What “Occupy Wall Street” means to me – and probably to you.

So there’s a lot of yammering out there about OWS, and what it means, or doesn’t mean, and even some opinions that OWS protestors are less grateful than a panhandler, and perhaps more immoral, too, since they are capable, presumably, of working…but aren’t even looking.

What does OWS mean to me? This:

it's wrong to create a mortgage-backed security filled with loans you know are going to fail so that you can sell it to a client who isn't aware that you sabotaged it by intentionally picking the misleadingly rated loans most likely to be defaulted upon

And: This:

Will’s Sign at Occupy Times Square, quote by Conor Friedersdorf from John Grace on Vimeo.

Read more about the genesis of the quote in the Atlantic.

And what’s that sign all about? Listen to this Planet Money podcast.

When you’re finished, head back here and let me know: Are you angry about this too?

9 Replies to “What “Occupy Wall Street” means to me – and probably to you.

  1. That’s the problem: The “Occupy” movement has come to mean just about anything you want it to mean, from specific economic grievances, like the one you highlight, to simply a good place to find some weed and crash for a few weeks. The very fact that you can (and must) say “what it means to me” speaks to the movement’s potpourri nature.

    My question on this issue is why banks and Freddie/Fanny were making such risky loans, and why people felt safe in buying and trading them, and what role government may have had in all of this.

  2. Paul, you can either listen to the show, or read the transcript. This does a great job of explaining what happened. (Hint – it really boils down to “greed.”)


    This American Life producer Alex Blumberg teams up with NPR’s Adam Davidson for the entire hour to tell the story—the surprisingly entertaining story—of how the U.S. got itself into a housing crisis. They talk to people who were actually working in the housing, banking, finance and mortgage industries, about what they thought during the boom times, and why the bust happened. And they explain that a lot of it has to do with the giant global pool of money.

  3. Greed is a given, in politics, business, and personal affairs. The question is how it is encouraged or constrained. My frustration is with the left’s apparent denial that government has any part in this other than to constrain it. Regulation can actually set the stage for abuse.

  4. I think the truth of the matter is that there will be greedy behavior, not matter what we do, no matter how much or how little regulation there is. My preference is that bad acts have consequences; without the regulation that the right so despises, it’s hard to see how there can be consequences.

  5. Perhaps if the Fed didn’t offer virtually free money for them to wager with, or regulators didn’t try to force lenders to engage in high-risk loans, or there wasn’t the promise of bail outs if all else failed. The problem with regulation (or central planning) is that it presumes 1) that the regulators themselves are ethical and unbiased and 2) that they understand the market, and all its secondary and tertiary elements, well enough to make effective regulation.

  6. And the problem with deregulation (or lack of planning) is that it presumes that businesses understand their market, and that they will act ethically.

    Alan Greenspan, when testifying to Congress, had to admit his world view was wrong.

    And even Adam Smith didn’t believe businessmen would act outside of their own self interest; “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

  7. 1) I would love to have you unpack the theory that makes business people out to be less ethical than politicians.

    2) A business person does not have to understand the market as a whole, like a regulator does; he only has to understand those factors which pertain to his corner of it, i.e., material costs, labor costs, market demand, etc. Players in the free market are like birds in a flock — each avoiding collision on its own, sometimes leading, sometimes following, but the entire flock moving in unison. The analogy of a “regulated” flock would require massive knowledge and plenary orchestration to duplicate what the flock can do on its own.

    3) Greenspan was part of the regulating system. He had much influence on the market, and to say that someone of his power could have his entire worldview wrong only furthers my point.

    4) Businessmen can certainly collude, just like regulator and politicians can. But it only underscores the need of fair competition and discouragement of monopolies. It is as desirable to avoid insulating business from market forces as it is desirable to avoid insulating politicians from their constituents.

  8. 1) All people are capable of ethical, and unethical behavior. It doesn’t matter where they work – private sector or public. Republicans seem to have a misplaced faith in the ethical and moral impeachability of business leaders. I’m not buying it.

    2) I don’t even know where to go with that. Your argument seems to be that no one can ever know enough to effectively regulate anything. If that’s the case, then why regulate at all? And on the other hand, you consistently state conservatives are not against all regulation. Please unspool that for me.

    3) Greenspan believed in deregulation, and that the markets could regulate themselves. He believed that business leaders would make rational decisions in the best interest of their companies and shareholders. He was mistaken. Which is why I believe regulation is required. It’s the same reason we have laws. We don’t trust people to drive the speed limit, for example. So we regulate their speed.

  9. 1) It’s not that Republicans believe that business leaders are ethical, it’s that they believe that politicians are NOT MORE ethical. And, not more expert in matters of business as either.

    2) It may well be the case that no one can know enough to completely plan a specific market, and even less so the entire market. Perhaps if we could get the greatest expert with the best intentions, then he/she might do a fair job, but it tends to be the case that those who are the best in business happen to work….in business, not politics. In fact, many who seek political careers have no experience at all in business, and it seems that the less business experience they have the more likely they are to favor strong government regulation.

    Another problem with central planning and regulation is that it can cause inefficiencies and counterproductive effects at the micro level. For example, my wife often works at the local college in the theater department, and she is constantly seeing blanket regulations applied that make no sense in her department, with the effect that the college loses money and suffers in quality and customer satisfaction. In business, an employee who points out cost-saving, profit-making, and customer satisfaction-improving opportunities is commended. In an environment driven by bureaucracies, ideological autocrats, and government subsidies, the will and ability to be smart and flexible is minimized.

    It is true that conservatives are not looking for zero regulations. The problem is with trying to plan the flow of the market vs. simply regulating fair conditions for its operation. One analogy I’ve used before is a football game. The referees are like regulators who merely insure that the players follow the rules and insure safety, but they do not try to call the plays.

    Here are some examples of acceptable types of regulations:
    Insuring honesty in advertising, minimal health and safety standards (especially where the concerns are not readily apparent to the consumer), patents, global market standards (e.g., weights & measures, wireless spectrum), protections of the rights and resources of market competitors, certain forms of anti-discrimination laws, issues regarding national security, lobbying and campaign financing constraints.

    3) Sorry, I wasn’t with you on which thing Greenspan had changed his mind on (regarding his congressional grilling in 2008), though in more recent news Greenspan seems to believe that too much regulation is slowing economic growth, so, there’s that. http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/greenspan-too-much-regulation-slowing-growth-20110315-083033-963.html

    I still contend that some of this is due to manipulations of the market that led to a reckless environment. You only need tighter regulation of subprime and other high-risk exotic mortgages if there is some condition in play that disconnects the lenders from the consequences they would normally experience from such risk. Perhaps if we unpacked this issue far enough we might discover that some of the kinds of regulation you advocate would also be agreeable to me, though possibly handled differently by pealing away other layers (regulatory or otherwise) that might return this industry to something looking a lot more like direct free market business. Some businesses have become so complicated by layers of regulation that it takes new regulation to correct the side-effects of old regulation.

    And, again, I don’t deny the need of regulation, or laws. The speed limit thing falls under the acceptable categories of standards and safety. If the government tried to tell you what route you had to drive home from work each day, vs. letting you pick your own route according to personal agenda and traffic patterns, then maybe you’d share some of my concerns.

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