Wall Street Sharks and D.C. Remoras

The U.S. financial system is grounded in a desire to convert suffering into cash

When I first saw news about the Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan ten years ago, my reaction was a common one: “Get a job, you hippies.” A raucous mob of hooligans destroying public property and vandalizing police cars remained my abiding impression for several years.

I’m a capitalist, and I cannot abide lawlessness and waste. By capitalism I mean the husbanding of resources for greater human flourishing, the marshaling of financial wherewithal to build up the civilization of man. This is what I have seen people around me do all of my life. My parents, my friends, the people in my community—we never had much, but what we did have we took care of, investing today with an eye to a better tomorrow. That is what I understood capitalism to be, the exact opposite of punks smashing up a park and spray-painting a metropolis.

But then came Donald Trump. I voted for him for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones was that I was growing increasingly sickened by politicians beholden to Wall Street.

How could I be against Wall Street? I’m a capitalist—aren’t we supposed to like the creative-destroyers who make the world a better place by filling our bank accounts with liquidity? The answer, I discovered to my surprise, was “No.” A big component of Wall Street today is not capitalism at all. It is a daily assault against the little guy, the people who actually build and maintain the things of the world, the people who raise families and make responsible decisions in hopes of a better future. Wall Street is just Occupy Wall Street in a globally systematized form. Instead of smashing police cars, Wall Street smashes whole national economies. Well-connected politicians get a cut to fund their next “election.” This is the opposite of capitalism as I understand it.

Wall Street was originally a slave market. It is, today, the largest slave auction in the history of the world. Far from being a place where entrepreneurs raise money to improve the human condition, it is where loathsome nihilists gather to plot the destruction of our neighborhoods. Anybody who is for that is not a capitalist. Anybody who is for that, for turning Bedford Falls into Pottersville, is a scourge on humanity.

When Donald Trump threw his MAGA hat into the ring for the presidency, I laughed like everyone else. But he used his megaphone to criticize Bush’s wars, forcing the realization that those wars had not done anything for America, except benefitting the military-industrial complex. Bodybags for Pottersville, bonus checks for Mr. Potter.

Trump also hammered opponents left and right (Left and Right) over their ties to Wall Street. Here was a New York billionaire, who was against Wall Street? I discovered that Trump’s obsession with building huge things was apparently what turned him off to the financial guys who don’t build anything—who practice mere fiscal vampirism. These guys work like hyenas trying to separate a baby animal from the herd. As soon as they locate a weak-looking company, they circle it, short it, and tear at its carcass. A builder, a maker, surely hates a destroyer of worlds.

Trump helped me see that, with a few exceptions, there is really no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. They all lie. They pretend to be at odds, but they’re all—again, with a few exceptions—beholden to the same place: Wall Street. And Wall Street is little more than the Manhattan branch of Globalism, Inc. The people who run the world are neither Left nor Right. They’re just greedy; and they’re everywhere. I didn’t see how prominent they are until I saw the world through Trump 3D goggles. Suddenly, the red and blue merged, and I saw a sickly shade of green.

How about that. The Occupy Wall Street folks, for all their annoying bullhorn shenanigans and padlocking their necks to bike racks, had been right. Wall Street really does destroy people’s livelihoods. Wall Street traders masquerade as fellow capitalists, but they’re not, at all. They’re pirates in Brooks Brothers and Bontonis.

Recently a group of small-ball stock owners have used Reddit, trading apps, and other fora to outfox the pirates. Like many others, I am thrilled. The Wall Street gang had been up to its usual tricks, you see. Some high-roller hedge funds had singled out yet another company—the lowly video-game chain GameStop—and had shorted it, meaning they made a financial bet that its stock price would decline, and then had worked to drive down the stock price in order to realize profit from their bet. In layman’s terms, they were trying to destroy GameStop in order to make a quick buck off of its death.

Never mind about the people who work at GameStop, or its founders or consumers. Wall Street cares for people like sharks care for chum. The Wall Street bankers had decided it was GameStop’s day to die, and so they went in for the kill, expecting the standard payout.

Only, this time, the WallStreetBets subreddit on Reddit staged a remarkable act of resistance. Thousands of people started buying up GameStop stock, which caused the stock price to rise dramatically in just a few days. The shorters who had bet that GameStop would be easy prey were stunned. They were left holding a bet on a losing horse—to the tune of billions of dollars.

Unlike ten years ago, this time I am cheering for the underdogs. The pandemic has cost people their jobs and forced them to lose homes and any hope of financial security. Meanwhile, Wall Street has been posting record gains, and the gap between billionaires and the rest of the world has grown wider. Bezos, Branson, Musk, Gates—the market sluices unprecedented cash into their bank accounts while GameStop workers and the others on Wall Street’s auction block are worrying about how to pay rent. There is something gut-level wrong with Wall Street. They are clearly profiting off of our misery. They are stuffing themselves while the rest of us—call us the 99%, if you like, although the actual figure is even closer to “everybody”—wonder how we’ll get through another year.

The financial system in the U.S. and around the world is fundamentally unjust and profoundly anti-capitalist. It is grounded, ultimately, in a hatred for human beings, a desire to convert suffering into money. The little people have had enough and are fighting back. More power to them. Globalism, the parent company of Wall Street, is an evil in our midst.

The Reddit army, however, will surely be crushed by Washington. Such favors are precisely why Wall Street keeps D.C. on its payroll. The remora sticks to the skin of the shark, and there’s no doubt about which one is in charge. Not even Donald Trump occupied Washington without the leave of Goldman Sachs.

 

Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.

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