A Critique of the Critic: Another View on the Wall Street Protest

Yesterday, Greg Sarafan’s blog about the Wall Street protests (Wall Street Protesters Don’t Know What They’re Asking For) generated a flurry of responses. Here is one, submitted by a reader, that captures many of the sentiments expressed.

Greg Sarafan penned what I consider to be a very poorly reasoned attack on Occupy Wall Street.

It is not that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are confused, it is Greg who is confused. Here is where he goes wrong:

1)      Greg assumes that all of the protesters, in order to be effective, or worthy of his respect, must share a single purpose. That’s silly. The OWS protesters are united by a sense that things have gone very wrong in this country, and that this dysfunction is not a bug but a feature. The protesters believe the system has been co-opted by a few for their own benefit, and that the vast majority of people are suffering as a result. Since this is a systemic problem, it will have myriad manifestations, hence the myriad and disparate grievances of the protesters.

2)      Greg grotesquely mis-represents the actual grievances of the protesters, and blithely dismisses the problems of the economy. Sorry, Wall Street is NOT the “job creators” in this country. As Paul Volker famously said, the only truly useful innovation of the financial industry in the last several decades was the ATM.  The US economy has become dominated by financial structuring and risky speculation that does not create economic value, but merely liquidates and concentrates it. That is not China’s fault, though nice try Greg.  Scape-goating the “other” is a classic tool of the right wing.

3)      The protesters are not simply protesting bank bailouts – that again is a gross misrepresentation. The protesters are outraged by the fact that there seems to be unlimited funds for bank bailouts, repayment of Goldman’s bad investments at 100 cents on the dollar by the government, unlimited wars of aggression that don’t make us safer, ALL WHILE ordinary Americans are told there is no money for education, health care, the environment, infrastructure, investment in new clean industry, etc.  The Tea Party gets endless adulatory coverage in the corporate media because they call for the American people to endure deep austerity, while the OWS protesters cannot get any respectful coverage by pointing out systemic problems in our economy and calling for the wealthiest 1% to pay their fair share.  Warren Buffett summed up a big part of the issue when he noted that he pays a lower tax rate than the secretaries in his office.  Here’s another, unintentional demonstration of the problem: Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman thinks that efforts to raise the tax on carried interest and institute responsible regulation of the financial system is the same as the Nazi assault on the Jews in WW2.  This makes clear that a tiny minority of Americans think this country exists only to serve their interests, and that they have no responsibilities whatsoever.

Finally, YES I understand economics. I work in finance – I am a venture capitalist, investing in and helping grow companies that create real jobs. So park your arrogance, Greg, asserting that we protesters are know-nothings. The system is obviously broken, and no longer serves the interests of the American people. Upholding a long and honorable tradition, average Americans are finally standing up for their rights.  They deserve respect.

Photos by Brian Stollery

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