Today, over a thousand demonstrators began protests as a part of a campaign they are calling “Occupy Wall Street.” The protesters intend to engage in long-term civil disobedience to draw attention to Wall Street’s misdeeds and call for structural economic reforms. CNN Money covered the start of the campaign. Watch it:
As demonstrators converged on Wall Street — with police blocking them from reaching the New York Stock Exchange — much of the news media paid little attention to the protests. Meanwhile, much of the conservative punditry has taken to mocking the demonstrations, with conservative Twitter users lambasting the “hippies” in New York City. CNN contributor and RedState blogger Erick Erickson labeled the protesters as “profoundly dumb.”
Certainly, debates about the tactics and strategy behind an anti-Wall Street campaign are warranted. But in a country where much of the populist energy has been absorbed by a movement that compared expanding access to private insurance to “death panels,” it’s worth reviewing why Americans and others should be protesting against Wall Street.
While many of the conservative defenders of Wall Street may be quick to portray protests against the American financial establishment as driven by envy of its wealth or far-left ideologies, the truth is that people have a very simple reason to be angry — because Wall Street’s actions made tens of millions of people dramatically poorer through no fault of their own. In 2010, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank conducted studies of the effects of the global recession — caused largely by Wall Street financial instruments that were poorly regulated by government policies — and found that the recession threw 64 million people into extreme poverty:
The International Monetary Fund estimates that the global economy contracted by 0.6 per cent in 2009 and the implications of this have been severe for many. Economic growth in developing countries was only 1.7 per cent in 2009 compared with 8.1 per cent in 2007. However, if China and India are excluded, the economies of developing countries actually contracted by 1.8 per cent. The World Bank has estimated that an additional 64 million people will be living in extreme poverty on less than US$1.25 a day by the end of 2010 as a result of the global recession.
And nearly three years after the start of the global economic crisis — where taxpayers in multiple countries were called upon to save the financial industry — most of the banking elite’s top executives remain virtually untouched. There have been almost no high-profile convictions for fraud and related financial crimes, banking profits continue to soar, and unemployment not just in the U.S. but globally remains very high.
Given these facts, the question is not why more than a thousand people demonstrated on Wall Street yesterday. The question is, why aren’t even more people in the streets of the financial district in New York City?