A manifesto for Occupy Wall Street
By Richard Beales and Edward Hadas
The authors are Reuters Breakingviews columnists. The opinions expressed are their own.
For public relations professionals, the wannabe protesters in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan must inspire mixed feelings. The location works and the crowd makes for good TV, but crunchy soundbites are hard to find. The movement’s anti-corporate rant lumps together complaints ranging from mortgage foreclosure wrongs to torture. And the idea of “a feeling of mass injustice” is much less compelling than the Tea Party’s clear “taxed enough already.” Breakingviews offers a four-point program — a practical and sharper, if partial, manifesto for Occupy Wall Street.
First, make banks safer, and let them fail. Bailouts have left banks with handsomely paid bosses, some of whom are resisting sensible reforms. Regulators and legislators should not be scared to require more capital, however much bankers complain. And the authorities need to push on with making it easier for collapsing institutions actually to go bankrupt. That way investors, not taxpayers, pay the price for reckless financial behavior.
Second, name and shame fat cat salary-men. The Securities and Exchange Commission is expected to start the ball rolling soon with a new rule requiring companies to disclose the ratio of a chief executive’s pay to that of the median employee. Management theorists used to suggest that the top man was worth about 20 times as much as the average, but this multiple has rocketed in recent years. Disclosure might not change practices much, but it is a good place to start.
Third, free legislators from special interests. Long, expensive and frequent campaigns have left some politicians enslaved to extreme supporters and most too heavily influenced by free-spending lobbyists. Unless senators and representatives start to care less about re-election and more about the common good, there’s little hope of real progress in narrowing the gulf between the haves and have-nots in America.
Fourth, and probably least realistic, change the U.S. two-party system. The Democrats and Republicans are unimaginative yet entrenched by both rules and tradition. The political center ought to be fertile ground given the current dysfunction on fiscal matters, but why not the wings too? Occupy Wall Street’s hodgepodge of grievances is not yet a foundation for a coherent liberal left. But perhaps the spin doctors can help out. Given the epicenter of the protest, the “Z Party” has a nice ring.