Sunday, October 16, 2011

An Equal And Opposite Reaction

“Most people view it as a ragtag group looking for sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll,” said one top hedge fund manager. 

“It’s not a middle-class uprising,” adds another veteran bank executive. “It’s fringe groups. It’s people who have the time to do this.”

“There is a view that it will be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing,” said one financial industry official.  

The protests that began as Occupy Wall Street have spread to the rest of the world and moved to Time's Square. Meanwhile, the targets of the protester's ire are dismissing the movement as in the quotes above.

What we have here is the inevitable reaction to the country's rightward lurch led by the Tea Party after last year's Congressional elections, and as I've said before, Republicans will do anything they can to try and deligitimize the left's point of view. They do that at their own political and economic peril.

The honest truth is that more Americans agree with President Obama's jobs bill, and more voters support him over each of the top three potential Republican nominees. Have these stories been widely reported? No. I'm not claiming a media conspiracy, just media blindness to a narrative that sells subscriptions and page views.

Meanwhile, legitimate, necessary protests are reshaping the world. This is not simply anger at the economy or frustration over a political process that seems to be unable to solve even the most basic problems. Too much money has been funneled to the wealthy and the only way the middle and working classes have tasted its fruits is by borrowing more and more against their homes and credit cards. Real income has stagnated and median income has gone backwards since 2008. Tax cuts have mainly benefited the upper classes. And the Republicans' answer to all of this? More tax cuts and the very same policies that got us into this mess.

It's no wonder that the left has now raised its voice. Budget cuts to social programs will only bring more pain to the people who must rely on them. Fewer people covered by health insurance will bankrupt many, lead to a less healthy society and raise costs more for those people who have coverage. Allowing financial service companies and banks to run their businesses in a way that puts the economy at risk is irresponsible and an invitation to more reckless behavior. Cutting back on responsible environmental regulations might gain us some jobs, but at what cost in damage to land, water quality and quality of life?

The protests and protesters might go away because of police crackdowns, the weather or loss of space, but the ideas will not dissipate. The energy will merely be transferred to the local level and the grass roots will grow. Bank on that.

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