What Should Happen With Occupy Wall Street?

Sun, 16 Oct 2011 16:26:38 +0000

A note to Nelson D. Schwartz and Eric Dash of The New York Times.  If you are going to put this in your article, put it in quotes and attribute it properly or keep it out of the news section of the paper:

Without a coherent message, the crowds will ultimately thin out, Wall Street types insist — especially when the weather turns colder. They see the protesters as an entertaining sideshow, little more than flash mobs of slackers, seeking to lock arms with Kanye West or get a whiff of the antiestablishment politics that defined their parents’ generation.

I don't think it is incumbent on #OWS to have a coherent message.  They are people who feel that their freedoms are being constricted due to the corruptness of others.  They are joining together to push back against that feeling.  They win just by showing up and eschewing violence.  If the NYPD and branch managers at Citibank can't figure that out and stop dehumanizing the protestors, then #OWS will win even more.

There are plenty of policy changes that could satisfy the protestors, even if they are not articulating them themselves.  I can only speak for myself. At a gut level, I would like policy makers to:

  1. Stop justifying action to prop up individual institutions based on vague notions of what will happen to the broader economy.
  2. Stop using bailouts in lieu of bankruptcy.
  3. Stop taking any political contributions from the financial sector, period.  What was true of the health sector during health care reform is even more true of the financial sector today.

There hasn't been much occasion to test #1 and #2 as of late, so I would need to see more politicians take the pledge on #3.  In terms of specific reforms, I would like to see policy makers enact the key ideas of the Squam Lake Report:

  1. Capital ratios for all financial firms that increase with the size of the firm, the illiquidity of its assets, and its reliance on short-term liabilities for funding.
  2. The use of regulatory hybrid securities to enable instant recapitalization of financially distressed firms in the event of a systemic crisis.  (A requirement that each firm have enough such securities among its liabilities so that it would be well capitalized based on the requirements in #1 in the event that its existing equity had zero value would suffice.)
  3. Compensation holdbacks from top executives at financial firms that vest on a long-schedule and are held in cash.

If the FSOC or the Congress had the guts to do this, the "Wall Street types" wouldn't have to rely so much on colder weather to clear out the protestors.