Occupy Wall Street: Campaign or Movement?
Preface: Wednesday November 2nd the new South Park episode 1% featured Cartman, the 1%, against the 99%, the rest of his school mates, who conspired and stole Cartman’s most prized possession, Clyde Frog. Aside from the politically incorrect views and vulgar satire, the episode covers nearly all the nuances surrounding the on going Occupy Wall Street protests happening across the United States.
The most prized possession of Wall Street firms, proprietary trading, is currently under fire along with over-leveraging with high risk derivatives; however it will be impossible to take away all the in-house trading because of the need to provide liquidity to clients and complete removal of leverage from the system exposes financial institutions to greater systematic risk. The complexities of Wall Street create a vail of secrecy and it appears the Wall Street protestors want greater oversight and more frugality practiced behind closed doors like at the big bank board room table illustrated in the film Inside Job. Attempting to define the past events and current protests of Occupy Wall Street movement through the perspective of Richard Rorty helps to explain the harsh realities of development in our advanced capitalist society and the need for more pointed campaigns to focus efforts towards collective participation in conversations regarding change.
According to Rorty, defining “the troubles of the early decades of our century” as ‘”the crisis of modern society”‘ is ludicrous (Rorty, Campaigns and Movements). Ludicris could even serve as the Anti-Occupy Wall Street campaign with the slogan “Why you all in my ear?! Talkin a whole bunch of shit I ain’t trying to hear. Get back, get back you don’t know me like that” because the 99% of the country not involved with Wall Street most likely lacks the understandings necessary to make competent decisions regarding the financial future of our country. Although, it may be time for the rest of the country to put their hands in the cookie jar and make an effort to better comprehend the way money moves around the world and how wealth distribution effects even the smallest of countries. As explained by Rorty, a campaign offers a pointed target to change, while a movement seeks to incorporate a deeper understanding of a situation through the use of art, history, literature or philosophy. I believe Rorty’s views would hold today regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement or the events of the Arab Spring in that the solution to the debate of equality is only realistic in theory. No matter what issues are addressed within the realm of equality there will always be dissenters among the crowd who feel under recognized and feel the need for more campaigns. Attempting to define the chase of the infinite through language that is constantly changing only serves to muddle the circumstances of current issues because it is easy to get lost in the etherial existential ethos of a movement. Rorty hypothesized of a time when all humans accepted the current events and language as fluidly evolving concept only to be defined by the conversational collective understanding; rather than humans trying to examine a greater theme of “late capitalism” or “post modernism.” Accepting the situation as is assists in looking for “redescriptions of current events that make a difference to our ideas of what is to be done here and now… as opposed to redescriptions that suggest that it is time to get off the bandwagon of one movement and shift over to that of another” (Rorty, Campaigns and Movements).
Within the Occupy Wall Street movement exists several campaigns targeting specific problems to solve short term problems in chasing after the elusive settlement, equality. The authors of the self- proclaimed “Manifesto Committee…lay out numerous pie-in-the-sky demands, among them: Ending the war on drugs, enforcing minimum wage for members of Congress, and reinstating the stock transfer tax.” These campaigns are targeting specific issues, many of which have long been debated among politicians, and because of the tenacity of Wall Street protestors will now receive more attention. Although, it should be noted the self- proclamation of the Manifesto Committee as representative of a greater whole calls for doubts about the real issues surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement. Which campaigns are the most pertinent and how will the solutions to the these campaigns give the illusion of equality? Answering this question would serve to frame the demands as several campaigns, which are much easier to address on a pass fail basis rather than attempt to examine the current situation through the lens of equality for all. Rorty argues: “Membership in a movement requires the ability to see particular campaigns for particular goals as parts of something much bigger, and as having little significance in themselves. This bigger thing is the course of human events described as a process of maturation.” (Rorty, Campaigns and Movements). Campaigns can “stand on their own feet” because they address specific demands, so my recommendation to the occupiers of Wall Street would be to organize the park like a grid based on campaign topics. Although rudimentary, this tactic may serve to focus the discussions taking place and allow the leaders of specific campaigns to make strides towards change instead of becoming a number in a series of demands as a part of larger Wall Street equality movement.
The specific campaign to remove proprietary trading within large institutions is well intentioned because of the potential conflicts of interest that may occur when firm positions and firm health outweigh the fiduciary duty to handle OPM, but proprietary trading is nearly impossible to define; therefore, institutional trading will never go away even with the creation of the Volcker Rule. Even in the case of credit default swaps, institutional traders may take positions early simply in speculation of future demand from clients for structured products as hedging devices. To solve the problem of conflicts of interest within institutions more chinese walls must be created to limit the range of responsibilities of specific groups, but as the chinese walls create more separation of powers what are the consequences? This issue of consequences is something the Wall Street protestors need to comprehend. Maybe the occupiers do fully understand the breadth of the situation, but unbeknownst to many, Wall Street provides the market liquidity for our country to function on a day to day basis. Wall Street is a vast behemoth with several caveats, which each require solutions from the hand of a surgeon. The Volcker Rule resulted from a specific campaign, focused pursuit to protect the investors from firms that may be presented with conflicts of interests in their fiduciary responsibilities. Rorty would argue for more of these campaigns instead of the larger more popular Occupy Wall Street. According to Rorty, “the evolution of Western society has been and will continue to be, as jerky, hit-or-miss, and unpredictable as was the evolution of the primates.” The jagged development of our advanced society will be the result of action, rather than open ended protests with no real definition.
Regarding the consequences of the Occupy Wall Street movement: we could very soon find ourselves in, according the recent SouthPark episode, “full on class warfare.” The scene portraying this class struggle proposes the 83% not participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement will protest the protestors, representing 16%, who are protesting the 1%. Other outcomes involve years of new policies and regulations to standardize the practices of Wall Street to better protect the smaller individual investors. the complete dissolution of the occupiers when the core group of protestors realize the depth of understanding required to make proposals to government officials, or (my favorite) the attempt at the creation of the perfect system like in the movie Tron, which invokes the themes of generational change and acceptance of reality. Rorty would agree that acceptance of circumstance is the only way to truly move forward in this world of bumpy, sometimes unpleasant change. I guess I should purchase a better seat belt.