Occupy the street

A friend pointed me at this commentary on Occupy Wall Street. And, looking at it, there's some good stuff and some not-quite-as-good. The first thing that jumped out at me was this paragraph:
Great CEO White Lie = “We are acting in the best interests of shareholders.”

This is sort of true, and sort of not. They actually are trying to act in the best interests of shareholders, but only from a very short-term perspective. Long term, yes, he's right that unemployment (and, by extension, all those layoffs that briefly raise margins) will absolutely kill the economy, because they'll eliminate demand for whatever product or service the company is making or providing.

Following from that first part being a lie, he suggests:
If OWS really wants to change corporate structure and impact the economy, talk to shareholders.

There are several problems with this. The first, and most important, is that the majority of stocks are held by the top 1% that OWS is protesting (yes, just about 50% of stocks are held by 1% of the population. It is that bad). So talking to family members who own stocks is all but pointless. The second problem is that a huge percentage of the remaining stocks are held by mutual funds, so all voting proxies are held by the fund itself. Guess who runs just about all of those funds? Yep, back to the same 1%. Third, corporate governance is damned near a sham, as far as stockholders are concerned. Getting a measure on the ballot isn't a trivial matter, and getting a large percentage of stockholders to vote for it is even harder.

What it really comes down to is finding conscientious people to put on the board, and to get them there. And yeah, that's absurdly tough. Proxy votes are always, do you vote for such-and-such? They aren't, vote between these people. Then factor in that very few people have heard of these prospective boardmembers, and you're left with a nearly impossible situation.

He does finish that section by suggesting going to the shareholders meeting. That can be difficult, but does give you, by far, your best chance. So I'm definitely behind that one.

The second part is "Push to Make All Financial Institutions Partnerships". I'm not sure this is the best, or most feasible, solution, in terms of "can it be done", but I do like the idea. The moral hazard that pushes everything towards privatizing profits while socializing losses cannot be allowed to continue, and that would be one way to eliminate it.

Of course, it does nothing to address the problem of currently-outstanding CDS', which can still sink the economy at a moment's notice. What's that? There's still a gun to the head of the economic system? You betcha. Nobody knows how many, and for how many dollars, but it's entirely possible (even likely, I would speculate) that there are currently enough CDS' outstanding on every major financial institution that if one of them goes down, paying out those policies could wipe out one or more other banks, in turn wiping out even more of them. There's a number of related problems here. The biggest is that companies were able to issue these bets (because that's exactly what they are: high-dollar gambling) without actually having the cash to pay them out. The second is that it is a completely opaque market. And the third is that the institutions issuing these policies are depository institutions, which can wipe out all of their depositors, not just the people willing to make these gambles. It's possible that requiring the institutions to hold enough cash to pay out a sufficient percentage of their outstanding CDS's (my thought is something like 40% of the total or enough to pay out all of any one class of CDS, whichever is larger. But I'm spitballing that, I don't have the background to know if that's good enough) would be enough to solve the other two problems. Of course, the short-term problem with doing that is that it's likely that most of the "too big to fail" banks have already issued more CDS than they could cover with their entire portfolio.

Getting back to the original, the third section is "Limit the Size of Student Loans to $2,000 per year". I have no idea what relevance this has for Occupy Wall Street, and do wonder about what it would accomplish. It would push the cost of college down; I have no doubt about that. How much? I'm not sure. And he says it won't affect the ability of low-income students to afford college. I'm highly skeptical of that claim, but I'm not in a position to know.

What I do know would help the student loan situation is to stop allowing those loans to be used for for-profit schools. The situation in those schools is absolutely horrid, and undereducated kids are sucked in, bent over, and pounded hard. They end up unprepared for the job market with huge loans that they can't even get away from via bankruptcy. Most of the people going to those schools are affording it almost entirely with federally backed loans. It's just a wretched situation that helps nobody (except the people running those schools, who get to pocket nice profits. Oh, and the politicians they lobby, who get a cut of that money).

Update: I just realized I missed the bottom two paragraphs, where the author suggested that people like him will figure out ways to create and operate for-profit institutions. First of all, ignoring that I'm not sure it's really possible to do higher education better on a for-profit basis (there are certainly a number of traps one could easily fall into), but for-profit universities are not (as a whole, I've never seen a breakdown to see how much variation there is from one school to the next) doing a better (or even, as good) job of preparing students. So color me skeptical here, as well, but the possibility is there.

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