There is an unfocused financial rage in the United States.
It was born in the late 1990s on an unholy trinity of accounting swindles, the dotcom collapse and analyst scandals. It grew on a housing boom and bust that created 5 million (and counting) foreclosures, leaving more than a quarter of bank financed homes worth less than their mortgages. It matured on a growing wealth disparity that eviscerated the middle class, and brought back the plutocracy of the 1920s. It reached its peak with the bailout of reckless bankers, who were rewarded for their irresponsibility with the greatest wealth transfer in human history.
And now, it seems to be finding a new voice with the movement known as Occupy Wall Street (OWS).
Like the Tea Party, OWS began as a loose collection of people who knew they were getting a raw economic deal — but were unsure as to precisely why. They both started with a surge of grassroots politics. Both tapped into the national zeitgeist, feeding on an unfocused economic angst. When the Tea Party first burst onto the national stage, I had high hopes they might address some of the persistent economic problems our two-party political system was ignoring. But the Tea Party tilted to the right, shifting from the economic to the partisan. Obamacare and taxes – neither of which were responsible for a laundry list of economic woes facing the nation – became their focus.
That move created a vacuum. Since then, we have been waiting for a group of angry Americans to fill the void. It did not look like OWS was going to be the ones to do so. Especially with the way the Media was either ignoring them, or portraying them as a group of slacker hippies, fringe dwellers and kooks.
Credit the Daily Show with changing all that. Jon Stewart’s team surfaced a video of a senior NYPD officer pepper-spraying some young girls for no apparent reason. NYC may not be Libya, but that clip of abusive police behavior – and the young women collapsing in obvious agony – ramped up the mainstream coverage. What Rick Santelli’s infamous rant on CNBC did for the Tea Party, the NYPD pepper spray video did for the Wall Street protesters.
Now, the founders of OWS must consider what to do next. They surely do not want to let the momentum and energy dissipate. They see the Tea Party as hugely influential, but highly partisan, and up until now the Tea Party has been far less willing to criticize corporate interests than OWS.
The founders of OWS are aware of how the Tea Party was Jiu Jitsued by the existing GOP political establishment. OWS want to avoid a similar fate. Such an end could occur of the leaders of MoveOn.org, a partisan Democratic group, gets their way. They have bulled their way into the media, pretending to speak for OWS. (The media are suckers for a simple narrative, and MoveOn.org provides that).
Hence, OWS needs to demonstrate a few things: A clear leadership. A consistent message. But most importantly of all, some specific policy objectives.
To become as focused and influential as the Tea Party, what Occupy Wall Street needs a simple set of goals. Not a top 10 list — that’s too unwieldy, and too unfocused. Instead, a simple 3 part agenda, that responds to some very basic problems regardless of political party. It must address the key issues, have a specific legislative agenda, and finally, effect lasting change. By keeping it focused on the foibles of Wall Street, and on issues that actually matter, it can become a rallying cry for an angry nation.
I suggest the following three as achievable goals that will have a lasting impact:
1. No more bailouts: Bring back real capitalism
2. End TBTF banks
3. Get Wall Street Money out of legislative process
Let’s look at each of these in turn:
1. No more bailouts/Bring Back Real Capitalism!
The United States was once a capitalist system. Companies lived and died on their own successes. “Corporate Welfare” – the term coined by Wisconsin senator William Proxmire – came into being in 1971 with the bailout of Lockheed Aircraft. Thus began a run of corporatism and bailouts of connected companies, not capitalism. Some firms, less than successful in a competitive marketplace, chose instead to suckle at the teat of the public trough. Innovation, execution and hard work were replaced with lobbying, crony capitalism and bailouts of failure. Of course, all paid for by taxpayers.
“Socialism for bankers, wrenching capitalism for the working stiff” is not a slogan you are likely to see on a bumper sticker anytime soon. But that’s wht the US had morphed into.
America needs to end this system of spoils. There should be no more bailouts, no more crony capitalism, no more government determined winners and losers. We simply cannot live in a society of privatized gains and socialized losses.
2. End Too Big To Fail /Restore Competition
As George Shultz once said, “”If they’re too big to fail, make them smaller.”
The current economic approach of “Too Big to Fail” is itself a failure. It reduces economic competition, concentrates risk, and raises costs for consumers.
I agree with University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC) professor of Economics and Law William Black, who notes that the TBTF moniker is misleading. We should start calling these firms by the more accurate phrase “Systemically Dangerous Institutions” (SDIs). TBTF makes it sound like the size is the problem – in reality, the systemically, regardless of size, is what we should be focused on. SDI is an accurate phrase, and appropriately pejorative.
The TBTF size has brought a different set of problems: The bailouts have made the top 10 SDI an even bigger, less competitive oligarchy. We need to bring back competition by limiting the size of these firms. We can do that by capping their deposits, in terms of total percentage or a specific dollar amounts. There are many ways to accomplish this, including an FDIC caps on deposit insurance. And if the OWS people were smart, they would bring in former FDIC chair Sheila Bair (now private citizen) into the discussion.
3. Take Congress back from Wall Street
Whatever changes come, they will only be temporary if the current system of spoils is allowed to continue.
The Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly on campaign finance reform, finding against voters and in favor of corporate interests. The only way to take the government back is a Constitutional Amendment.
The United States has become a “corporatocracy.” Campaign finance and lobbying money has so utterly corrupted Congress that we might as well put elected officials up for bid on eBay – that is how corrupted the system has become. We have even seen the State Attorneys Generals become targets of aggressive lobbying, most recently in Florida. We must become a democracy again, where one man one vote matters. To do that, Wall Street money must be taken out of the process.
The only way to accomplish that goal and have it withstand Supreme Court review is a Constitutional Amendment, mandating public financing of Congressional elections and criminalizing the purchases of politicians. We need to marginalize lobbyists, and make voters the most important people in the nation (again).
A national campaign to get that amendment on every ballot in every state should be the objective.
You will note that these three goals are issues that both the Left and the Right — Libertarians and Liberals — should be able to agree upon. These are all doable measurable goals, that can have a real impact on legislation, the economy and taxes.
But amending the Constitution to eliminate dirty money from politics is an essential task. Failing to do that means backsliding from whatever gains are made. Whatever is accomplished will be temporary without campaign finance reform . . .