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Occupy Wall Street Protests: Money is Power

This article was written by in Economy. 44 comments.


As every fourth graders knows, the United States Constitution begins, “We the people…” In the years following adoption of the Constitution, there have been movements to include more classes or types of human beings into that “people” represented by the federal government. The basic rights guaranteed by the core philosophy of the government once applied to a narrow definition of people, but as education levels across all demographics have risen among all socioeconomic subcultures, more people demand to have a voice, or feel that they are represented, in federal government.

The government has always listened most closely to those with money, and as money spread to groups other than white men with a certain heritage, more people gained access to representation. The framers of the Constitution may feel like they represented all colonists in the United States (but certainly not the displaced natives), but they were wealthier and more educated than the rest of their communities. As overall wealth and education increased, rights were extended to black Americans and women, but only when pressured by grassroots initiatives; never have the wealthy in power made any move to share that power unless pressured — significantly pressured, over a long period of time.

Today, the wealthiest still wield the most power in government. While corporations, as of yet, cannot run for office, those who run the corporations can direct profits to initiatives that ensure their interests are well-represented at the expense of just about everyone else in the country, including the middle class. Just like the threat of a terrorist attack (or previously, the Cold War) is used as a reason to increase defense spending for the benefit of corporations connected to the military, the threat of an economic collapse is used to help persuade the public that corporations deserve every break they can get. These threats may very well be real, but the result is that what matters most to policy makers are the concerns of a small, wealthy group of Americans.

Occupy Wall Street ProtestYou may not agree with any of the above. I don’t intend to take a political approach to anything on Consumerism Commentary, but this is the context that is needed to understand what is going on with the Occupy Wall Street protests which, while they have spread beyond New York, are relatively under-reported or ignored by the press.

The reason for the under-reporting, according to the protesters, is that the media, even the more liberal news media in New York like WNYC and National Public Radio, is financially supported by Wall Street firms. They claim that both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have the same corporations pulling the strings.

If there’s anything that can be learned from the Tea Party’s slow ascent from counterculture to the mainstream, it’s that the media won’t grant much attention to a movement until it reaches a critical mass and takes an extreme position. If the Occupy Wall Street movement wants more people to be aware of the issue that only the rich are represented by government, they will need to push the issue much harder, find ways to get on television, and convince the public that they are much more than lone groups of harmless rebels with cardboard signs. The Tea Party protesters weren’t taken seriously at first, either, but they transformed their scattered movements into relative cohesion after they managed to gain more publicity through actions and voices that could simply not be ignored any longer.

It has never been a secret that money buys political power. I don’t see any way for that to change, even if Occupy Wall Street successfully increases awareness of the issue throughout the country. Regardless, the protests will need to crescendo in order to get anyone outside the movement to pay attention for more than a minute.

Should government represent all citizens equally regardless of financial condition? Does focusing representation on the wealthy “trickle down” (an economic policy championed by a Republican) to lower classes by virtue of boosting the economy through the “rising tide” analogy (which is attributed to a Democrat)? Is there any difference in the economic ideologies between today’s Democrats and Republicans when they are all funded by major corporations?

Photo: david_shankbone

Updated October 15, 2011 and originally published October 4, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Bryan J Busch ♦452 (Nickel)

I think the Occupy Wall St. protest is going to amount to something, if only because they aren’t leaving. A protest that lasts only a few hours is easily forgotten.

I’m hoping that they can all decide why they’re there, and what specifically they want to see changed.

From what I can tell, it’s mostly about removing corporate money from elections, which I think would be great. A corporation doesn’t have a brain, so it can’t have an opinion, so it can’t decide who it wants to be elected.

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avatar Jared

The fact that this blog is being written about the protests means that they are gaining publicity.

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avatar The Biz of Life

Crony Capitalism is practiced very efficiently by both parties. The media publicizes it more under one party than the other (you can figure which party), but the more money the government has to spend the more its friends and family members are awarded. I have no clue what the Occupy Wall Street protests are about. They seem like a very confused bunch of individuals….. a mash-up of socialist, Marxists, and greenies who want more of the nation’s wealth for themselves….. but let me stop here…… I’ve already given them more press than they deserve.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,373 (Platinum)

The protests seem to be about increasing representation within government to cover everyone, not just the “1%” wealthiest Americans. It’s not new, it’s not novel, and it’s quite possible many of the protesters aren’t sure what they’re protesting and are just along for the ride. Regardless, they certainly haven’t been able to get the overall point across through media… but the mainstream media, like usual, are asking the wrong people (just like they did with the early Tea Party protests).

