Occupy Wall Street Is Finished
I’m calling it. Everyone go home. Occupy Wall Street is done. This may not make me many friends, but it’s true and sometimes the truth hurts. And the thing is that it didn’t have to be this way. So where did it all go wrong?
A quick recap
The real beginning of the movement traces back well before the financial crisis. Wall Street has always had its way and seemingly lived life according to its own rules. From the savings and loan crisis, to the fall of Long Term Capital Management to today’s mess, Wall Street has earned a reputation for calling risky shots and relying on the great American taxpayer to bail them out when it all hits the fan. And I think that sucks.
The subprime mortgage crisis and the effects it has had on our economy via mortgage-backed securities, collateral debt obligations and all the other exotic (and worthless) financial instruments was the last straw. Folks on Wall Street had gotten to a point where they didn’t even know the snake oil they were slinging. They only knew that everyone else was doing it so it must be OK. Heck, Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) is still dealing with the ramifications of their ill-advised acquisition of Countrywide to the tune of billions of dollars in litigation as the contagion of worthless loans still haunts their balance sheet today.
That brings us to now
Fast forward to today and here we are. Our nation is broke as a joke with a total public debt outstanding at an all-time high of almost $15 trillion. Think about that for a minute; it’s almost, in the immortal words of Vizzini from The Princess Bride, inconceivable! The current US population stands at about 307 million. This breaks down to approximately $49,000 of debt obligated to each and every citizen of this great land of ours.
But wait, there’s more. Don’t forget folks we aren’t all grown-ups here and there are children to account for. Even as we reach historically low levels of children as a percentage of the population, they still make up about 25% of the total. Further, it’s projected that by the year 2050 this number will slip to around 23%. That leaves only about 230 million who can be realistically held accountable today which translates to a smooth $65,000 per citizen. And forgive me for sounding pessimistic, but I don’t see our debt situation getting any better any time soon.
Let’s go occupy something
And so Occupy Wall Street was born. The disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street had reached its boiling point and on September 17th in New York City’s Zucotti Park people started gathering, voicing and venting. And for a while it seemed like it was gaining some legitimate traction too. Movements spread to cities around the world. Renowned author Michael Lewis even stopped by Fool HQ one day and said that we’d be wise to not dismiss the movement. And I think we all felt that way to a degree. We all knew there was something to it.
Don’t color me with the brush of an “anti-Occupier.” It’s extremely important to recognize that we live in a country where people can voice their opinions. Many are upset with the behavior of the rich and powerful, including me. Just yesterday my colleague Brian Richards published an article that referred to some interesting statistics. One that caught my eye in particular is that more people have a favorable opinion of the Occupy Wall Street movement (35%) than they do of our elected officials here in DC (21%) and I'm right there with them; I’m quite disgusted with our politicians.
But why is it now game, set and match for OWS? Simply put, they have failed to assemble any kind of clear, concise message that communicated any kind of reasonable and achievable goals. Instead of focusing on something, they have formed a cacophony of different and sometimes contradicting opinions. The worst part in all of this is that it’s getting violent.
Know your limits
My argument from the get-go for Occupy Wall Street was that they needed to focus on something that could make a difference. One change, not one thousand complaints. What about term limits? Granted this is just a personal opinion, but I believe that one of the biggest problems we face today in our country is the fact that senators and congressmen and women have no term limits. None.
Just to refresh your memory, members of the US Senate have unlimited six year terms and members of the US House of Representatives have unlimited two year terms. They can do it for as long as people vote for them. And while our democracy is something we should fight to protect, voter turnout is a perpetual disappointment. Voter turnout in the last presidential election in 2008 (one of the better turnouts in recent history) was a little better than 60% and I’d argue it should have been much higher.
Career politicians are a problem, not the solution. The incentives in DC are completely out of whack and term limits would most certainly curb some of their outrageous behavior. Over time I believe that this could result in politicians who place the people’s interest first, not the other way around. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying politicians are 100% culpable. But they are complicit for sure and we have to start somewhere.
Until next time
So Occupy Wall Street, while I’m not part of the 1%, I’m not part of the other 99% either. Your message has been unclear and lacking from the beginning. Even the Oracle of Omaha himself thinks that the movement is lacking the clear goals needed to spawn change. So I’m afraid your time has come. See you next crisis.