Occupy Wall Street: A Return to the Past?

FYI, this post is from a student in 307, not me. 

The “Occupy Wall Street” movement continues to gain momentum, yet its message remains unclear to the general public.  Are the demonstrators railing against the growing gap in income, the practices of the investment banks, or the struggling economy?  Perhaps all three (and many more) reasons are true.

I argue it is a single decision by the Federal Government during the 2008 economic crisis that brought these issues to the forefront.  The Federal Government created a program called TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) in 2008 to assist in the recovery of the U.S. economy.  TARP allowed the Federal government to buy up troubled or “toxic” assets like CDO’s (collateralized debt obligations).  The Federal Government claimed the program was essential to prevent a global economic disaster.  While that may be true, a key consequence of TARP is that the Federal Government designated certain citizens “too big to fail”.

Millions of Americans suffered from the economic crisis.  They’ve lost their jobs, homes, and pensions, and the blame can be placed on a variety of groups (including themselves).  Yet the Federal Government decided only a specific group of citizens were worthy of a Federal bailout.  Since TARP, the Wall Street banks have returned to business as usual, swallowing up the failed institutions and creating a larger and more powerful financial sector.

This brings me to my main point: the Federal Government has, in effect, protected the “earning” of a certain group of citizens, as described in Shklar’s book “American Citizenship”. Shklar outlines the two key ways in which Americans become citizens: through voting and earning.  While the 99% that the Occupy Wall Street movement claim they represent still have the ability to earn, they do not have the guaranteed Federal protection that the Wall Street Bankers enjoy.

Further, the Federal Government is now protecting a class of citizens that, not so long ago, we as a group held in contempt.  The Federal Government has essentially created a new aristocracy, one which previous generations sought to avoid.  Shklar claims we previously ridiculed the European aristocracy, one which owed their wealth to a “governmental grant” and enjoyed “unearned advantages”.  But are those same ideas not applicable to today’s financial sector?

On page 66 of “American Citizenship” Shklar mentions a moment in American history that I find relevant today.  She describes:

“From the first, Americans feared conspiratorial aristocratic and monarchical cabals.  And to these, fear of Jacobins and other European revolutionary ideologies were soon added.  In the Jacksonian period apprehension of a new aristocracy of monopolists, and especially the men who ran the Bank of the United States, flared up with exceptional vigor.  The campaign against the Bank and the long struggle for universal white manhood suffrage aroused enormous resentments, but they also forged an ideology of work that has not lost its preeminence.”

Shklar further describes the beliefs of a Jacksonian radical:

“Only the President can act as the tribune of the people and protect them against the predatory assaults of the money-power and the aristocracy, to whom the laboring classes are always in danger of losing “their fair influence in the government”.

Perhaps the Occupy Wall Street movement is once again campaigning against an aristocracy, and pleading with the President (and government) to alter the group they protect.

Would he protect this group?

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7 Responses to Occupy Wall Street: A Return to the Past?

  1. zacha90 says:

    He probably wouldn’t…considering there are some Native Americans in that group….

    One issue I consider in assessing the “Occupy Wall Street” crowd is through the lens of what they are because of TARP, not-voting share holders of corporations. These tax payers were forced to buy into these companies by our government because of “necessity”, yet are not allowed to sit in or vote at share holders meeting. Due to this, they are forced to protest for changes in companies that they have invested in. Occupy Wall Street represents disenfranchised shareholders demanding the CEOs of their companies act with some ethics, and they do this not through a shareholder’s agreement, but through the Constitution and their first amendment.