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avatar Bob

I have been hearing more about them now that they are moving to other cities. I cannot for the life of me find anything that says what they want to happen, it seems like it is just a protest to protest. Honestly, I think they lost a lot of credibility when they had people dress up like zombies. That just makes them look like bored hipsters.

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avatar Maggie@SquarePennies

The costumes put off many people, I’m sure. But costumes often get more publicity. In Europe they have the Pirate Party now–Germany I think. They dressed like pirates & demonstrated against the moneyed elite controlling things too much. Most people thought they were just a joke, but now they have succeeded in getting some people elected to the legislature. The movement seems to be growing & politicians there have had to work with them.

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avatar Ceecee ♦796 (Dime)

Very interesting post, Flexo. In some ways, I think the protest is about anger. No one in politics seems to be willing to compromise and do what is needed to best help the people. A lot of people are suffering and the pols won’t budge. Hence…..anger. Why should the pols hurry….they’ll have cushy packages for life after a few years in office. I don’t know if the protest will get them off their butts, but I am glad to see that people in this country still have backbones.

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avatar Hazzard

This is a great post Flexo! I think you did a fair job representing what Occupy Wall Street is about. There is also an online movement called the 99 Percent at: http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/. I put up a link to it on my blog but also posted the direct link here in the comments. This isn’t my site but it’s starting to get coverage in the media. I’ve seen it mentioned on Business Insider today as well as Buzzfeed. It’s very interesting, and actually kind of depressing to read some of the stories. The site seems like a more direct approach and less scattered than the protesting going on in New York, although I believe they are both relevant.

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avatar SteveDH

NASCAR does it right. We need to get our Senators and Representatives to where the logos of their 10 most generous contributors on their pin-striped suits – then we’ll all know who we’re talking to. Personally I don’t even know what “about increasing representation within government to cover everyone, not just the “1%” wealthiest Americans” means, much less how to accomplish it. My representatives weren’t elected by 1% of the voters here in Missouri and what they do it Congress is closely watched.

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avatar SteveDH

darn spell check “wear the logos…

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avatar NB

Love this idea! Make the elected officials wear the logo’s of their biggest contributors, awesome!

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avatar Investor Junkie

The reason why this isn’t being covered much by the main stream media because no one knows what’s the purpose of this proest? If you watch many of the videos you get people answering, things likely “corporations are greedy”, “wall street bankers should be all jailed”.

All of this is just silly. Yes there are corrupt people within wall street and business, but most aren’t and to be lumped within that group is repulsive. To me, but I assume most hard working individuals. If anything these protesters are the real leaches.

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avatar Maggie@SquarePennies

From what I’ve heard on tv, many of the protestors are unemployed. Perhaps that is part of why they are protesting. If unemployment rises, I’m sure we’ll see more protests about it.

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avatar Bob

Dear Investor Junkie,
You just will not shut up. People got what you were saying the first post.
Since you are an Investor Junkie how do you like losing money on your investments everytime the tea party congressmen refuse to compromise and try to get this country back on track.
I don’t know about you, but my investment lost several thousand dollars because of them goofing around trying to prove their point instead of what was best for the majority that elected them.

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avatar Investor Junkie

Bob,

Losing money because of a tea party? Sounds like you’ve been listening too much to the Democratic talking points. They were elected to do EXACTLY what they did, they held their ground, and held their honor. Something that’s a rarity in Congress. Whether you liked it or not, their viewpoint is another issue.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

Wall St IS the height of greed and corruption. Anyone working there is well aware of it. That’s why they work there -to get a piece of the greed pie.

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avatar Kevin @ Thousandaire.com

If you ask five different people why they are there, you’re going to get five different answers. There’s no leadership, and there’s no cause aside from “rich people suck”.

This is just a bunch of young people who don’t have jobs because they majored in art history or musical theater, and now they are pissed at the world because they don’t think it’s their own fault that they are unemployed.

