Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Wall St.–Good Intention, Wrong Address

As a Wall St. guy for many years, I look at the current Occupy Wall St. movement with a mix of sadness and concern.

I am saddened by the fact that in the most enlightened country in the world where there is more than enough to go around, there is the need for such demonstrations.

As I have often mused, we don’t have a shortage of things in the western world.  We have a shortage of appropriate distribution of the things we have.

There’s a big difference, one not easily changed by yelling at the people who have those things.

But there is something I am concerned about beyond the need for demonstrations.  I am concerned about whom we are directing the demonstrations towards.

Most People Are Not Breaking Any Laws

Despite the existence of the Bernie Madoff’s in the world, most of the people working on Wall St. are not breaking any legal laws.

Yes, it is true that some of them may be guilty of breaches of appropriate moral or ethical behavior (depending on who defines the bar for such behavior).

However, most of them are doing what almost any human being would do.

Many human beings, including many who are protesting on Wall St., would leap at the chance to make obscene amounts of money if given the chance AND the opportunity were within the confines of legality.

So it’s not a question of people and corporations making too much money.

It’s more a case of “they are making the money and I am not”.

When we really examine the root causes of the perceived evil on Wall St., there is something else that is important to consider.

We Could Have Fixed This A Long Time Ago

Many of the things that Wall St. is doing now were being done by the same individuals before the massive bailouts that saved them.  We knew about it then and bailed them out anyway without demanding significant change in how the organizations executed.  It seemed that at best, the changes we asked for in corporate execution were more around managing public perception than controlling human greed.

The bailouts therefore didn’t correct a behavior but in fact rewarded one.  It sent a message that “what you are doing and how you are doing it is fine.  You just got a little unlucky and so we’ll help you.  Carry one with business as usual”.  So when I see a President who helped architect the bailouts now siding with people who are against the bailouts and big company in general, the word hypocrite sadly comes to mind, with all respect due the Office of the President.

Business, like nature, is self-correcting.  In the grand scheme of things, when a company executes poorly or immorally, it goes out of business and others learn from the mistakes.

However, when we bail out companies, we are condoning and reinforcing a behavior.  The notion of “we needed to do this to avoid a larger catastrophe” doesn’t fly with me.  The average American is struggling anyway and the threat of a larger catastrophe hangs over us despite the money invested in the bailouts.  The bailouts didn’t prevent the inevitable – it postponed them so that they could eventually manifest on an even larger scale later.

Meanwhile the corporate behavior of the bailed out companies continues larger and more aggressively than ever.

So Who Should We Be Protesting Against?

Think of this.

Some of the protestors are protesting corporate greed, some are protesting our involvement in wars, some are fighting for better living allowances, etc.  The ones fighting the very existence of corporations don’t get my sympathy when I see them using their iPhones and iPads to get the word out.  How would they get the word out if Apple, one of the most influential corporations in the world, ceased to exist or had never existed?

However, when it comes to corporate greed, the corporate greed was rewarded, condoned and reinforced by government bailouts.

Wars, whether rightly or wrongly, are a government concern.

Living wages, whether realistic or not, are a government issue.

And with that, I would conjecture that the right place to be having a demonstration is not on Wall St. but in front of the Capitol Building, the White House and equivalent buildings across America.

It’s like having a protest on the front lawn of a lottery winner because you think lotteries are immoral.  You’re barking up the wrong tree – you need to go to the people who authorize and control the lotteries in the first place.  After all, anyone offered millions of dollars would happily accept it.

Demonstrators – A Gift From Heaven

But moving the demonstrations won’t happen as long as the President and other leaders now side with the demonstrators, fueling and encouraging their misdirected anger.

After all, if I wanted to distract people from my contribution to a problem (with the bailouts and such) or my inability to solve the current problems in the country, demonstrations against a scapegoat such as Corporate America are a gift from heaven.

In fact, if I was the President right now, I’d be issuing a sigh of relief.

I believe the President does care about solving the country’s challenges.

But if the attention of the protestors can be redirected elsewhere, at least for the time being, that’s one less thing the President needs to worry about …. especially with an election on the horizon.

If you want real change in America, you need to get to the root causes of how we got here.

And that includes holding the right people accountable, even if that means moving your protest from Wall St. to Pennsylvania Avenue.

When the true parties responsible are not held accountable, our dream of solving the difficult problems we face today are just that … dreams.

Dreams that can turn into real nightmares if we don’t solve them quickly and appropriately.

In service and servanthood,


PS I was reading the Declaration of the Occupation of New York and saw some things in there that reinforce my concern.

Looking at a few items in the declaration (quotes in italics) with my comment following each.

“They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give executives exorbitant bonuses.”.

Why would you be angry with the company that accepted the bailouts and not be angry with the group that issued them?

“They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.”

This is more of a matter for governments and educational institutions to solve, not big corporations.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.

I admit that the press can be biased one way or the other but I am not aware that the military is preventing freedom of the press.

“They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.”

Uh … what corporations are murdering prisoners?  I missed that headline.

Now to be fair, there are some valid points in there as well.  But one needs to keep everything factual and focused, otherwise people will focus on the stuff that is not, thus discrediting the movement in its entirety and negating the opportunity to fix the stuff that needs to be fixed.

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