy Wall Street’s more important message is that this marks an end point. An end to just shrugging and putting up with the inequity. An end to patiently waiting for government to get its act together and take steps to reduce the pain felt by millions of Americans who are unemployed, the millions more who are underemployed, and the millions more again who worry that if we indeed slip into a double dip recession they will soon become unemployed. An end to letting Washington just continue further down its dysfunctional dark hole without being called out […]

I don’t think this country was built on the fee income that gouged the little guy. Banks used to rely more on income from lending money to qualified borrowers, be it businesses or individuals. Today, the financial system seems less interested in being an intermediary in financing a growing economy and more interested in collecting fees that have absolutely no connection to participating in economic expansion. Is that really how low we’re going to let the target be set? Occupy Wall Street is issuing an emphatic no. To that, I give a heartfelt, “Approved!”

What’s more, we’re going to see a Presidential election next year with an incumbent President at least rhetorically allying with the protesters against Wall Street. I’m confident in saying that wasn’t the plan just a couple months ago. As David Plouffe – David Plouffe! – put it, “I’m pretty confident 12 months from now, as people make the decision about who to go vote for, the gut check is going to be about, ‘Who would make decisions more about helping my life than Wall Street?’?”

You can be excused for being cynical about the President’s strategy. I don’t think you can deny that the rhetoric has changed. Heck, Eric Cantor was on the Sunday shows saying that there’s too much income disparity in America. That’s pretty incredible. His solution to this problem is kooky – “We need to encourage folks at the top of the income scale to actually put their money their work to create more jobs so we can see a closing of the gap” – but just having to respond to this at all is a victory. The protesters may not have demands – though they are reportedly coming – but they’ve already changed the conversation. And ultimately, this is what effective protests can do. They have been extremely successful.

This is definitely something different. As Paul Krugman wrote today, Wall Street has lost the immunity shield.

For the financialization of America wasn’t dictated by the invisible hand of the market. What caused the financial industry to grow much faster than the rest of the economy starting around 1980 was a series of deliberate policy choices, in particular a process of deregulation that continued right up to the eve of the 2008 crisis.

Not coincidentally, the era of an ever-growing financial industry was also an era of ever-growing inequality of income and wealth. Wall Street made a large direct contribution to economic polarization, because soaring incomes in finance accounted for a significant fraction of the rising share of the top 1 percent (and the top 0.1 percent, which accounts for most of the top 1 percent’s gains) in the nation’s income. More broadly, the same political forces that promoted financial deregulation fostered overall inequality in a variety of ways, undermining organized labor, doing away with the “outrage constraint” that used to limit executive paychecks, and more […]

Until a few weeks ago it seemed as if Wall Street had effectively bribed and bullied our political system into forgetting about that whole drawing lavish paychecks while destroying the world economy thing. Then, all of a sudden, some people insisted on bringing the subject up again.

And their outrage has found resonance with millions of Americans. No wonder Wall Street is whining.


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David Dayen

David Dayen