If they had a legitimate cause, then it might deserve some attention. A bunch of people whining about being unemployed and being envious of hard working, successful people is not newsworthy; it’s pathetic.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,373 (Platinum)

That generalization is akin to the early Tea Party generalization that said that group consisted primarily of racist rednecks… at a time when the Tea Party also had no direction and no leader. I think it will take some time for the dust to settle, and if the movement keeps it together, things will be more clear (if the article I wrote wasn’t clear enough) down the road.

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avatar Investor Junkie

Flexo I donno about that. I remember the Tea Party in it’s early stages and it was always about the government is too big and how can it be decreased. Much more organized. All I hear from this group is lets sit around and discuss the ideas.

This movement seems to be after the boogieman the “rich” and “evil” corporations, while they send this out on their iPhones, Mac Powerbooks to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

All capitalist inventions, that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for capitalism. People are comparing this movement to the Arab Spring, yet the that was from oppression of freedom and capitalism. This is oppression from too much freedom and capitalism?

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avatar Maggie@SquarePennies

I was under the impression that the Tea Party was organized by the Republican Party. It was set up quickly after Rick Santelli on CNBC gave his rant on the NYSE floor with a tea bag. Seemed planned to me. What did the Tea Party want? Less government rules and regulations. Gee, I wonder who that benefits? Seems like the Wall Street protest is the opposite of the Tea Party.

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avatar Investor Junkie

Maggie, if anything the tea party is against the current Republican viewpoints also. If you remember in August it was asked for the Tea party members to comply to the rest of the Republicans. The tea party members held their ground.

Less government rules equals more freedom, not less. Everyone benefits from good regulations, not from complicated overbearing regulations. So I’m guessing the Wall Street protest is for less freedom? But again we don’t know what they want, they are just stating bankers are evil, rich people are evil, and companies are evil. Are they against capitalism? Sure seems like it.

If anything we’ve had more regulations in the past 10 years that caused the banking mess.

It’s an angry mob pissed off because they are out of work, yet more than likely will be voting for Obama again. Never mind the fact that Obama has had numerous $35k plate lunches with Wall Street and completely in bed with them.

avatar Elad

Great post. I think that there’s definitely a point to what you’re saying, but I think it’s also important to realize this isn’t just about being extreme. These movements have power because they speak to discontent that already exists within the general population. Look at the comments on the New York Times, and you’ll see that people actually love this movement, not for any real reason besides the fact that they’re also pissed off.

I think that this is why more and more people are turning to services like Craigslist and the company I work for, Swifto, (yes, shameless self promotion, hope this doesn’t count as spam) and are feeling more “Consumerist” and more distant from the big corporations. The world is changing, and these protests are just a reflection of that.

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avatar Investor Junkie

@Elad: Great people are pissed off. It should have direction and this protest doesn’t have that. It’s just an angry mob, pissed off at 1% of the population because they are all “evil”.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

Agree totally. Well said.

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avatar D. Brinson

This reminds me so much of the “protest” that was held against the first Gulf War when I was in college. A bunch of students basically took over a meadow and declared they weren’t leaving until the US got out of Kuwait. They put up tents, skipped classes, and sang songs – and had a good time. I tried talking to a few – and soon discovered that they didn’t have a clue on what was actually going on. And they didn’t really care – they just wanted to protest something like their parents had. Apparently all the protest stories made it sound really cool. But they were all running around with cameras – because they wanted to make sure they had pictures of their protest. The protest didn’t last very long – the committed protesters who weren’t going to leave – left because it was starting to get chilly at night.

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avatar Xerographica

The concept of money equaling power is an interesting one. A while back, as an intellectual exercise, I considered what would happen if taxpayers could directly allocate their taxes among the various government organizations at anytime throughout the year.

It would be hard to say that any public good would be under/over funded because the supply of public goods would meet the demand for public goods. Additionally, forcing taxpayers to consider the opportunity costs of their taxes would reveal just how much they valued the various public goods.

So how great would the disparity be between the current allocation and the hypothetical allocation?

We know that the the top 1% of taxpayers pay for 40% of the total taxes…so the bottom 99% of taxpayers pay for 60% of the total taxes. The top 1% would certainly have greater individual power but the tricky part is that public goods are non-excludable. There’s no way that the top 1% could allocate their taxes to their sole advantage.

