Economy,  Media,  Stateside

On Wall Street

As a general rule nobody likes making fun of clueless political activists (of all stripes) and spaced-out hippie types more than I do.

So you might think I’d enjoy Fox News’s mocking coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. You would be wrong.

For one thing, Fox News is trying too hard. It decided on a rather threadbare retro-1960s approach to covering the protests, the underlying theme of which is “Get a job/take a bath, you pot-smoking, alternative-lifestyle freaks.” And now everything they report about the protesters has to fit that trope. Yawn.

This is Fox News’s idea of late-night comedy. Consider yourself warned.

I can do without the masks and drums and street theater. But in any amorphous and basically leaderless movement such as OWS, it’s easy enough to find freaky people saying and doing stupid things– I give you, for instance, the Tea Party movement, which Fox News nurtured and publicized and never seemed to find anything wrong with. Compared to the Tea Partiers, the Wall Street protesters are, for the most part, reality-based. They’ve identified who is largely responsible for the current economic mess even if they don’t have a unanimous idea of what to do about it.

And when a Fox News producer accidentally spoke with a well-informed and articulate protester denouncing, among other things, Fox News and its ownership, the interview was never aired.

But far more interesting to me than the Wall Street protests, which may or may not morph into something important, are what some presumably hard-headed Wall Street heavy hitters themselves are saying. Timothy Noah of The New Republic has been keeping track of what he calls “Wall Street Bolshies”– leading corporate and financial executives who are starting to say publicly what many of us on the Left have been saying for years about growing class inequality (see here, here and here).

Noah writes:

A friend who knows my interest in how the ghastly state of the economy is turning Wall Street socialist forwarded me a commentary from William H. Gross, managing director of PIMCO, a global investment management firm. Gross complains that "almost all remedies proposed by global authorities to date have approached the problem from the standpoint of favoring capital as opposed to labor." (That’s his boldfaced type, not mine.) "Even conservatives," Gross writes, "must acknowledge that return on capital investment, and the liquid stocks and bonds that mimic it, are ultimately dependent on returns to labor in the form of jobs and real wage gains. If Main Street is unemployed and undercompensated, capital can only travel so far down Prosperity Road." (His underlining, not mine.)

Gross is just getting warmed up:

 "Long-term profits cannot ultimately grow unless they are partnered with near equal benefits for labor. Washington, London, Berlin and yes, even Beijing must accept this commonsensical reality alongside several other structural initiatives that seek to rebalance the global economy. The United States in particular requires an enhanced safety net of benefits for the unemployed unless and until it can produce enough jobs to return to our prior economic model which suggested opportunity for all who were willing to grab for the brass ring – a ring that is now tarnished if not unavailable for the grasping."

Gross concludes:

"There are no double-digit investment returns anywhere in sight for owners of financial assets.  A modern day, Budweiser-drinking Karl Marx might have put it this way: ‘Laborers of the world, unite – you have only your six-packs to lose.’ He might also have added, ‘Investors/policymakers of the world wake up – you’re killing the proletariat goose that lays your golden eggs.’"

To review: Wall Street is saying that working people need to be paid better and the unemployed need a stronger safety net, and until these things happen investors aren’t going to get rich. When the only people in mainstream discourse who care about the working class are Wall Street investors, it really is time to ask where our politics went wrong.

Perhaps one thing that went wrong is that politicians of both parties have ignored the wise words of the one-time corporate lawyer who became the first Republican president.

Update: See Jon Stewart’s take: