Posted by: Kristen Hicks | October 18, 2011

The War Against Wall Street


The title of this post is a considerable misnomer. There’s no war against wall street. There are a lot of people angry at wall street, a lot of people who talk about their dislike of the institution and its role in the economy and even some people who have recently taken to the streets to voice via protest what almost all of us as a nation feel–but there is absolutely nothing resembling a war against wall street.

I’m afraid I lost faith in the power of protest after seeing so many images of huge numbers of people angry and protesting the Iraq War without any real influence on policy. It seems one of the great tools of democratic expression has ceased to make much of an impact unless you have a major news network behind it, a la Fox News and the tea party protests. The key to an effective protest is now a massive metaphorical microphone with lots of money behind it. The real key to power in our political system is, sadly, money.

I don’t think I’m being especially radical in voicing this. Democrats and Republicans alike are well funded by the very powers whose greed fueled the recession currently causing great distress and difficulty for many people worldwide. Per the New York Times: “Neither Democratic nor Republican candidates can win without the support of the wealthiest 1 percent.” The consequences for those powers has been less than minimal, its been pretty much nonexistent. They made their money back and paid off those non-interest loans we made and went right back to their bonuses and sketchy trading practices that are likely to ensure continued inequality and economic uncertainty for the majority of us.

For all the talk of anger about the national deficit, largely fueled by the tea party movement, I’ve often thought of how I was more interested in what the numbers were for the debt of individuals in the country. It matters little to me if the country’s books are balanced (as they last were under Clinton), if doing so happens on the backs of citizens who have to take out greater personal debt because of the lost benefits and services from governmental budget cuts.

I’m one of the many people in our 20’s and 30’s saddled by student debt. Yes, I chose to go to an expensive college and well understood that a loan was something I’d have to pay back. What I didn’t fully understand at the time, was how high the interest would be. For the record, when I started paying my loans off, the interest on my debt was roughly equivalent to the principal. The government subsidized entity I was making my payments to, Sallie Mae, was making approximately 100% profit off the aid they gave me to get an education.

The growing movement of those calling for the government to forgive student debt only sound radical until you remember how quick the government was to take care of the debt of the banks in spite of their many sins. The sins of past college students don’t go much beyond wanting to be better educated and not understanding the intricacies of debt and interest at the age of 18. For homeowners who took out a mortgage, only to see the value of their houses drop considerably due to the errors of others, the only sin was believing the many voices who heralded the great value and stability of owning a home (while many of those same voices were betting against the same all along).

For a surprising amount of time, the growing inequality between the top 1% and the rest of us has been drowned out by the louder, though arguably lesser in number, voices of those blaming the government for the country’s economic problems. The government is far from innocent in the nation’s current woes, but they aren’t the first and primary source of the problem. Their main sin has been prioritizing the guilty over average Americans for the sake of convenience and easy funding. They deserve our ire for this, but not to the same degree as the true power brokers they’re appeasing.

In spite of the all the anger, there’s no real war on wall street and there won’t be one until/unless the country finds some system to practice democracy in which individuals of all classes truly to practice some degree of equality in our influence on the government. As of right now, we’re not really living in a democracy, it’s been taken over by the most extreme form of capitalism.

Now, for some simplistic and keen observations on the subject, here’s Lemony Snicket’s take.

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