The self-regulating nature of this public market would allow the long tail (bottom 99%) to respond to the allocation decisions of the top 1%. As far as I can tell…this hypothetical allocation would be incredibly more optimal than the current allocation…so I stuck it with an unwieldy label…pragmatarianism.

Here are some more of my thoughts on money and power… http://pragmatarianism.blogspot.com/2010/11/power-and-control.html

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avatar Tom Dziubek

So do these people have any cohesive agenda outside of being annoying and maybe getting arrested thus getting more publicity? As far as I can see, it’s just more whining about Wall Street. The stimulus plan which was supposed to avoid 9% unemployment didn’t work and neither did their attempt to further tax the wealthy during the debt ceiling issue. So now people on the left are doing what comes naturally to them…public protesting.

But what plans do they have? Do they really plan on shutting the NYSE down? If so, what are their plans to replace it or modify it? Without some sort of cohesive agenda this comes across as an attack on capitalism. And, frankly, the push for wealth redistribution reeks of socialism.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,373 (Platinum)

Here are their plans: Link and link

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avatar Investor Junkie

Flexo, most of the protest is about “1%” paying their fair share. Ironic part of this list is you don’t see any references to issues related to the government being the part cause of some of said issues.

Some comments from this list.

#3 I agree with

#4 What’s “fair”? That is always up there with being “greedy”. It should be also fair the people that pay no taxes have some sort of stake in the game. Otherwise they vote themselves more “free” stuff.

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avatar Tom Dziubek

When you have something that opens with “PROPOSED LIST OF DEMANDS (please help edit/add so this can be submitted for consideration to those maintaining the official list)”, you don’t have a cohesive plan. You have a brainstorming session where ideas are being bandied about.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,373 (Platinum)

That’s often the nature of a grassroots effort. The protesters may not be doing themselves favors at this point, but once leaders emerge, you’ll probably find a more directed plan.

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avatar Bryan J Busch ♦452 (Nickel)

It is driving the onlookers a little crazy that there’s confusion and conflict among the protestors. But I think I prefer that to a protest which is sponsored by billionaires.

I’ll be sending them some pizza today.

avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

Absolutely!

avatar Investor Junkie
avatar Luke Landes ♦127,373 (Platinum)

Well, that’s the thing about forums — anyone can post anything they like, and if it shows up in Google, it can be mistaken for something “official.” I agree that that list is a bit far-fetched.

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avatar UH2L

We need lobbyists for voters since the people we elect are bought by corporations and other interest groups.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

A great idea. How would we pay for them?

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avatar wylerassociate ♦906 (Dime)

until corporate lobbyists no longer run congress, nothing will ever change. It’s a sad but true fact.

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

I have been saying this for 2 years. Herein lies the heart of the issues.

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avatar tigernicole86 ♦55 (Newbie)

The collection of people with the occupy wall st movement is quite varied and the demands are scattered to be sure, but one thing is for certain: this generation is angry. There is no one answer for the myriad of problems that plague the financial system and the government but this may start something to get those problems addressed.

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avatar shellye ♦107 (Cent)

Great article and comments. Very lively discussion. There is a protest scheduled for today in front of the Dallas Fed Reserve. Even after reading all these comments and the original article, and watching footage on the news, I have no idea what these people are trying to accomplish. Are they protesting the bonuses handed out on Wall St? Are they protesting our tax code that allows Warren Buffet to pay less tax than his admin. asst.? Are they just looking for something to do because they don’t have a job? It all looks a little disorganized and silly.

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avatar John

I think the rallying point should around financial equality, in the same vein that Warren Buffet spoke about in his recent op-ed piece about stopping the coddling of the super rich. I think leveling the playing field between the classes through tax policy reform is one concrete thing the protesters could get behind. I wrote some more about this on my site.

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avatar Investor Junkie

I had to visit NYC this eve and checked out this protest. All I saw was a bunch of mostly hippies with stupid and unrealistic signs ie “Sally Mae should forgive all student debt”. While I think it’s fine they are protesting, I still don’t get the point of it and what’s the end game?

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avatar qixx ♦1,816 (Half-Dollar)

Before this post and from the bits i’ve seen on the news i thought the movement was anti big bank. Perhaps even anti wall street/stock market.

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