Occupy Wall Street – occupied by upper middle class?

An interesting article in the Atlantic on the status of many of those involved in Occupy Wall Street.  We aren’t talking about truck drivers, nurses, or those working at McDonald’s, but about those in the lower part of the upper middle class who suddenly bumped up against a glass ceiling, and have chosen to blame Wall Street bankers over the entire fiasco.  Never mind that these same people went ahead and bought houses they could not afford, or that went to Ivy League schools on student loans that their not-for-profit dream jobs could not pay back.

Remember hearing about the day (“way back when”) when our parents had to start at the bottom and work their way up?  They rented for years until they could afford a good down payment on a modest house they could afford?  They sent their kids to state college, because they couldn’t afford Ivy League?

Anyway, here is a realist among the liberals who does not share the frustration of the OWS crowd, because she pulled herself up with her own bootstraps.

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/10/the-rage-of-the-almost-elite/247638/

While all of America has a reason to be upset with the big banks and Congress for destroying our economy, do you think it reasonable that the people described in the article should be the ones on the front lines demanding their student loans be paid off?

21 thoughts on “Occupy Wall Street – occupied by upper middle class?

  1. On a somewhat related note, I’ve seen a similar trend, absent the protesting, from my own family. Raised as middle class, during the later years of our youth/teenage years my parents became upper middle class through hardwork, etc. and myself and my siblings enjoyed a much more comfortable life.

    I wouldn’t even say we were spoiled, but we certainly had some nice things and my parents had a pretty nice house. Now 3 out of 5 of my siblings all felt and promptly went into debt first chance they got, and continue to sink further into debt as they try to immediately duplicate the standard of living they enjoyed under my parents without earning it through their own efforts.

    I think this pattern is repeated in a lot of families. And it explains one angle of the issue with the OWS people… many are definitely privileged and resent the fact that they can’t easily sustain that level of privilege, while others are able to for whatever reason.

    The ironic thing is, many of those who they are mad about having all the money, have become insulated and protected and able to thrive specifically because of government regulation and graft. More government then, combined with greed, is the problem, not the solution. The protestors would then only like to get in on the action through regulatory capture, rather than removing and reforming the governmental interference that creates this situation (again when combined with greed).

    The Boston tea party type (originals) and the Revolutionists may be accused by some of greedily arguing over taxes, but they put principle and their lives on the line about the concept of representation and freedom. It’s not a very good principle to be out protesting demanding not that graft needs to be discontinued, but just that you want in on a piece of the action.

  2. I was going to say “broad brush,” but on second thought I think “cherry pick” might be a better term. I’m not sure though, not having any good demographics on OWS—something it’d be nice (read: responsible) of the Atlantic or Volokh Conspiracy to provide as part of covering this story.

    I’ve seen plenty of interviews of OWS protesters who are simply protesting the buyout of American politics by big business and Wall Street. For them, it has nothing at all to do with student loans or mortgages. They agree completely with your statement that “all of America has a reason to be upset with the big banks and Congress for destroying our economy.”

    Others protest the way banks enticed them into buying homes they could not afford; the banks knew this (they’re the financial experts), and the home buyers trusted them. Unwise perhaps, but at some point a non-expert has to trust the system. I’m not saying that this applies to all the foreclosed homebuyers, but certainly some. (I’d say the same kind of empty promise exists in higher education: universities know that the job market can’t support all of its grads, but they won’t tell high school seniors that.)

    That’s not to say that the Atlantic article (and blog referenced therein) aren’t accurate about a certain segment of OWS, and for that segment the article cuts fine and deep and deservedly so.

    btw, the Berkeley grad chicken farmer from the article: she has about $10,000 in student loan debt. Not all that much really.

  3. I had to take out student loans to get thru BYU and then Grad School. However, both times I lived very modestly — no car, no phone, no fancy gadgets, no interent at home and so on. In fact, I put myself thru most of grad school on a job that paid about fifty-cents more than minimum wage, by living at home with my parents. I paid off my loans by working hard. I got degrees that I could use and that I have used as well. I’m sorry, but you have to work your way up in life, I’m sorry that these kids were never taught that, but that’s where my sympathy ends. You want to get rid of your student loan debt, then go work it off, just like the rest of us.

