When reading about the current state of the economy, one thing seems to hit you square in the kisser.
The financial powers that be don’t have a clue.
Really, nothing is going according to plan. The Fed forecasts regarding economic growth fall dismally short of projections; the Treasury puts a smiley face on programs to keep people in their homes, only to be swamped by a tsunami of new foreclosures.
Frankly, I’d be more impressed if Ben Bernanke and Tom Geithner formulated economic policy by grabbing a few Chinese coins and consulting the I Ching.
But, in response, you have the Occupy movement. Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland, Occupy London – and most tellingly, Occupy Foreclosures.
I think we’re now entering a new phase; one that will see a crystallization of issue-specific Occupy's. Foreclosure is already a list-topper, with many protestors organized to occupy seized properties around the country. Expect a bit of creativity in the near future and the possibility that even the mass media will not be immune. How about Occupy The Wall Street Journal? Occupy Fox News? Perhaps even Occupy PBS (always a good target for its sucking up big oil, insurance and bank contributions)?
There are those among the uber-rich who will remain in a state of denial and stay insulated behind six foot high security walls and a phalanx of guards with dogs. But while they snooze, I predict that Occupy will continue to press politicians for reform; channel the spirits of Messrs. Glass and Steagall, demanding a separation of commercial and investment banking.
Matt Taibbi in the current Rolling Stone proffers some advice to protestors: "Hit bankers where it hurts," from taxes on trades of derivatives to eliminating the carried-interest tax breaks for hedge funds. These are all things that have been floating around for some time, and, needless to say, the megabankers and their lobbyists have fought them tooth and nail.
But let’s just say for a minute that those of good will in the financial world (ie: readers of American Banker), kick off their shoes, relax, drift off into a world where all of Paul Volcker's regulatory pronouncements are embraced and where economist James Tobin’s suggestions for a currency transaction tax have been implemented. Would that be so bad? Could it be that Taibbi is right in his assertion that all this would "generate enough revenue to pay us back for the bailouts … [and] still have enough to fight the deficits?"
What Occupy has to understand (in my opinion) is that the financial community is not monolithic, composed of a bunch of Wall Street Louis XVI’s, willing only to throw bits of cake to a rabble clamoring for revolution. For every senior Chase or Goldman exec, there are thousands of non-mega-bankers willing to work with communities. (Many of those communities are hosting their own Occupy movements.) I’d submit that this key segment of the banking community organize itself into an Occupy movement of sorts, and begin to agitate for an acceptance of some of the aforementioned reforms. Simultaneously, reach out to the now established Occupy movement; create space for forums to bring opposing sides together to discuss critical issues.
There might, no doubt, provoke spirited discussion (think New England town meetings); broadcast proceedings via public access, or better, the local PBS station. Start a dialogue because, in the end, the 'big reveal' might reveal that there’s more that binds these apparently opposing sides than separates them.
Joel Sucher, a filmmaker with Pacific St. Films in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. is working on "Foreclosure Diaries," a documentary about the financial crisis.