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“Occupy Wall Street” Protests Leave Me Dazed and Confused…

I have mixed feelings about the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) protests that have been taking place in New York and other cities around the country over the past few weeks.  I’m a big fan of the First Amendment, and I support the protestors’ right to express their opinions.  It just seems to me that the views being espoused by the protestors sound dangerously naïve – if not outright dangerous. 

From what I can gather, they’re angry because the gap between what Wall Street investment bankers (the so-called “1%s”) make and what the rest of the people (the “99%s”) make is wide and getting wider.  OK, nothing new there.  History shows us that such divides have spurred revolutions. 

They’re also angry because they don’t have jobs and have no faith that they’ll be able to get them anytime soon.  The lack of faith in a brighter future is troubling – for them and for the nation.

The “fairness” factor…

What’s even more frightening to me is the protestors’ view that wealth should be redistributed simply on the basis that some have more than others and that this disparity just isn’t “fair.”  My personal politics lean more center-left than center-right, and God strike me dead for sounding a bit like Barry Goldwater, but that’s starting to feel like socialism and I’m just not willing to go there.  America was built on opportunity, innovation, and hard work.  Yes, sometimes the results aren’t “fair.”  But there is always the chance to pick yourself up and try again.  That’s what I learned from my parents and grandparents, that’s what I sincerely believe, and that’s what I hope I passed on to my children. 

The Oracle at Delphi…

Several years ago – before the financial meltdown and recession – a friend of mine from Athens told us that the Greek economy and society was heading for a cliff.  “Many of the young people here have been raised without a work ethic,” she said.  “They want the government to provide for them from the moment they are born to the moment they die.  Our nation is living beyond its means trying to pay for these social services.  It is a disaster waiting to happen.” 

How true those words ring today. 

There’s still hope…

My faith in the ability of the nation to recover from its financial woes was boosted a bit earlier this month by the cabbie who drove me home from the airport on the way back from the Alliance Annual Meeting.  He was an engaging young man from Romania who had come to the U.S. six years ago.  He reeled off the list of jobs he’d had during that time (none of them glamorous) and proudly said that he was close to completing a degree in accounting from DePaul University.  I asked why he came to the U.S.  The answer was simple: “To have the chance to do better.”  Undoubtedly, the same answer my grandparents would have given when they stepped off the boats in New York and California just over a century ago.

The pain is real…

I share some of the protestors anger.  You can’t read “Too Big to Fail” and “The Big Short” without being sickened by the unmitigated greed that exists within certain segments of the financial services industry.  Maybe if I was convinced that these individuals were paying their fair share of taxes on this income I’d feel better.  But like a lot of Americans, I’m not.  I support laws that protect the majority from the greed and avarice of the minority.  I enjoy it when I see liars and cheaters sent to prison.  But I don’t expect the government to tuck me into bed and promise to protect me from all evil.  I understand that capitalism involves some risk.

The fraternal alternative…

So what’s this mean to fraternals?  The feelings of the OWS protest run deep and are shared by many more Americans than the few hundred folks camped out in downtown parks.  Most of them may not be willing to participate in these rallies, but their contempt for financial services excesses and the ever-widening gap between the super-wealthy and the middle class is palpable.  Fraternals offer those folks an alternative way to invest in their families’ financial security, deliver benefits to their fellow members of their societies, and – most importantly – improve the lives of people in their local communities.  It’s a terrific concept and one whose time has come – again.  How are you and the individuals that are selling your society’s products and services demonstrating your value – and values – to members and prospective members?  How are you tapping into people’s pent up anger and distrust of the financial services industry and showing them that they have options and choices that will help them sleep better at night?  Please share your thoughts by posting a comment here…

6 Responses

  1. Great post! I could go on and on about the #Occupy movement, but let me limit it to this: indeed, our financial services sector ran unchecked and the worst of them created problems so massive it really does call into question the nature of that industry and how it must be regulated. But more than that, it has done that rare thing of giving us a moment to ak ourselves if this system is the best one suited to all of our needs. Clearly the #Occupy people think that it is not. Fair enough…ours is a society of dissent and ideas, and we are nothing if we cannot be a forum to discuss alternatives. But without a credible alternative to offer, the #Occupy movement reduces itself to mere noise. It is one thing to point out a problem…anybody can do that. (I’m in the media. I should know.) But it is far more challenging to point out a solution. Therein lies the real risk: to suggest a course of action that could be just as roundly rejected as our present course. #Occupy has yet to make that leap, and until it does, it shall never command the credibility it so badly desires. Ours is an imperfect and unfair system, indeed. They all are. But it is one that has produced a vast amount of good for a vast amount of people, and I think that amid the drumbeats and the Twitter posts, the #Occupy movement has lost a sense of scope and context. Hopefully it will regain them and contribute meaningfully to a discussion that it has definitely turbocharged in this country. If #Occupy does nothing else but bring this conversation to the national forefront, then I suppose it can be called a success, for it is no small thing to get this country to stop and have a serious talk with itself about its finances. But what I suspect will happen is that when the winter sets in and protesters take a few months off, when the conversation resumes in the spring, it’ll be co-opted into the Presidential campaign, and #Occupy will be reduced to the fringe effort that it really is. Only then will we see just how strongly its message has become part of the national conversation.

  2. Thanks, Bill. I’ve enjoyed reading the back and forth on the OWS issue in National Underwriter. It might be an oversimplification to say “work hard and everything will be ok,” especially coming from someone like me who by any account has received more than my fair share of blessings. But hollow protests just clutter the path to real solutions – at least in this blogger’s opinion…

  3. Agreed, Joe. A big part of my problem with OWS is there seem to be two crowds. There are regular folks who are upset at the fast and loose system of financial services and regulations that allow for pretty big economic catastrophes to occur. I have no problem with that. It’s a serious topic that merits serious discussion. But what grinds me is a second crowd that bears a striking resemblance to the kinds of protesters you always see at G20 summits, who come with a laundry list of unconnected complaints, no solutions and no credibility. I know that makes me sound like a “get off my lawn” curmudgeon, but I suppose on this, I am, a bit.

  4. Yes Joe, you are “right on target”. Both my grandfathers and grandmothers came off the boat in NY. And starting from scratch, my grandfathers got jobs, raised many children, who then had many children, several of whom became very successful in their fields; baseball, insurance, construction.

  5. Joe, great column on OWS. Could not agree with you more…fraternal insurance companies are a “natural” alternative idea to the greedy commercials, just as other forms of cooperatives seem to be gaining acceptance and visibility in various parts of our country. And yes, America remains a land of opportunity. I just brought my mother home from a rehab facility (knee surgery) and the orderly was from Liberia – here for our opportunities, and he is amazed by our country and all there is to see, do and learn. Maybe some of us hardened cynical Americans should take a clue from the more recent arrivals to re-learn what this country is really all about.

  6. […] my last post, I talked about the “fraternal alternative”… how fraternals offer consumers an alternative […]

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