  4. This is a really interesting point Rame, and it makes sense. Occupy Wall Street is not about lower class/upper class warfare, it’s a liberal upper middle class pity party.

    But it’s also more than that. It’s also a desperate, blathering grass-roots liberal response to the Tea Party. Honestly, the fact that Occupy Wall Street has gone on this long has surprised me. The movement always struck me as desperate and artificial. But actually, there is something there. You can’t have a revolution as aggressive and powerful as the Tea Party without having a counter revolution, especially when the liberals invented revolution in the first place.

    So I think Occupy Wall Street is the natural fallout of the Tea Party, and the divisiveness and extremism it brought into the national culture. Sure, occupy Wall Street is as crazy and emotion driven as the Tea Party, but the two fires need to burn themselves out before reason and compromise can prevail. You have to fight fire with fire, madness with madness. All this hysteria will settle down after the presidential election.

  5. I will rarely pass up the opportunity to make fun of a young man of woman filled with ignorant, leftist self-righteousness, mostly because it reminds me of myself when I was younger. But I have tremendous sympathy for young people today who want to be able to progress and cannot because there are so many global and national trends that are breaking against them these days. Is it their fault that we as a country have allowing the Fed and a cabal of bankers, in cahoots with government Apparatchiks, to destroy the currency and hurt earning power? No, it is not. So, at the end of the day, it doesn’t do much to blame the victims. Our primary reaction to the OWS movement should be: this is what happens when you abandon the free market, the engine of growth that helped us create such a great country in the first place.

  6. Thanks, Geoff B. As someone who just finished grad school in an area that was hit particularly hard by the recession (in other words, someone with my grades and work experience would’ve had an easy time finding a good job when I started grad school, while many including myself can’t find decent work now), I appreciate the understanding.

    When I speak of “decent work,” I mean I’d happily accept a job that would pay me what I was earning before grad school. Times have changed, though. No one knows that better than the unemployed. I’m just glad my wife has recession-proof skills in the healthcare industry so we can pay for the bare necessities.

  7. There are many times I am so grateful to have spent my youth as a Berkeley semi-radical in the 1960’s. We had real evils to fight–racism, sexism, an unjust war in Viet Nam and environmental depradations too numerous to list. For those of us able to avoid the excesses of the time (drugs, sexual depravity, political exremism, degredation of returning soldiers and violence) it was a marvelous time to come of age.

    Once I joined the Church and was a member for about two decades I developed what I call the twenty year rule. That is the Church and its members often will really start to deal with problems either twenty years or more before the world or twenty years and some after the world does.

    We as a group did not begin to concern ourselves about racism until after the removal of the priesthood ban, sexism until President Hinkley and green church buildings until the last few years. The key advantage to being late to the party is, I believe, that many of us can avoid the pitfalls that go with being early (see my list of problems in the 60’s). The prime disadvantage is the people that are hurt in the process of taking that time.

    What I am seeing today is a new variant of that rule. We are reliving the bad aspects of the 1980’s. The era of Gordon Gekko as a hero and the cry of “I want mine.” A time of little sympathy for those who have not “made it”. It was a time where people would denigrate an entire group because of a few bad apples thay they can point out. It was an age where all welfare recipients were welfare queens, where all people who used food stamps drove their kids to schools in Cadillacs and where all enviormentalists were like Julia Butterfly and not only huggedg a tree but lived in one.

    As one former colleague of mine stated, “we are a nation of selfish whiners.” We had the Greatest Generation, We had the Civil Rights Movement. What do we have now?

    I knew as soon as people hit the streets for economic justice and fairness, Fox News and the Whiners would not be far behind, belittling and denigating as they go. But its just not the latter that is yhe problem, its the do nothing s in Congress and the Bussiness Community who exacerbate the current Economic mess.

    One of my great heroes is A.P. Gianini. After the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 he reopened his small Bank of Italy (now Bank of America) on a street corner and started making loans and helped rebuild San Francisco. He loaned on the basis of character not social class. Read about the man. Where are bankers and economic leaders like him today?

    Well, we do have Mitt Romney, the LBO King, who has said we need to hurry up those foreclosures. Although, I am not sure that is quite the equal.

