Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

Marching Down Nelson
I attended the Occupy Vancouver protests on Saturday. I was impressed by the diversity of people and opinions represented. Yes, there were plenty of non-economic issues on display – 9/11 truthers, vegans, organic farmers, marijuana legalizers, and fringe political candidates – but the majority of people were there because they were concerned about the economy. Some naysayers in the media have chosen to dismiss the Occupy movement because it’s unfocused, represented by unemployed hippies and punks, and lacking in clear direction, but I think they’re wrong.

Naysayers say: The middle class isn’t part of the Occupy movement.
My response: There sure seemed to be a lot of middle class folk out on Saturday, including myself. Personally, I’m debt free, I’m not looking for a handout, my income is likely in the top 10% of Canadians, and I have lots of savings in mutual funds. And like the other middle-class folk who support the Occupy movement, I’m worried about the future.

I’ve been maxing out my RRSP contributions for the past 5 years, and this is what the market has looked like since I started investing – right were it started.

Yes, I know the philosophy – the market always rises over the long term. But there’s a lot of assumptions baked into that, and I’m not sure they’re going to hold for much longer. We have an economy based on exponential growth, but our resources are finite and quickly diminishing.

I want to see a stable financial system that ensures a vibrant middle class. I want to know that one day I’ll be able to afford to own a house and have kids. It’s ridiculous that I’m in the top 10% of income earners, and yet I doubt the reality of that.

Naysayer: Wall Street is responsible for our wealth and prosperity.
Me: I know firsthand how messed up Wall Street is (or Canary Wharf in my case). I worked for Morgan Stanley in 2005 – writing software for traders dealing in credit default swaps (one of the products that lead to the financial crisis in 2008). I witnessed comp day, when traders were given multi-million dollar bonuses, everyone was drinking champagne, and parties were off the hook. How different is it today?

Naysayer: Protesting won’t accomplish anything.
Me: It has already has accomplished something. It has started a long over-due conversation about fair taxation and the future of our economy. The fact that these articles have been written and people are reading them is a huge:
Occupy Economics: Is the system broken? – CBC
Tax the rich: Should millionaires really pay more? – Christian Science Monitor
Here Are 4 Charts That Explain What The Protesters Are Angry About – Business Insider
In a Single Month, the Occupation Became a Force – Wired
Why They Joined Occupy Vancouver – The Tyee

Naysayer: Talk is cheap, activists don’t have any concrete solutions.
Me: There are lots of solutions being proposed.

A Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions seems to be getting the most traction. Adbusters has suggested a Global March on October 29 to support it.

On Saturday, there were people talking about bringing back Glass-Steagall – US legislation (that I had never heard of) that forced a separation between investment and commercial banks. It was repealed in 1998.

Other suggestions included more regulation on banks, higher taxes for the rich, and even ensuring no CEO can be payed more than 1000 times more than the lowest paid employee. I don’t think the Occupy movement suffers from a lack of solutions.

It will be interesting to see how the Occupy movement evolves in the coming weeks and if any concrete results come of it. If enough people rally behind a Robin Hood tax, it could become a reality. Will it morph into a political force, a la the Tea Party – maybe not.

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