Last updated on July 24, 2020
Why Occupy Wall Street Failed
In the fall of 2011 I spent a lot of time in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, which was Occupy Wall Street’s base in New York City.
I would go down there after work to take pictures, chat with people, eavesdrop, and just walk around.
It was interesting because I identified with the protesters. Just a few years prior, I was bumming around South America spending my days smoking weed in parks, selling jewelry and bashing capitalism.
In other words, I was an idiot.
But that was my life before Atlas Shrugged.
Reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged screwed my head on right and allowed me to see the protesters in Zuccotti Park for what they were: confused.
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What Was Occupy Wall Street?
Occupy Wall Street was the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis.
People across the country were suffering from losing their jobs, homes and retirement savings.
The protesters were enraged with the bankers, who they felt caused the crisis. Why did the bankers not lose their jobs, or their homes? And why did the bankers get billions of our dollars in bailout money?
Where was the money for the people?
This was the logic used to blame the following groups of people for the 2008 crisis in America:
- Anyone with money (especially the 1%)
- Bank CEO’s
- Corporate executives
I took pictures of their signs that said things like this:
Chase! Give Us Our Money Back. $92.7 Billion!
A Job Is a Right! Capitalism Doesn’t Work!
1,000,000,000,000 in Student Loan Debt, Big Banks Stole Our Future!!
Wall Street Stole My Retirement Fund!
The protesters were right to be angry but they were wrong about who to blame.
What I like about Atlas Shrugged is it clarifies the blurry lines between government / media / society / business.
In other words, why would the bankers refuse free bailout money from the government? Is it even wrong of them to ask? Why is it their fault that they were rewarded for bad behavior instead of punished?
Not one banker or Wall Street executive went to jail in the aftermath of 2008.
Once you see through the bullshit of any social or economic issue, you see that the government is always to blame. Think about it. If mortgage brokers were forcing people to take out mortgages they couldn’t afford, where were the police? Why didn’t the authorities shut down this criminal operation?
If Wall Street bankers tanked your retirement account, why did the government bail them out and not you?
The government works for corporations, not for the people. People are mistaken that we exercise capitalism in America, but it’s actually corporatism. The financial services industry played a major role in causing the crisis, but it was the politicians who turned the blind eye.
There will always be immoral humans. We created a government to regulate the system in which these folks get caught.
But unfortunately for us, the US Government is complicit and the public overlooks it.
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Why Occupy Wall Street Failed
If Occupy Wall Street had focused on the lack of regulation that led to the financial crisis, the lack of accountability among regulators, the nonexistent criminal charges and the billions of taxpayer dollars used in bailouts, the movement could have been relevant.
Did you know the housing crisis was the result of a government policy called the Community Reinvestment Act?
The policy, which gained popularity in the 1990’s, requires banks to lend to risky borrowers. To pursued banks to do this, the government guaranteed all conforming mortgages issued to low credit Americans. Meaning, banks knowingly and repeatedly sold mortgages to customers who couldn’t afford them because the government mandated it and guaranteed the mortgages so the bank wouldn’t lose money.
Is anyone surprised this end in disaster?
The Community Reinvestment Act was meant to gentrify neighborhoods and support diversity. But regardless of intentions, government policy and bureaucracy always fail.
If only Occupy Wall Street had used its voice to highlight this specific pattern of behavior — America might be better off since 2008, instead of worse.
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Occupy Wall Street Failed to be Relevant
Since Occupy never grasped that government should be as limited as possible, the group lost momentum. They got confused on who to blame and couldn’t hold intelligent conversations with reporters. The fight went from student loans to criminal justice reform to climate change.
The public lost interest and ended up right back where it was:
They said Wall Street stole their retirement funds. Is that what happened, though? Or is it that most Americans shouldn’t be investing in the stock market in the first place? The average American has no clue how the stock market works, what impacts it, which companies they’re supporting or who the arrangement benefits. They invest in the stock market for retirement because someone told them to. Who benefits?
1) Wall Street (fees)
2) Public companies
Despite all the crying about Wall Street in 2008, Americans are aggressively investing in the stock market, through retirement accounts, with every paycheck.
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Occupy Wall Street was the first to pitch the idea of cancelling all student loan debt. To me, this suggested the protesters saw through the bullshit and young people going forward wouldn’t take on debt just because they were told “a college degree makes you successful.” But nope. Student loan origination has skyrocketed since 2008 and young people are more imprisoned than ever before. In 2009, President Obama cut the banks out altogether so the Fed could lend directly to the students, which resulted in colleges raising their tuition. Few people realize this and look at the government for “help” with the student loan crisis. *Sigh*
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The issue in 2008 was that people who couldn’t afford homes took out mortgages they couldn’t pay back. Have we learned our lesson? The Federal Reserve keeps interest rates low so that the public will use debt to buy homes, cars, etc. Given that interest rates have been kept low since 2009 and mortgage brokers are fast to sell you a 30-year mortgage to “take advantage” of the low rates, the answer is no — we have not learned our lesson. There’s nothing wrong with mortgages or owning a home, but a close examination of the only-in-America 30-year mortgage should cause one to pause.
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It’s remarkable how little has changed in all these years since Occupy Wall Street. The movement never connected the dots that government is the problem and so as a society, we are leaning on government more than ever.
We are fooled into assuming the next administration, the next party, this candidate or that candidate, will save us from our troubles.
As long as there’s government, the troubles will keep coming.
Occupy Wall Street and the 99%
The stickiest slogan to come out of Occupy Wall Street is WE ARE THE 99%
In the aftermath of 2008, it was evident that the government wouldn’t let the rich suffer. Ever. Our politicians, which are elected to protect and represent the people, trade money and power for more power and money, further widening America’s wealth disparity.
Have I convinced you yet that government is best when its limited?
Why do Occupy Wall Street protesters vote for bigger government, i.e. democrat? How do they come to that conclusion after sleeping in tents and yelling about rich people? Who do they think protects the rich?
If the government hadn’t bailed out the banks, the 1% would have suffered.
The CEO’s job is to extract profits, period. The government’s job is to make sure he/ she does so legally.
We are the 99% is catchy but extrapolation of
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If you had talked to me about the 2008 Financial Crisis before I read Atlas Shrugged, I would have complained how evil the mortgage lenders behaved. But everyone has the capacity to be evil, which is why have a system in place to catch bad actors (laws, computer system, HR, school policy, etc.).
In the early 2000’s, slimy mortgage brokers sat in the kitchens of illiterate, poor families and convinced them to sign on the dotted line for a brand new $500k home.
The system that should have caught this behavior is called the government. Don’t forget that the government buys the loans from the bankers and it is the government’s responsibly to underwrite the loan and determine its quality.
But the government didn’t review the loans because it had ulterior motives (increase diversity) that it decided were more important than protecting the lives of its constituents.
Occupy Wall Street missed the chance to call out the colossal failure of government in the 2008 Financial Crisis.
And that’s why the movement failed.