  8. I agree that many people have been disenfranchised by events caused by Congress, Freddie, Fannie and the big banks.

    And I think that the way the current Administration has worked the economy has only made it worse, not encouraging banks to lend, not stimulating the real economy, etc.

    That said, I’d like to see those in OWS take some responsibility. Mitt Romney’s statement that we should allow foreclosures to go through is a tough statement, but a realistic one. Studying the economies and efforts of nations like Japan show that the tinkering done by government can stretch out the economic malaise for decades. Even in our own Great Depression, things started improving around 1935, but then FDR imposed a big tax, and threw the country into another recession for 2 years.

    Sometimes you just have to let things settle out naturally. It is an ugly and painful process, but it is usually quick. Keynesian economics only affects short term economy, not the long term, and it always creates economic bubbles. Bubbles do not create long term economic prosperity nor long term jobs for those OWS youth who seek employment.

    Scott, I agree with many of the issues of the 60s: Civil Rights, women’s rights, etc. But as you noted, there were excesses involved. Here we have a whole nation of excesses: huge homes the buyers could not afford, artificially raised housing prices due to Freddie pushing sub-prime mortgages, speculators buying and flipping homes, Banks using house debt as if it were an asset, and the Feds telling everyone to sell more houses to those who had no business in buying at the time.

    I knew a woman who had around $250K in student loans from a major university. Her degree? Elizabethan literature! I have no problem with someone getting a degree in something as arcane as that, but to borrow so much money on something that would never provide enough ROI to even repay the loans? The last I heard of her, the interest on her loans had those loans approaching 1/2 million dollars. Why should either the banks or taxpayers have to subsidize her any longer by paying off her loans? And why is an Ivy League school offering such a degree at such an exorbitant cost?

    Those students need to protest their greedy schools, not the banks. Yes, the banks need to be protested. But it needs to be done for the right purposes, and not because some yuppie didn’t get his dream job or fancy house.

  9. You are, in your dismissal of this movement, so stunningly superficial that I suggest you apply for a job at Fox News.

  10. Aaron,

    Oh wow! Good come back. Did you get your literary degree from Ad Hominem University?

    How about some real discussion on why you disagree with me, rather than some “superficial” attack?

  11. As much as some people (especially those on the right) try to make the OWS about student loans or foreclosures, the foundation of the movement is the high unemployment rate caused by the Great Recession. The only reason most recent graduates and most homeowners facing foreclosure are struggling as much as they are is because of the loss of jobs.

    I actually agree that people need to pay back their student loans, and that people need to make their house payments or move to a smaller house they can afford. I also know that the majority of Americans need some serious lessons on how to handle money. But I think it’s foolish to ignore the biggest cause of the problem, and the driving force behind OWS–it’s an incredibly difficult job market, and those who created the problem are not being punished for it.

  12. Tim,

    I agree with you on this. The big banks that helped create the mess should not have been bailed out, but allowed to go belly up. Instead of bailing them out, we would have done better to spend those trillions on bailing out people in foreclosure on their main home only (speculators get to enjoy the risk of failure). The money would have trickled up to the banks, and truly reinvigorated the economy. But it is too late for that now.

    I also think that Freddie and Fanny should have had their doors shuttered, just like Country Wide, and for the same reason. Then Barney Frank and Chris Dodd, along with many others in Congress, should be kicked out of office and made to sweep the streets for their community service.

    That said, the protests are not only about lost jobs and wages, but also student loans, etc. There are some real issues affecting Americans through no fault of their own. Sadly, many of those issues are being drowned out by the selfish, who made poor choices and now want government or Wall Street bailouts.

  13. Nate, we can only hope that it dies down so cooler heads can prevail. However, given the radical nature of both the right and left today, it is also possible that we may see our own French Revolution: a smoldering anger across the nation that is fanned by the media, until the mobs come out and begin destroying one group after another, until only chaos remains. And then since nature does not like a vacuum, that chaos is replaced by an authoritarian rule.

    I could see Wall Street as being the king men from France, while OWS could be the beginning of the Jacobin Great Terror if we are not careful.

