In an admirable bit of reporting, Nelson Schwartz and Eric Dash of the New York Times did us all a favor by asking bankers, hedge fund and money managers what they think about the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Said one top hedge fund director who wished to remain anonymous:
"Most people view it as a ragtag group looking for sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll."
A veteran bank executive added:
"It's not a middle-class uprising. It's fringe groups. It's people who have the time to do this."
And another longtime money manager opined:
"Who do you think pays the taxes? Financial services are one of the last things we do in this country and do it well. Let's embrace it. If you want to keep having jobs outsourced, keep attacking financial services. This is just disgruntled people."
This longtime money manager also shared his "disappointment" with Wall Street's political water carriers in Washington: "They need to understand who their constituency is," he said. And yet another financial industry official said about the protests there's "a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing." In general, Schwartz and Dash report, nearly all the bankers they talked to dismiss the protesters as "gullible and unsophisticated."
And then there's the oligarch, John Paulson, who made a fortune on Fabrice "Fabulous Fab" Tourre's (Goldman Sachs) peddling junk securities while he bet against them. Paulson states:
"The top 1 percent of New Yorkers pay over 40 percent of all income taxes, proving huge benefits to everyone in our city and state. Paulson & Company and its employees have paid hundreds of millions in New York City and New York State taxes in recent years and have created over 100 high-paying jobs in New York City since its formation."
Wow! A hundred jobs, John! Paulson must be one of those "job creators" who need to be succored and coddled and generally pleasured for the benefit of all humanity!
And Steve Bartlett, the president of a racket called the "Financial Services Roundtable," which throws around lobbying cash in Washington in behalf of the biggest banking and insurance conglomerates, says:
"I don't think we see ourselves as the target. I think they're protesting about the economy."
Okay, Steve, convince yourself of that notion -- then explain to us why they're camped out on Wall Street and not Disneyland?
(Schwartz and Dash also note in their article that Bank of America recently paid out $11 million in severance pay to two hotshots, Sallie Krawcheck and Joe Price -- even their surnames denote money -- while laying off about 30,000 working slobs.)
Judging from Schwartz and Dash's reportage, the financial oligarchs whose power over the political economy is strangling the United States don't seem to understand just how lucky they are to be dealing with orderly, mature protesters who believe in the tenets of nonviolence. In any other historical epoch these same oligarchs might find themselves facing the gallows or a firing squad or a "re-education" camp. Those who find themselves on the wrong side of history often end up in precarious positions. Just ask Hosni Mubarak.
It would be funny if it weren't so damn sad when Erin Burnett set off on her new CNN show, OutFront, to straighten out those protesters by sending a reporter to inform one of the unwashed hacky-sackers that the bankers paid off the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) with interest. But Ms. Burnett left out the fact that the banks had access to a far lower interest rate than the other 99 percent could ever get; and the banking conglomerates are still too big to fail; and they got a cool trillion dollars from the Federal Reserve to gamble with, and the Fed still holds billions in toxic securities. Burnett might have also acknowledged that the banks have paid out obscene bonuses despite the wreckage they left behind and that they "produce" nothing useful to society; or that they misallocated capital during the housing bubble and created enormous risks; or how they distort our nation's politics with big campaign donations and narrow lobbying activities (as well as the revolving door between government regulatory agencies and Wall Street firms); and she might inform her viewers about how they dumped the ruinous effects of their greed-based failures onto the wider society in the form of high unemployment and the gutting of the public sector with "austerity" measures that have slashed social services that used to be around to help make life a little bit better for the other 99 percent. But what do ya expect from a former CNBC "money honey"?
I might add that it was the bankers who left behind higher rates of child poverty and increased incidents of child abuse, suicides, and property crimes; and they left in their wake over-crowded classrooms, layoffs of teachers and child protective services workers and the closing of public parks, clinics, and homeless shelters; they've severely damaged once great systems of pubic higher education across the country, and they've ushered in a concerted assault against public employee pensions and their unions, even those of the "first responders" (police and firefighters) who went from heroes after 9/11 to goats after Wall Street got done with them. It's like living in a Frank Capra movie gone terribly wrong where his most evil antagonists win out in the end with control of the politicians, the newspapers, and the courts.
Yet the bankers, as quoted above, now want the rest of us to love them?
Not one teacher or police officer, social worker or firefighter should have been fired; not one public park closed; not one public school downsized; not one person working for the public sector canned because of the reckless failure of Wall Street's high rollers. Yet over 300,000 teachers have been fired in the last few years and another 200,000 public employees.
The financial oligarchs instead of pouring millions into "Super PACs" and lobbying efforts for special favors in Washington should be forced to contribute to a restitution fund (like BP did during the Macondo oil spill) to offset local layoffs of public employees and to reset underwater mortgages with principal reductions to current prices. The Occupy Wall Street people might want to pay a visit to John Paulson's home (and the homes of other oligarchs) until they pay into a restitution fund.
There's something inherently wrong with a political economy where those in power sell the people a bag of goods: Tax cuts for the rich and corporations; deregulation; "free trade" bills; wars and excessive military spending; slashing social programs. We were told these measures were for our own good. They would be helpful to the lives of the 99 percent. But they never work. Prosperity never "trickles down." And people are finally catching on. The housing bubble went too far. It destroyed too many lives and livelihoods to go unquestioned and unpunished, as Wall Street (and Washington) would like it.
Like the millions of families who have wisely chosen to walk away from terribly underwater mortgages lest they give up their entire life's earnings to Wall Street, millions of other people across the country and the world, who now have little to lose, are voting with their feet and lungs and bodies in full-throated protest declaring: "We Refuse to Pay for Your Crisis!"
Follow Joseph A. Palermo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JosephPalermo1