  2. Andrew Craft says:

    The Occupy Wall Street Movement continues to amaze me. Yes, It is constitutionally permissible and of course, historically speaking, when the American People want to see a change, they congregate and make one, but this particular movement has taken the world by storm. I just want to raise one question, what is their main objective? They seem to have no real desired outcome other than to have President Obama redistribute the wealth to those who are protesting. I agree with the blogger that there is corruption on Wall Street and that the ever-widening gap of the rich and poor is an ensuing problem, but how are we as a democratic, capitalist nation to say that individuals (CEOs of large companies) are making too much money?
    I also find the connection to Shklar very relevant, however the question arises, do the protesters feel like they are not citizens because they are not earning or do they just want the a fairer redistribution of their wealth that they had invested into these Wall Street firms? I think the movement represents those shareholders who want more say in the companies they invested in rather than a problem on a citizenship worthy level. Obviously the problems the Occupy Wall Street movement has put into question and debate need to be considered and resolved as to how the government spends money and Wall Street’s “protection” by Big Government.
    For this movement to really accomplish something worthwhile it needs structure and money handling; singular leaders need to be appointed, their donations need to be checked and how they are receiving money. It has already made a statement, but the problems are far from being resolved.

  3. Amanda Gayer says:

    This is definitely a relevant comparison – it seems that bankers on Wall Street are enjoying “unearned advantages” from the government, just as the aristocrats did in the past. All American citizens today technically have the right to earn, but Wall Street bankers essentially are guaranteed to be backed by the federal government, even if they don’t deserve it. It is certainly important that the government make an effort to keep our economy alive by helping banks. However, this does not mean that the banks should be using this money to give bankers bonuses and pay increases.

    The fact that people are now joining together and protesting the misuse of government aid money relates back to Morone’s Democratic Wish. When people are dissatisfied with the way the government is functioning, they join together to make a change. It will be interesting to see if the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are sizable enough to create any real changes in the government.

  4. davidkoz says:

    I actually believe that Andrew Jackson would aim to protect the 99% because of his opposition to the federal bank while in the Office of the Presidency. I think Jackson would empathize with the Occupy Wall Street protestors who “do not have the guaranteed Federal protection that the Wall Street Bankers enjoy” because he wanted to rescind the bank’s federal character citing that the Second Bank of the United States served mainly to make the rich richer. This assertion alone leads me to believe that Andrew Jackson would do his best to protect those demonstrators on Wall Street. He would “act as the tribune of the people and protect them against the predatory assaults of the money-power and the aristocracy…”

  5. dfox13 says:

    I’d like to disagree with Amanda.
    First off, I don’t see a lot of the advantages as “unearned advantages” as you say they are. They are paying taxes in the highest tax bracket, and they are not politicians who are actually in charge of making policies that can fix the problems that the occupy wall street protesters claim exist. Secondly, I wouldn’t equate the wall street workers as being like the aristocrats of the past. The amount of power is less now, and the power they do hold follows a completely different dynamic. Yes, all american citizens are technically allowed to earn, but many industries have large government backing. A great example is the farming industry, which has a very high amount of government support and subsidies, and it is an industry that the government will not allow to fall, just as they didn’t allow many banks to fall.

    Regarding Morone, even though people are dissatisfied, it isn’t a large enough number of people, or a group unified enough to bring about any change. The occupy wall street crowd all seems to want slightly different things, and many of them make it about their personal needs or beliefs, rather than being more of civic republicans and uniting under one goal. This movement will eventually fade, and even though people will still support some of the views of this movement, they will have to find a more effective way to bring about change.

  6. allenle2011 says:

    I believe that Andrew Jackson would support the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Jackson was strongly against a national bank. He vetoed the renewal of its charter because he did not believe that having a national back was a power that our government should have. I completely agree with Jackson. The idea that we have banks in our nation that are “too big to fail” is frightening. I know that Jackson would be terrified. We have created a group of people that seemingly having standing above the rest. They have been placed on a pedestal. People working in these companies feel as if they can do whatever they want because the government will never let them go under. Meanwhile, taxpayers have essentially been forced to put stock into these companies. All in all, I do not think Andrew Jackson would ever want the government sticking their hands into the issues of public corporations.

  7. megsavel says:

    I agree with what others have been saying that Jackson would have wanted to protect and support the Occupy Wall Street protesters. I think allenle2011 brings up an excellent point about how terrifying a concept like “too big to fail” is and would be to Jackson and others. If capitalism and the free market are going to be championed by politicians, then corporations need to succeed or fail on their own merits. If corporations are failing, it usually is a sign that they are doing something that is not good for business or at least not doing it well. If they are bailed out, then that sends the message that they can continue with those practices that got them in such a bad spot to begin with.

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