Last night, on the BBC program Business Matters, I argued that the Securities and Exchange Commission’s settlement of the insider-trading case with SAC Capital Advisors was just a slap on the wrist—a fine of $1.8 billion that still allows Steven A. Cohen to keep the bulk of his estimated $8-9 billion wealth.
But it was a necessary slap on the wrist in the sense that it was intended to restore faith in markets, not unlike the law establishing insider trading as a crime when the SEC was created back in 1934. Cleaning up financial markets then, five years into the First Great Depression, was designed to rebuild confidence not only in financial markets but in capitalism more generally.
And it worked—alongside the other programs of the first and second New Deals, and of course the recovery created by World War II.
But, I added, I’m not sure it’s enough now. Yes, the SEC is seeking to levy large fines (on Steven Cohen’s SAC and probably on Jamie Dimon’s JPMorgan Chase). However, the people who have been most affected by the financial meltdown—who lost their homes and jobs, and are struggling to put food on the table and send their kids to college—have every right to say, “Been there, done that. We’ve tried investigations, fines, and regulations before and look at the mess we’re in again, in the midst of the Second Great Depression.”
And so maybe, they’ll be singing along with The Who:
And I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again
Today is the second anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. To judge by the lack of coverage of the OWS movement in recent days, you’d think the movement was a failure.
But you’d be wrong. Wrong because it put the issue of economic inequality on the political map in the United States. “We are the 99 percent!” continues to resonate, especially given the return to the unequalizing pattern of growth that caused the crash of 2007-08 and marks the New Gilded Age.
And wrong because, as Allison Kilenny explains, many of the former Occupards continue to work to change things around—in activities like Occupy the SEC and Occupy our Homes.
There has been little talk of a mass gathering to celebrate the two-year anniversary of OWS, but that’s not unusual (anniversary protests are notoriously underwhelming).
But the lack of organizing may also stem from some of the best and brightest organizers having moved on to instead channel the spirit of Occupy elsewhere: in the battle to keep schools from closing, to lend solidarity to striking fast food workers, to fight to keep people in their homes and to hold officials accountable.
The “Occupy is dead” trope is ridiculous precisely because all of the elements that led to the movement’s birth are still in place—if not worse now. The rich are richer, the corrupt live without fear of going to jail, and everyone knows institutions aren’t coming to save us.
Occupy’s spirit of resistance may be scattered, but it can never die. Not as long as a sense of injustice lives.
That sense of injustice is what galvanized the initial OWS movement in the first place. Now, two years later, much work remains to be done.
Speaking of ongoing work, Lisa Pollack provides a sympathetic commentary on (and an actual copy of) Occupy Finance, produced by the Alternative Banking Group of Occupy Wall Street. This is from the introduction:
This book is our reckoning. Some of us have long experience in the world of finance, having worked in banks or hedge funds or as financial advisors. Others of us are teachers, lawyers, students, or Teamsters who started out with a limited understanding of “securitization,” “credit default swaps,” and “collateralized debt obligations” but have taught ourselves about these instruments because we recognize their importance within our current economy. We have found that you do not need a PhD in math or economics to understand what is happening. We have also learned that it is imperative for us to know as much as we can about the workings of the financial system because some of the most interesting facts never get reported. Contrary to what the 1% would have us believe, the way things are is not the way they once were, not the way they have to be, and most importantly—not the way they should be. . .
We know that the way it is is not the way it has to be. Economic arrangements, however complex, opaque, and interconnected, are created by human beings and can be changed by them—by us. Taking on this responsibility is daunting, but also exhilarating. It is the first step in the direction of economic justice.
The Center for Public Integrity has put together a three-part series on what has happened to the principals after the great meltdown of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.
Note: Cosmopolis accomplishes, in film, for the post-2008 meltdown what The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover did for Thatcherism.