Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
The Wall Street Take on Occupy Wall Street
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Josh Brown, financial advisor and man behind the popular Reformed Broker blog, and Henry Blodget, editor in chief and CEO of Business Insider, discussed whether the conversation at Occupy Wall Street is affecting the conversation on Wall Street itself.
Anger at Wall Street, from without and within?
Could some people who work on Wall Street be as angry at the financial industry as the people occupying Wall Street? After all, it's not like everybody employed by a big bank or investment firm contributed to the 2008 meltdown, then proceeded to take home six-figure bonuses post-bailout. A lot of them got fired.
And what of those lower-level employees, perhaps unfairly lumped in with their bosses as the object of populist rage? Won't someone please think of the quantitative analysts? Or ask them to join the very protests against their employers?
Josh Brown said it was possible.
Major banks are laying off tens of thousands of people...There is some sense that the rage is going to come from within, not from without.
But defining exactly who the protesters are angry with is as important for their long-term agenda as defining exactly what they want.
No primal scream is going to turn into anything that actually affects policy, so at a certain point the grown-ups, whether from within the movement or from politicians who want to glom on to it, someone's going to have to lay out...some sort of aim they want to achieve.
Business as usual
Brian Lehrer invited workers in the financial industry to call in and answer the criticisms from the movement. Most of the arguments were familiar: Not everyone who works on Wall Street was responsible for the collapse; the mortgage crisis was the product of social engineering at the federal level; not every bank or investment firm is "too big to fail".
But Josh Brown said those rebuttals missed the point of why protesters were angry. It's not so much about the root causes of the disaster as much as it is about the aftermath.
They see that almost no one was fired, the rules have barely changed, and they see that from the outside looking in, it's almost back to business as usual. The restaurants are packed, luxury retailers are packed, and that big difference in their lives has not been reflected in the lives of what they view as the bankers who got off scot-free.
Henry Blodget echoed Brown's point.
I think that is the hardest thing to explain to mainstream America: Yes, the banks played a huge role in getting us to the edge of the precipice, but we had no choice but to preserve the status quo.
Heading into another crisis
Protesters find a great deal of fault with the organization of the financial system in the lead-up to the crisis, the government's response, and the way profits and bonuses returned to form so quickly. But this is all old news. The greater concern is that history might be repeating itself.
Yesterday, October 3rd, the S&P 500 closed at exactly the same level it closed on October 3rd, 2008—three years ago to the day, and smack dab in the middle of the collapse. Henry Blodget said we were heading right back into a crisis with the banks, and the timing couldn't be worse.
This is happening at the exact time that the Main Street rage against the bailouts is resulting in protests...The government is in a real pickle here, if the bank stocks continue to collapse, about what they can do. If the idea were floated that there were going to be another bailout, you would have 50 million Americans march on Washington with torches and pitchforks.