Friday, October 14, 2011

Zuccotti Park: The World’s Largest Complaint Box

Despite clogging up the commute to and from Wall Street with NYC’s Finest and crowd barricades as far as the eye can see; we’ve only seen one real-life Wall Street Occupier:

Hoping that the media wasn’t propping up a “movement” represented by this individual, we began reading up on “Occupy Wall Street” to see what it was all about. We’ve read the Occupy Wall Street website, right leaning opinions (and here) in the Wall Street Journal, left leaning opinions in the New York Times, and other opinions from outlets like CNN.

Based on these accounts, Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan has turned into the world’s largest complaint box.

Occupy Wall Street is basically a giant sea of people complaining about anything and everything. Just like the complaint box you might find at your local McDonalds or Wal-Mart, Occupy Wall Street is a place to register complaints of all shapes, sizes and relevance. Some of the complaints are legitimate, however, the vast majority are based on incomplete or wholly inaccurate facts, are incredibly hypocritical, are mind-numbingly trivial, or are just downright loony and extreme.

Not only are the complaints misplaced, but the complaint box itself is in the wrong place. You wouldn’t expect a complaint card about your cold Big Mac Extra Value Meal to change anything at McDonalds if you dropped it in the complaint box at the Starbucks down the street, would you?

Aided in large part by the media, Congress and most importantly (and most disappointingly) President Obama, the Occupiers and many others believe that “Wall Street” has somehow stolen or otherwise illegally obtained everyone’s money, house, car, education, dog, goldfish and Big Mac. The narrative explains that the taxpayers bailed out “Wall Street” and received nothing in return, while the “Fat Cats” were given large bonuses for making “illegal” profits on “derivatives” and other dangerous sounding products like “credit default swaps.”

We suggest that anyone making these claims do some homework.

All of the major “Wall Street” banks have already paid back their TARP bailout money (some of which they never wanted in the first place) in full, with interest, and in most cases, a lucrative kicker for the taxpayer relating to gains on warrants the banks were required to provide to the Treasury. In fact, not only will the Treasury get all its money back, it has estimated it will earn about $20 billion in profits from the bank portion of TARP. Seems like a pretty good deal for the taxpayer. We are by no means advocating for bailouts of failing institutions, but the TARP program was a necessary and hopefully one-time program that has proven its worth by avoiding a complete and total financial meltdown, while ultimately providing the taxpayer with a profit.

Until such time that wide spread corruption or other illegal activities by large banks, “the rich,” oil companies, or any other Occupy Wall Street target have been proven, complaints focused solely on specific actors in the drama are misplaced. These complaints should be focused on the producer, director and writers of the drama - the elected representatives in your state house and in Washington D.C.

The most relevant and legitimate complaint that the Occupy Wall Street movement makes is that the actors have become the de-facto producers, directors and writers due to their influence and power in Washington, bought and paid for through campaign contributions and slick lobbyists. However, this focus on the “1%’s” grip on Washington is ill-informed as for every Wall Street or Big Business contribution and lobbyist, there are even more from Big Labor and Trial Lawyers.

It’s our elected members of Congress, with the approval of our elected President, who cast the votes that determine the laws and regulations of which every citizen and corporation must abide. This includes how much money the country raises through taxes and from whom, how much money the country borrows, how all that money is spent, and the rules and regulations under which every individual and business must operate.

Last we checked, neither Goldman Sachs nor JPMorgan, or any other “Wall Street” bank or other “big corporation” has ever cast a vote on any legislation at any state assembly hall or in either chamber of the U.S. Capitol. The politicians we elect are ultimately responsible for the legislation, not those who try and influence them. If we don’t like our representatives so easily influenced, it’s up to us to remove those representatives and replace them with someone who will place the needs of the citizens above the needs of those with the resources to contribute and lobby effectively.

To paraphrase the great Ice-T, “don’t hate the player, hate the game.”

We’re not giving Wall Street a pass on playing a part in the crisis, but they were far from the only actor in this hugely complex and intertwined drama. Everyone played their role - the banks, the mortgage brokers, the individuals who lied on their mortgage applications and/or signed contracts they couldn’t understand or afford, the pension funds and governments who had an insatiable demand for subprime mortgage backed bonds but couldn't be bothered to analyze them, the credit rating agencies for blindly slapping AAA ratings on those bonds, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Federal Home Loan Bank, President Clinton, President Bush, President Obama, Congress (both D’s and R’s) and the Fed for actively promoting the real estate binge and everyone in-between.

To lay the blame for our complex economic situation on 1% of the population is lazy and ignorant. Protests make everyone feel loved and important, but as the immortal James Brown once said, they’re “just talking loud and saying nothing.” Real progress and change is made at the ballot box. Only our elected representatives can change the game, in the meantime, criticizing those playing the game is a waste of time and resources, and is ultimately unhelpful in getting our economy, and therefore America, back on its feet.


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