By Stefan Gooch
For weeks, Occupy Wall Street protesters have gathered in the streets of New York to speak out against corporate greed and the practices of “profiteering.” In general, they seem to be a mix of struggling adults and malleable college students. They highlight points such as the top one percent of America’s wealth accumulation. In the last few weeks the movement has spread to hundreds of cities around the nation. Some protesters have made demands for high taxes on the wealthy as well as public ownership of companies to prevent excessive greed. The irony there being that the public owns most large companies since their shares are publicly traded. Without a great deal of clarity as to their goals, many having taken to the streets to protest the general assumption that privately led corporations have been actively exploiting the people in our capitalist environment.
Opponents of the movement are questioning its effectiveness. For instance who are these protesters hurting? Have they had any effect on a trader at a bank or hedge fund, who in all probability doesn’t work on Wall Street? At the worst, a wealthy banker may see them outside his window. Most trades today are conducted electronically from anywhere in the world. They have, however, hurt some ordinary citizens who do not populate the top one percent. Protesters recently flooded the Brooklyn Bridge, prompting 700 arrests. They had no effect on corporate dealings, but they did hurt the average truck driver or store employee trying to enter New York to earn his wage. The protests have been badly directed. By blocking traffic, they have inconvenienced the wrong people. A cab driver trying to get to his next pickup may be stuck in traffic as he watches people who would rather cost others money, including 2 million tax payer dollars spent on overtime police pay, than try and search for a job.
These misdirected protests fail to really yield any effect on Wall Street. One CEO commented that his Inter Dealer Brokerage has been completely unaffected saying, “The trades we do are completed in the ether. I don’t even see the protesters.” While the protesting has succeeded in capturing significant media attention, they have failed to really affect the finance world.
Not only are the protests badly organized, but also many of these struggling Americans have conveyed in this protest that they do not have a comprehensive understanding of what Wall Street does for society. Occupwallst.org consistently praises technology’s ability to help spread their ideas and unite an otherwise scattered people. These protesters fail to realize that they owe most of society’s advancements to Wall Street’s capital. The likes of Steve Jobs never could have left their garages if hedge funds and venture capitalists didn’t support them. The entire Silicon Valley for that matter can be traced back to financial patronage from Wall Street. Venture capitalists such as Peter Thiel initially backed Facebook. Without support like his, the site could never have functioned on such a large scale. One Citigroup trader commented, “I walked through the protests, and you see these kids on their mobile phones and digital cameras. They have no idea what Wall Street has done for them. They have no concept of how making a profit has launched society into the future. All they see is some bonus check a trader earned.”
Profits from Wall Street filter into all sectors of development. Protesters and their supporters continue to speak of “profiteering” as a bad practice. At the end of the day, Wall Street and corporate greed are behind the majority of our scientific advancements, advancements that make modern healthcare possible. Agricultural advancements, fueled by a desire to turn a profit rather than any sense of greater good, have made food more accessible to our rapidly growing population. The search for profits brought the world to where it is today. College students can have an unrivaled ability to rally behind causes that may seem fashionable or righteous, but they have little appreciation for the realities of our interconnected market. Even the lowest paid workers owe a great deal to business for creating a standard of living far greater than our ancestors could have had—both in terms of medical supply and everyday comforts.
The protests may continue on, but their poorly led demonstrations have already proven themselves inadequate; the ideology of Wall Street remains unchanged. When all is said and done, the vast majority will leave when the cold sets in.
Stefan Gooch is a student at Lawrenceville School. He is the son of Diane and Michael Gooch, owners of The Two River Times™.