5 reforms Wall Street protesters should demand

Their demonstration has grown into a multi-city movement with a muddled message. Here are some changes they should be calling for.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 4, 2011 11:28AM
By Seth Fiegerman for MainStreet.com

NEW YORK -- The Occupy Wall Street protest has evolved from a ragtag group of activists with no clear message and minimal media exposure to a multi-city movement with more than 1,000 participants in New York City alone, plenty of coverage on the major networks and newspapers -- and still no clear message.

 

When the protesters first moved in to downtown New York, the group posted a message to its unofficial website, OccupyWallSt.org, declaring its goal to not "let corporate greed and corrupt politics set the policies if (sic) our nation." In the two weeks since, the message has only become more confused as hundreds more protesters have joined.

 

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Those marching down Wall Street have professed their desire for student loan amnesty, greater taxes on the rich, the prosecution of "Wall Street criminals" and a reversal of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows corporations to make unlimited contributions to political campaigns.

 

Each of these issues surely merits a certain amount of outrage and could be reason enough to spark a protest on its own, but collectively it sounds like a laundry list of disparate demands, some of which have only a limited relationship to Wall Street. Student loans, for example, are a huge issue but one that arguably has at least as much to do with the colleges that set tuition as the banks that make the loans.

 

Meanwhile, raising taxes on the rich is something the president is already pushing for. Protesters looking to see this particular cause through would probably do better to march down to Washington, D.C., and picket outside the offices of Congress members who don’t support the policy.


Instead, MainStreet would like to see the Occupy Wall Street protest focus on a smaller range of issues that directly relate to the financial markets and have not received nearly enough attention. Each could be helped significantly by thousands of activists voicing their complaints.

 

End 'too big to fail'

It’s been three years exactly since President Bush signed the Troubled Asset Relief Program into law, essentially providing a round of bailouts to the nation’s largest financial institutions. So what better time to stage a protest down on Wall Street to remind legislators that bailing out financial firms anytime in the future with taxpayer money will not be tolerated. To their credit, the Dodd-Frank financial reform package and a recent set of FDIC rules will require banks to outline how to unwind their businesses should they go bankrupt, thereby establishing a pathway around the “too big to fail” principle, but there is still nothing on the books technically preventing government from bailing out a financial firm should they deem it necessary.

 

Reinstate Glass-Steagall

The Glass-Steagall Act was passed in the aftermath of the Great Depression to prevent commercial banks from offering investment services, thereby limiting the size and scope of America’s banks and preventing institutions that handle the savings and loans of millions of households from engaging in riskier activities like underwriting securities. This regulation was undone in the late ’90s under President Clinton’s tenure in the White House, helping Wall Street boost profits. But some like Citibank became too big for their own good and when they wound up on the brink of collapse, countless Americans found their nest eggs at risk. Pushing Wall Street and Washington to re-establish the division between commercial and investment banks would be a worthy cause for the protesters.

 

Push for a stronger CFPB

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was one of the few good things (for consumers) that came out of the financial crisis. The entire function of the new government agency is to act on behalf of Americans for important issues ranging from credit card reform to military members struggling to keep their homes. Unfortunately, many in Congress made it their mission to weaken the CFPB to the point where it would operate within the Federal Reserve – rather than as its own entity – and be subject to veto authority from an outside group of 10 regulators. In fact, some in Washington would like to see the bureau’s power limited even further, which is why the protesters should take it upon themselves to urge Washington to continue working to make the CFPB more autonomous rather than less.

 

Executive compensation

During the peak of the financial crisis, executive compensation was one of the few issues that could unite the country in outrage, most notably the bonuses paid to bosses at AIG or Goldman Sachs. At the time, the main issue was that these institutions had – directly or indirectly – received taxpayer funds to help them remain in business, only to then turn around and pay out lavish bonuses to their own managers. In 2009, Washington put in place significant limits on what executives of companies who had received TARP money could earn in bonuses until those funds were paid back. Since then, the only other regulation came from the Dodd-Frank financial reform act, which gives shareholders more authority to make sure CEO pay is closely tied to performance.