  14. rameumptom: I just don’t see how your apparent call to “be careful” agrees with your approach here, which is to take a diverse movement and characterize it based on one segment with which you disagree. It seems quite clear that if there is one unifying feature of OWS it is that they are all angered over big banks and Congress—something they share with the Tea Party movement, with you, with me, etc. Rather than try to work with them where you agree, you choose to focus on, and therefore amplify, the fraction of their voice that you find most dangerous. Any publicity is good publicity, and you’re giving extra publicity to the bad apples in the barrel. One of the effects is to further marginalize those parts of the movement; you will not work with them, and they become more radical. This is exactly the problem the Tea Party faced in its beginning and we see that, because of forces within who chose to be extremist and forces without who chose to highlight those extreme elements, what we are left with is a Tea Party that has no room for compromise to move their core agenda forward—and in turn, forced many would-be Tea Partiers out the door and into…OWS.

    In other words, since I think you could easily find many friends within OWS, and because the challenge of fixing Congress is great enough as it it, I don’t see why you have to seek out and create more enemies.

  15. BrianJ, I obviously have not explained my view clearly enough.

    I am for many of those in the OWS movement. I believe there are many with legitimate complaints. However, I see certain groups trying to co-opt the good parts of the movement. And I think that was the point of the article in the Atlantic (not known to be a right wing magazine).

    It is like the racist card. If everyone screams “racist” anytime a white/black/Asian/etc states something regarding someone of another race, then it loses its luster and value.

    The Tea Party also had reasons to protest. Yet, it almost was derailed a few times by radicals that said and did terrible racist things.

    Yuppies who want their student loans paid off, or to have their $500,000 home mortgage paid off for them, are a problem in this regard. So are the people who are trying to get drugs legalized, promote communism, or just want to defecate on a police car or flag. They are major distractions to what should be an important demonstration.

    I don’t want the real issues derailed. And so one must also point out the idiots that try and co-opt the issues. Because of the idiots during the French Revolution, instead of freedom, the people ended up with chaos and the Great Terror. Their search for a free nation was derailed by a noisy few.

  16. To back up with BrianJ said, I think any (PEACEFUL) protests against the current system are a good thing. The more people begin thinking about the fact that this country is less prosperous and has fewer jobs, the more willing they will be to make meaningful change. I hope we can direct them to concentrating on the real source of our problems, which is indeed the bankocracy created by the Fed and a cabal of banking thieves. I hope we can get people to concentrate on smaller, more efficient government that really helps the truly poor but leaves the rest of us alone and allows entrepreneurship. If we could move the OWS movement in that direction, it would be a really, really good thing.

  17. Geoff B. The problem with “leaving the rest of us alone” also means leaving the Enrons, Arthur Andersons, Bernie Madoffs, Alan Stanfords, Charles Keatings and the others like them alone.

    It would also mean that price fixing, pump and dumps, Pittsburgh plus rates, Blue Sky stocks, false advertising, pension raiding, sexual harassment, racial and ethnic discrimination on the job, under capitalization, union busting, monopolies, unsafe working conditions, pollution, bribes and the like would either not be regulated at all or could become standard business practices.

  18. I like what Andrew Sullivan states in his current article in the Oct 31 Newsweek. Note he uses some rough language in it.

    How I learned to love the revolution

    There are freaks in both the OWS and Tea Party. But there’s lots of important issues that link the two together, as well. We need to ensure the freaks do not derail what could be a great movement on both sides of the aisle.

  19. Stan Beale, no it doesn’t. Fraud is illegal and should be punished. Let’s start from the beginning. What is the purpose of government? To protect life, liberty and property (right there in the 5th and 14th amendments and D&C 134). So, government should 1)defend the nation against foreign invaders 2)prevent aggression by people against each other 3)prosecute and punish fraud and 4)protect contracts.

    What governments should NOT do is determine that some people should be forced to give things to other people based on arbitrary ideas of “social justice.” If you believe in such ideas, I would encourage you to sell all of your possessions today and give me the proceeds. I can guarantee and promise (and I will write up a legal contract stipulating this) that I will give your goods to somebody very, very poor who needs them more than you do.

    So, of all the bad guys you mention, if they defraud somebody they should a)pay them back and b)go to jail. It is a completely legitimate purpose of government to do this, and I would support a structure that would do this. But this means that if you are not defrauding people and you are not harming anybody else, and you are honoring your contracts and you are just doing your best to support yourself and your family, you should be left alone as much as possible. If we could get back to a government like this the vast majority of people would be happy.

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