 

However, given that CEO pay increased by 12% last year while the unemployment rate remained stagnant, perhaps it’s time to ask if executive pay should be more closely tied to the performance of the economy rather than just the performance of the company. More reasonably, legislators could consider limiting the amount of stock options executives receive, restricting bonus payouts to a certain percentage of each person’s salary, or perhaps adding an extra “unemployment tax” to the salaries of any financial executive earning more than $5 million a year, by which I mean add a symbolic tax of whatever the annual unemployment rate is and have the government devote that added revenue to help pay for the cost of unemployment benefits and food stamps.

 

Foreclosure relief

We understand that many of those protesting are students who are frustrated by the awful combination of high loans and low employment prospects – as they should be – but we hope the protesters don’t forget about the many Americans whose bigger concern is paying off their mortgages, often on property that is worth less than the outstanding loan amount.

 

The government has struggled to get banks to modify mortgage loan agreements and temporarily show leniency to homeowners who have come upon tough times and are struggling to keep their homes. If Occupy Wall Street is looking for a cause to get people riled up about, the group should march through the financial district calling attention to the many homeowners who have been kicked off their property and call for banks to show more generosity in their lending agreements.

 

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3Comments
Oct 4, 2011 12:32PM
avatar

Think about it...

 

1.) Today bad news is released...stocks dramatically drop. 

 

2.) The little investors 401K's and IRA's suffer big losses.

 

3.) Big investors take advantage of the situation and buy up the low stocks.

 

4.) Next day GOOD economic news is released... stocks soar with great gains.

 

5.) Big investors sell-off to little investors (thinking trend will be sustained) and make HUGE profits.

 

6.) Following day BAD news is released...stocks dramatically drop. 

 

7.) The little investors 401K's and IRA's suffer big losses.

 

8.) Big investors take advantage of the situation and buy up the low stocks.

 

9.) Next day GOOD economic news is released... stocks soar with great gains.

 

10.) Big investors sell-off to little investors (thinking trend will be sustained) and make HUGE profits.

 

11.) Go BACK to Step 4.

 

Who reports this news?  Who is causing the dramatic ups and downs?

 

Who profits most?

 

It certainly is NOT the average family...

 

Who is suffering the most?

 

Certainly the average family...

 

Who is getting all the financial breaks?

 

Certainly not the average family...

 

Who can NOT modify/refinance a mortgage to make it affordable and to stay in their home because of being upside down due to NO fault of their own?

 

Certainly not the average family...

 

Who is sitting back getting HEAVY bonuses thinking up new fees to charge?

 

Certainly not the average family...

 

How many have noticed that a half gallon (64 oz.) of a beverage in a super market is now 59 oz. and sells at a higher price?

 

Who’s brain child is that?

 

Nothing is wrong with making a fair profit...taking advantage of people in tough times that is another story.

 

Oct 26, 2011 1:26PM
avatar

Finally someone talking some sense...some real solutions instead of pie-in-the-sky, unrealistic demands as seen from Occupy protestors.

 

The biggest favor we could do ourselves is reinstate the Glass-Stegall act. The repeal of the Glass Stegall act is what set the stage for "too big to fail". Fix one, fix the other. This will end the nonsense the banks have been up to.

 

Execs get paid too much and that should change, though honestly I believe many professional athletes are paid too much as well. What I can't escape is that there are so many people doing far more critical jobs that are paid so much less.

 

As far as forclosures go, its dual fault..the banks for setting them up and the customers for signing the dotted line. No one was forced to enter into these agreements. Ordinarily I would say "you ordered it, you pay for it" but the problem has become so big that its taking the economy with it. Yes, homeowners should be on the hook for what they owe but banks should cut them some slack for the sake of everyone's well-being. Nothing good will come from foreclosing on all of those homes, not for the homeowners who lose their home and for the banks who have to try to sell the homes in such a terrible housing market.

 

 

Oct 5, 2011 11:50AM
avatar
Fuzzy theater? How about distribution of wealth and it's causes?

1. Jobs sent overseas with no tax offset to reduce US unemployment.
2. Bonus to Wall St executives that took too much risk and the got bailed out by taxpayers.
3. Lobbyists of the wealthy control of the government. 
4. Companies benefiting from wars fought on credit to the detriment of the next generations.
5. Republican mantra of NO NEW TAXES, NO JOBS proposal.
6. Harsh sloppy process by banks foreclosing on homeowners.

The fact the causes are not being treated fuels the protesters hope for revolution.
The uprising during the Russian Revolution did not turn out well for the very wealthy.
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